How to fix the NBA

Last night in the NBA there were three games (out of 6) where teams scored over 140 points.  Even the lowly Hawks put up 142 against OKC’s strong defense.  When regular NBA games begin to resemble the infamous 2017 All Star game, it becomes about as boring as watching someone else rack up 100,000 points playing pinball. Yawn.

The NBA needs to get rid of the three point shot, which will bring back interior defense.  Or at least move the line back a couple of feet. Did you know that Top Jackpot Casinos has a list with the best online casinos and the features that they offered?

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I’d also like to see the NBA reduce the frequency and duration of stoppages in action.  Here are 8 suggestions for doing so, and I’m pretty sure that at least one is actually a good idea, specilally if you are betting for which you will want to learn more using the last link.

1.  Give officials discretion to not call 24 second violations if the defense gets the rebound and is about to start a fast break.

2. Give officials the discretion not to call a foul on a fast break when doing so would advantage the defense.  Here I’m thinking of where the defender reaches in as the player is flying by at midcourt, and fouls him but doesn’t really stop the progress toward the rim.  To avoid outright “tackles” on fast breaks, make that type of foul just as serious as the current rule for fouling from behind on a fast break.  This won’t completely stop the problem (fouls that cause turnovers would still be called), but it will lead to some additional fast breaks on “reaching” fouls.

3.  When the ball hits the top of the backboard, don’t stop play.  It will usually come down and someone can rebound it.  Ditto for “wedgies”—let players fight for the ball.

4.  Do jump balls less often.  Go back to the old rule where jump balls only occur when the tie up lasts a couple of seconds.  Don’t call jump balls on blocked shots, but also don’t call a travel if the person blocked comes back down with it.  Just keep going.

5.  No instant replay review of calls, except during stoppages like end of quarter or time outs.  It’s just a game, people.

6.  Don’t call a defensive foul when the defender is roughly straight up and the offensive player slides by on a drive, with modest contact.  I see lots of such fouls being called.  Let people play defense.

7.  Reduce the number of free throws by awarding only 2 when a three point shooter is fouled.  The penalty should fit the damage, and the damage caused to the offense by fouling a three point shooter is no worse than the damage caused by fouling someone at the rim.  The expected points lost is roughly the same.

8.  Speed up free throws.  Allow only 5 seconds to shoot, once the official hands the player the ball.

Players will get a bit more tired if the action speeds up, but then just use the bench a bit more.



32 Responses to “How to fix the NBA”

  1. Gravatar of bob bob
    16. January 2019 at 13:56

    Great post. I love all of your suggestions. I have two suggestions. 1. Don’t eliminate the 3. The problem with the 3 is that it is too valuable relative to a field goal. It’s even worse in pickup when people play 1s and 2s. My fix would be to make a normal field goal worth 3 points and a shot behind the arc worth 4. This would lead to more interior play without totally eliminating the aesthetics of the modern game. I love your suggestion of making a 3pt foul worth two shots. Doing a fake shooting motion into the defender is the worst play in basketball. I also agree with 6. If the player has position and stays in his cylinder there should be no foul anywhere on the court but especially in the restricted zone. My new suggestion is to eliminate fouling out. The stars get special treatment because referees are rightly hesitant to foul out the best player on the floor. Instead they call makeup calls on role players to compensate. My solution is that once a player reaches 6 fouls, every foul they commit is a shooting foul for which the free throws are worth two points each. That way the referees would be free to call fouls on LeBron or Durant without being accused of deciding the game. I’m yet to find someone who agrees with me on this, but I still think I’m right (your definition of right).
    Again, great post.

  2. Gravatar of Michael Byrnes Michael Byrnes
    16. January 2019 at 14:14

    Removing the 3 would be a bad idea, because instead of more interior play we would end up stuck with loads of people packing the paint and low scoring games.

    Compromise: eliminate the corner 3, which is shot from a closer distance.

  3. Gravatar of David R. Henderson David R. Henderson
    16. January 2019 at 14:31

    Two things they did right this year that speed up the game:
    1. Make the time between halves 15 minutes. It used to be about 20.
    2. After of the offense hits the rim and rebounds, the shot clock resets to 14 seconds instead of the old 24.
    I’ve noticed the effect. The whole thing lasts about 10 minutes less than last year.

  4. Gravatar of rwperu34 rwperu34
    16. January 2019 at 15:20

    Pinball point inflation would be an interesting topic of study. Off the top of my head I’d say it’s at least 20% per year. Back when I played regularly (say 30 years ago), 1,000,000 was kind of the target and 10,000,000 was a really huge score. Now those numbers might be 100,000,000 and 1,000,000,000!

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. January 2019 at 16:21

    bob, Thanks, and I like your suggestion on the fouling out issue.

    Michael, I’m fine with that compromise.

    David, I agree about the new 14 second rule.

    RW, I guess I show my age citing 100,000 points as a high score.

