What NBA officials will focus on this season: Off-ball clutching/grabbing, traveling, respect for game

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Every season, NBA officials are given Points of Emphasis Education (they changed the name a few years back), things for the officials to focus on calling more closely. Things the league thinks are needed to help the game, open it up, and allow it to be more entertaining.

The officials tend to hit this hard in the preseason and the first weeks of the regular season, but it fades (in varying degrees, as the season wears on. By the playoffs, there is usually some kind of balance struck.

What will the focus be on this season? First, clutching and grabbing off the ball, or as the referees call it, freedom of movement.

This is a good move — how every team has dealt with players moving off picks, especially off-ball, is exactly what you see in the video: clutching, grabbing, holding, and anything that slows a player down. Last season, it only got called when it was blatant. Now, it should be called more often, which should open up offenses and passing lanes, and expose teams that don’t move their feet on defense. I like this move.

Next up, traveling and respect for the game.

This is not the non-traveling calls as the old-timers hate — players still get a gather and two steps on a drive. What this is about is something we see all the time, guys getting the ball in the post or facing up on the perimeter, then switching pivot feet/taking a step before dribbling. That’s going to get called, it’s a good thing, and it’s going to piss some players off.

Which brings us to the trickiest one, respect for the game.

Referee and player relations are strained and at near an all-time low, and this is part of it. Players are frustrated they can’t express themselves to officials, but a lot of times what they have tried to do is demonstrably show up officials to express their frustration. Referees have felt the league has let this go too far without fines or consequences for the players, which in turn has led to more of it — and they are right. The players need to do a better job respecting the officials. We watch some players throw up their arms and complain about every call, and it is way over the top and just a bad look.

The other side of that is the referees need to do a better job having a conversation with and engaging the players. There needs to be dialogue, referees cannot just put up the hand. If the tone is respectful, officials need to be open to talking to the players, hearing them out, even if they disagree. That’s how adults deal with things (we should not use Washington D.C. as an example of adult behavior, for the record).

Also, the referees need to think about the situation. If a player storms up to a referee yelling about a second-quarter jump-shot foul, that’s the player showing the referee up. If that same player gets angry at a close call in the final minute of a two-point game, he’s got to be allowed to vent his emotions to some degree. The league should not want to legislate the emotion out of the game. Again, it’s about compromise and being thoughtful by both sides. We’ll see if they can get anywhere near that.