A call hurting the game, Memphis optimism and more
Posted: Tuesday January 2, 2007 5:02PM; Updated: Wednesday January 3, 2007 12:24PM
Block or charge? How about neither? The NBA can't seem to get calls like this right.
Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images
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Like most of these moanfests, this story starts with the Bad Boy-era Detroit Pistons, who made a point of moving their feet and taking thrice as many charges as their opponents. Around the same time, the NBA moved to a format of three referees on the court at the same time, which coincided with the rest of the league attempting to emulate Detroit's ability to dive under anyone who dared drive the lane.
Then Pat Riley moved to New York, Dennis Rodman joined Ron Harper and Scottie Pippen on the Bulls, Vlade Divac discovered beaucoup free-agent dollars in Sacramento, League Pass was invented -- and now we've got a whole federation of teams intent on yelping and diving toward the hardwood anytime the threat of contact presents itself. This is horrible, horrible basketball.
The NBA has become far too insistent on calling every single bit of flesh-on-flesh crime that happens around the rim, and it is killing the flow of the game. And this isn't to say that the other side of this coin -- whistling a block call -- is in any way preferable.
The implementation of the half-circle in front of the rim before the 1997-98 season has forced referees into thinking that every time an airborne offensive player rubs up against a defender (stationary or otherwise) -- and even if the contact doesn't give a clear advantage to either the offense or defense -- a block or charge call should result. It shouldn't; non-calls have become a thing of the past, and the game is suffering as a result.
It's beyond admirable that these millionaire athletes are willing to sacrifice their bodies and hit the deck just for a chance at a turnover, but this sort of rule-book manipulation isn't real defense. Big men barely contest shots around the rim now, preferring to stand stationary (7-foot Derek Fishers) in front the rim -- and who can blame them? They have a better chance at being awarded a charge call than blocking a shot attempt into oblivion, especially if the referees continue to reward this sort of play. With the increased attention on hand-checking calls, we've freed players to drive toward the rim with reckless abandon. Now it's time to free them to finish.
This can't be interpreted as a condonation of Memphis' dismissal of Mike Fratello -- we're not sure what he was supposed to do in "the next year" with a roster that was created to win 45 games in 2005-06 and tail off the next year -- but it bears mentioning that interim coach Tony Barone may have a little turnaround on his hands.
So far this season, the Grizzlies are averaging 88.7 possessions per game, the 28th-slowest mark in the game. In Barone's first two games, a six-point win over Toronto on Saturday and a two-point loss to Houston on Sunday, he's done a bit more than pay lip service to the idea of a running game. The Grizzlies have averaged 99.8 possessions in those two games, a pace that, sustained over an entire season, would easily rank them as the league's fastest team. The Denver Nuggets, for example, are far and away the NBA's most fast-break-intensive squad, at 98.4 possessions per game.
And the switch to an up-tempo style is working: The Grizz are averaging nearly 110 points per every 100 possessions at this new pace, which would rank them in the top 10 in offensive efficiency if they kept it up all season. Right now, they're stuck at 21st, but that mark will improve with the reintroduction of Pau Gasol and Barone's insistence on pushing the ball.
Luol Deng is averaging 28.5 points on 74 percent shooting in the two games since James Posey took him down with a flagrant foul that earned the Miami forward a one-game suspension. Deng and the Bulls went 14-3 in December.
Like Deng, Boston's Al Jefferson is just 21. Finally healthy in his third season, he's starting to do something with that fabulous footwork and sound touch around the rim. Jefferson has averaged 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds in his last 12 games. The best part? Jefferson, who entered this season averaging a foul for every 5:51 he spent on court, has fouled out just once since opening night.