  6. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    16. January 2019 at 17:06

    Yes, make the game a bit more physical again. You don’t even have to change the rules for this, that’s true. Just let the refs make calls a bit more differently, favor the defense more.

    Cutting the corner threes sounds good.

    The sheer number of timeouts, adds, and fouls at the end of the game is indeed really off-putting.

    Cut the season games in half. 30-40 is more than enough.

    You can fix basketball only to a certain extent. It’s not as boring as baseball but compared to soccer, it’s still pretty boring. A real underdog will hardly ever win (and important game), and you usually can skip the first 75% of the game without missing much, and then you can skip the last 25% as well because it’s just one big break. =)

  7. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    16. January 2019 at 17:24

    I’m not sure about 5 and 7 but I like the other numbered ones.

    I disagree strongly about the three point shot. Your suggestion 6 would give defenders a fighting chance without descending back into a lot of the mud wrestling that went on before the three point shot opened up the floor.

  8. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    16. January 2019 at 17:30

    If you want to address the root cause of this it was when they eliminated the illegal defense rule around 2000. In the 90s, if Clay spotted up in the corner his defender would be called for Illegal defense if He didn’t follow Clay out to the corner, vacating the lane. Typical defense in the NBA is for man defending the corner to drop down to the help lane which makes it much harder to post up or drive the lane. I’m still in favor of the change because illegal defense led to more selfish hero ball. It took a few years for teams to figure out that shooting 3s is the best way to exploit. Bet, it’s also why teams no longer run the triangle offense.
    I think Michaels proposal on eliminating the corner three is a great idea.

  9. Gravatar of Randomize Randomize
    16. January 2019 at 18:00

    7 is a problem for late in the game when teams need a 3 to tie. If I’m on defense, I foul every three point shot if they only get 2 free throws.

  10. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    16. January 2019 at 18:59

    I enjoyed the NBA more in the 90s. That said, the best thing that can be done to improve all live sports is to cut down on commercials. If that means going to a subscription model, I’d be all for it. The final minutes of football and basketball games are particularly drawn out.

  11. Gravatar of Cloud Cloud
    16. January 2019 at 19:44

    Prof.Sumner, is this the first time you advocate “discretion” over rule on this blog? 🙂

  12. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    16. January 2019 at 19:57

    All the professional sports seem to be “suffering” from time bloat. There was a seven-hour World Series game last year. An NFL game is three-four hours long with 40 minutes of action.

    Hey, its free enterprise. The sports teams are after diminishing TV-cable ad dollars. They need more advertising time.

    What is sad is to listen to a Dodgers radio broadcast. It is one long commercial with some mediocre play-by-play squeezed in.

    Decades ago, Vin Scully was the Dodgers announcer an in his prime, and he told the game as unfolding story, and ads were limited to between innings. Maybe FCC rules were involved, the right to use public airwaves meant ad time was limited. My dad said so. Scully was an artist and we will not see his like again, nor will you ever hear a superb radio baseball broadcast again.

    I like free enterprise, but some things are sacred and should be above the profit-motive….

  13. Gravatar of David Pinto David Pinto
    17. January 2019 at 03:41

    It seems it wasn’t that long ago that people were complaining about too much defense in the NBA. This goes on in baseball as well. In the 1990s there was too much offense. Today, shifts are killing the game. What happens, of course, is that the game is constantly adjusting, and sometimes overshoots on the adjustment.

    In baseball, the league will tinker with the size of the strike zone, the height of the mound, or the liveliness of the ball. Also, teams will commit more money to pitching when offense is up, to hitting when offense is down. Eventually, everyone works it out.

    Most sports have an optimal number of points (or runs) per game to keep fans interested. I believe in football, it’s 42 points, and the league constantly adjusts to keep the game there. In baseball, it’s 9.0 runs per game. The league is slower to adjust than in football. Maybe there should be a futures market for points scored in a sport so the leagues could adjust faster! 🙂

  14. Gravatar of mpowell mpowell
    17. January 2019 at 08:58

    A lot of these changes are just fiddling with details, but agreed on moving back the 3 point line and getting rid of replay. In other sports, there is much less scoring and calls are a big deal. Basketball any given call is not that big of a deal, but I would keep it for determining flagrant fouls. It’s important to get those ones right. Speeding up free throws would also help, but it will definitely be tough on players. Somewhat a risky change, imop, if it means otherwise good players see their FT% drop substantially (see Westbrook this year) and more hack-a-whomever games develop. I wouldn’t want making free throws to become an even more important skill than it already is.

    If you want the end of games to go faster, change the rules to make it, take it for the last 60 seconds. And making any free throw results in a ‘take’. Then the team that is down has a really good chance for a comeback all the way up until the point that the other team has the ball with <24 seconds left and fouling is a really bad idea.

  15. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    17. January 2019 at 09:18

    Pretty much like all of these, well done. Agree with mpowell re FTs though, you are already reducing them no need to speed them up.

