ESPN.com’s Ric Bucher has the lowdown on some interesting rule changes the NBA plans to implement this season. The one that will get everyone’s attention is an attempted crackdown on the “rip move,” one of the game’s most irritating techniques, practiced most famously by Kevin Durant. Here’s Bucher:
“Rip-through” moves, in which an offensive player swings the ball into a defender’s outstretched arm and then attempts a shot once he has created contact, will be considered non-shooting fouls if the contact begins before the offensive player starts his shooting motion.
I spoke about the Durant “rip move” in May with Stu Jackson, the league’s vice president of basketball operations, and he stressed that officials were calling the play correctly, and that executives around the league had pushed in prior years to outlaw the move or at least modify the way refs officiate it. The rip move turns on two tidbits in the rule book:
• The prohibition against a defender placing a forearm on the body of a player with the ball above the foul line extended. (The first video on that NBA.com link provides a crystal-clear slow-motion example of this.) Doing this is supposed to be an instant foul, regardless of whether the player shoots or not. Calling the rip move a non-shooting foul meshes well with this rule; Durant is very good at sensing when a defender has a forearm on him and rising to shoot immediately. But the defender commits a non-shooting foul the second he places a forearm on Durant. Play should stop there rather than continuing until Durant starts a shooting motion.
• The notion, though somewhat vague, of a “legal guarding position.” Here’s what I wrote then:
Jackson said any defensive player with his arms extended — either toward an offensive player or out wide to his sides — is not necessarily in a legal guarding position and thus should be penalized if an offensive player comes into contact with the defender’s arms on either a shot attempt or a drive.
And here’s the key language from the rulebook:
A player who extends a hand, forearm, shoulder, hip or leg into the path of an opponent and thereby causes contact is not considered to have a legal position in the path of an opponent.
A player is entitled to a vertical position even to the extent of holding his arms above his shoulders, as in post play or when double-teaming in pressing tactics.
This gets a bit dicey, especially in an instance in which a defender has his arms spread wide to his sides and an offensive player with the ball simply dribbles into one of those extended arms. Still, the foul happens at the moment of contact, and if the shooter (i.e. Durant) hasn’t started his shooting motion, he doesn’t deserve a shooting foul.
And if you watch Durant’s rip moves, there are times when he begins his “shooting motion” with something that isn’t really part of his normal “shooting motion” — an extra dip of the arms, so that they touch a defender’s arms, for instance. The foul is legit, but in many instances, it will occur before the start of Durant’s true shooting motion and thus should be labeled a non-shooting foul.
Watching the enforcement of this will be interesting, since referees have to make split-second judgments based on split-second movements. Ditto for this change, also via Bucher:
Also, on drives to the basket, a shooting foul will be called only if contact occurs after the offensive player has begun his shooting motion, not after he has initiated his leap toward the basket.
Sounds great in theory, but isn’t a leap to the basket step one in a driving player’s shooting motion? Players at the NBA level obviously have the ability to leap for a shot, change their mind and pass the ball, and it seems wrong to award foul shots to an airborne player who clearly wishes to pass. This would apply especially to those block-charge calls where a player penetrates, leaves his feet and crashes into a defender just outside the block/charge circle at the same time as he dishes the ball. That should generally be a non-shooting foul (if it’s a block), and this new tweak will emphasize that.
But what happens where there is no “leap,” like when Paul Pierce or some other physical scorer picks up his dribble, bull-rushes his defender out of the way without leaving his feet, gathers himself and then shoots? Smart scorers get cheap foul shots from that action, even though the contract they initiate often happens before the start of their normal shooting motion.
Will the refs call non-shooting fouls on these sorts of plays as well? Time will tell, but gradual refinement is good.