Every year the NBA season starts with the league instructing the referees to focus on something new. It’s usually image related.
So what’s the random focus going to be this year? Ken Berger at CBSSports.com gave us a preview — delay of game after made baskets and players standing out of bounds.
As far as points of emphasis, the one that will come into play the most is delay-of-game violations when offensive players redirect the ball (i.e. toss it to the ref or bounce it out of bounds) after a made basket. League officials say it happened 214 times during the playoffs last season. Blowing the whistle on such shenanigans will speed up the game. Another good one: A team will lose possession if an offensive player goes out of bounds and does not return to the court immediately (with exceptions, of course, for injury and other circumstances that can’t be avoided.) Seems like a small thing, but this is a tactic that the Denver Nuggets started using a couple of years ago to further spread out the floor and confuse the defense. Last season, league officials say 11 teams used the tactic.
While it may seem like bouncing the ball to the ref is the polite thing to do, it’s an intentional tactic to give the defense another second or two to get back. Teams used it against teams that even liked to run after makes.
There will be some increased replay use as well this year, but I like the moves because it gives the referees more discretion to make the right play.
For example, they can still only review block/charge calls in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime, but now they can reverse the charge call if the player is outside the restricted area. They can also review now to see if a foul called off the ball happened before a shooter started his motion (this makes sense, if you are calling a foul off the ball you are not watching the shooter by definition).
What we will not see is the one thing I hope the league gets to soon — centralized replays. The NHL does this, having dispassionate officials in the league office look at the review and make the call, leaving the referees on the ice out of the process. The technology exists and it can lead to more consistent calls, or it should.
While we wait for that, look for referees to be all over the delay of game and out of bounds calls for the first couple months of the season, then the attention on the issue will fade away. That’s another NBA tradition.