End free throws

November 1, 2017

 

 

Last night, the Lakers and Pistons played almost the entirety of the first half without taking a single free throw between them. Detroit didn't get their first until midway through the fourth quarter.

 

It was kind of surreal. It was also kind of great.


I've had plenty of ideas about how to better structure the NBA season - everything from how the schedule could be changed to how soccer-style "cup" competitions could be introduced - but mostly I think the rules of the game are sound.

 

With one exception.

 

Do away with free throws! They're boring! 

 

Free throws slow the pace of a game and interrupt its natural flow. They are mostly tolerated as an inevitable fact of the game because no one has ever really proposed a better solution for what to do when someone interferes with the act of shooting.

 

But there's already another form of interference in the act of shooting that we have a rule for, and it works awesome and doesn't stop the game at all. It's called goaltending.

 

Just treat shooting fouls like goaltending. Automatic points. Voila, no more standing around while some dude takes three minutes to shoot a couple of dumb uncontested shots from 15 feet. Just give him the points.

 

Now, look, does the NBA need this? No, it's not remotely any kind of institutional crisis, and obviously there's a reason there's no popular anti-free throw outcry (unless more than just my Dad reads this blog and agrees with it, which is very unlikely!)

 

Basketball is, by my reckoning, the best sport. And they'll keep taking stupid free throws and it will continue being the best sport. But it could be a little bit better!

 

What are the issues here? I'm trying to think of them. I guess maybe some people like free throws, or at least value the skill discrepancy in free-throw taking, and the subsequent rewards one team gets from employing good free-throw shooters and not bad free-throw shooters. I am not moved by this idea. So what, we're bailing out the Dwight Howards of the world a little bit, who cares?

 

I'm willing to sacrifice the punishment Dwight Howard gets in the form of missed free throws in order to forego my own punishment of actually having to watch him take those free throws.

 

Strategically, yes, there are some things to address. You don't want refs totally scared to call shooting fouls, knowing they're awarding points. You'd need to acclimate players to a very stark new defensive reality. I'd propose fouling a guy out on three shooting fouls (other fouls would still be treated as they always have been, so in theory you could commit two shooting fouls and three other fouls before a sixth would send you walking.)

 

How bout the bonus? Who cares get rid of the bonus. What even is the point of the bonus? To dissuade excessive fouling? You could do that better by allowing fewer fouls (which in part we've proposed here). 

 

End-of-game scenarios seem like they could get tricky, but this should be self-regulating. If the other team needs a three, it's already common for a team to intentionally foul.... and send the team with the ball to the free-throw line for two instead of risking a final three attempt.

 

That already takes the wind out of a game's climax. This would solve it. Teams will hesitate to strategically foul in the final seconds if they know a player can James Harden-style heave and probably get an automatic three points from it. 

 

One last point: Speaking of James Harden, what about guys like him? Won't this just incentivize them to go foul-hunting even more than they already do?

 

The answer to that is probably yes, which is why with this rule in place refs would need to adopt a more reserved approach to calling shooting fouls. This is not impossible to achieve. They did it just fine in last night's Lakers-Pistons game, in fact!

 

There are all kinds of follow-through touches, driving bumps and the like that refs throw up their hands and award free throws for. They don't need to. Last night showed us it was possible for a good basketball game to run its natural course without a rigorous enforcement of every little possible violation, sending dudes to the line time after time.

 

Oh, one other little thing: Free throws could still live on, marginally, for technical fouls.

 

We can live in a world (mostly) without free throws. The Lakers and Pistons, and referees Ron Garretson, Leon Wood and Aaron Smith, showed us how.

 

Imagine it. Shorter games, better flow, fewer fouls, no more hacking!

 

Will people maybe miss waving around those stupid balloon tubes to mess with the free-throw shooter? Sure. But that would be about it.

 

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