Baseball is facing a length-of-game crisis.
Games take too long, which makes them too unappealing for too many potential viewers. Major League Baseball is experimenting with rule changes designed to speed up the game.
The NBA doesn’t face the same urgency, but making basketball more entertaining is always a goal.
Around last season’s All-Star break, preliminary chatter began among the league’s basketball operations folks and rule geeks about the prospect of reducing all trips to the free-throw line to a single foul shot. D-League president Dan Reed and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey were the closest thing to co-sponsors of a bill. Nobody was proposing anything to be fast-tracked, but an imperative to figure out ways to shorten pro basketball games gave the idea some life as something to consider implementing in the D-League.
The concept was this: A player fouled in the act of shooting or in a penalty situation would attempt only a single free throw. If that player was shooting a 2-point shot or in a penalty situation at the time of the foul, the free throw attempt would be worth two points. If that player was fouled in the act of launching a 3-point shot, he’d go to the line for a single shot worth three points.
By doing so, those 47 attempts per game would be whittled down to about 26. There’s no hard data on the average length of time it takes to shoot a pair of free throws, but my stopwatch clocks it at approximately 45 seconds from the sound of the whistle to the second shot reaching the rim. A trip to the line for a single technical or an and-1 situation, though, takes about 30 seconds. These numbers vary wildly. (Walking from one end of the floor to the other after a loose-ball foul takes an eternity, whereas a shooting foul in the paint is a short commute. You also have a fair share of Dwight Howards who can be timed with a calendar.) But we can fairly approximate a second or third free throw as a 15-second exercise. Using that estimate, scrapping 21 free throws from a game would shave more than five minutes of stoppage from the average NBA or D-League game.
Understand, the D-League is the NBA’s rules experimentation lab. It’s where they can test things out and see how it works before tampering with the Association itself.
This rule would have unintended consequences – unintended consequences that could undermine the very point of the rule.
When players shoot two free throws, they’re more likely to make the second than the first. When players shoot three free throws, they’re more likely to make the third than the second than the first.
Presumably, overall free-throw percentages would fall if those higher-efficiency second and third free throws were eliminated. If free throw percentages fall, teams would be more likely to foul.
So, maybe each trip to the line takes less time, but there would be more trips to the line.
Would the time saved on each trip to the line outweigh more frequent trips? And even if this rule change would shorten the game, would the positives of doing so outweigh the negatives?
It’s an interesting idea, though one I don’t think would help. But that’s what the D-League should be for – experimenting. I can’t say for certain how this would change behaviors until seeing it action.
It doesn’t sound as if this particular idea has gained much steam, especially because Reed left for another job. But I’m glad the NBA is actively thinking about ways to improve the game. This mindset will only lead to productive rule changes in the future.