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. January 2019 at 10:06

    Randomize, You said:

    “7 is a problem for late in the game when teams need a 3 to tie. If I’m on defense, I foul every three point shot if they only get 2 free throws.”

    In that case, they simply foul before the shot is taken.

    Cloud, No, although It might seem that way.

    Ben, NBA games are getting shorter. But then you never let facts get in the way of a good comment.

    David, Yes, but NBA games had about 200 points even in the defensive era. That’s a bit more than a European football game. How can fans get bored with 200 points?

  17. Gravatar of David R Henderson David R Henderson
    17. January 2019 at 10:18

    One more thought:
    Another advantage of giving just 2 free throws for a foul on a 3-point shooter is that the refs don’t them take a huge amount of time to figure out whether the shooter was shooting a 3 rather than a 2. (I apologize if someone above made that point.)

  18. Gravatar of derek derek
    17. January 2019 at 12:13

    #1 has been in place for several years now. You should hear TV commentators complain when officials don’t follow.

    i believe #6 and #8 to also technically be in place already, but i don’t think there is any hope in officials at any level ever handling incidental straight-up contact correctly; the nba is at least better than the ncaa, which wildly favors charges and jump balls.

    bob, your taste in basketball is strange if you think that the illegal defense rule, perhaps a bigger distortion than the 3-pointer, led to aesthetically pleasing basketball. the late 90s/early 00s, basically when the larry brown pistons were good, were a nightmare to watch.

    i agree in general that 3s are too overvalued, and i like sumner’s point about the relative expected value of a 2 vs a 3 point shot, but I am concerned that #7 will make it optimal to simply foul 3 point shooters, especially during the end of close games. i would rather see something like corner 3s being eliminated or the 3-point line extended.

  19. Gravatar of Floccina Floccina
    17. January 2019 at 14:27

    I agree with your suggestions. The 3 on 2 break was once a thing of beauty now a guy sets up at the 3 point line. I hate the 3 point shot. To not drag out the end of games, you should be allowed to opt to get the ball on an intentional foul or even better get 1 shot and the ball.

  20. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    17. January 2019 at 19:05

    Raise the hoop 2 inches.

  21. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    17. January 2019 at 22:35

    C’mon, commenters, show some sing of cognitive activity. The only reason SS is suggesting getting rid of the 3 point shot is that Giannis is a poor 3-point shooter. Getting rid of the 3 and raising the value of interior defense would make Giannis the new LeBron, an automatic ticket to the finals, at least in the fever-dreams of the Bucks faithful. Plus of course it would lower the value of Curry and Thompson and make Golden State no longer so dominant.(*)

    That said, the speed-up suggestions are good, especially #3, and David Henderson’s point makes it even better. Get Bill Simmons on the case! (You may to have to upgrade his quantitative understanding a little). However, the issue of fouling shooters in the late going won’t be so easy to dismiss – one of basketball’s enduring problems has been fouling as an advantage. (Maybe teams should get the option on all shooting fouls of one shot and if they make it, they keep the ball).

    Even the “wedgie” suggestion is pretty good, and I look forward to the average NBA game taking 4.2 fewer seconds as a result.

    I think officiating is moving in the direction of #6, albeit slowly, but maybe I don’t watch enough. As an alternative to #6, one that would improve the game even more in aesthetic terms and also shorten games more, how about just eliminating all fouls against James Harden?

    #5 is unfortunately tilting against windmills. Just a game? No way, soon the President will be appointing and Congress confirming replay officials in all sports; delays will stretch to hours because of the necessity of getting every call right.

    (*)Sure, Milwaukee is second in the league in made threes and attempted threes. And has the league’s best record. I still think getting rid of the three improves their chances, at least in the long run if they can keep Giannis.

  22. Gravatar of Dan Culley Dan Culley
    18. January 2019 at 13:05

    Rather than dropping the free throws for a 3-point foul to 2, if advocate taking the free throws from the three point line…

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    18. January 2019 at 18:02

    David, Good point.

    Derek, I did not know that. Someone needs to explain that to officials. On three point fouls, see my reply to randomize.

    anon/portly. You said:

    “The only reason SS is suggesting getting rid of the 3 point shot is that Giannis is a poor 3-point shooter.”

    I see you don’t follow the NBA very closely. Under their new coach the Bucks have the best record in the league, and got their by switching to a Houston style offense. Without the three point shot other teams would clog the lane on Giannis. Even the Bucks center does almost nothing but shoot threes.

    Also, Giannis is the slowest free throw shooter in the league, and would be hurt by the 5 second rule.

    And I’ve always opposed the three point shot.

    You said:

    C’mon, commenters, show some sing of cognitive activity.”

    Yes, please do.

  24. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    20. January 2019 at 08:51

    ” Under their new coach the Bucks have the best record in the league, and got their by switching to a Houston style offense. Without the three point shot other teams would clog the lane on Giannis.”

    When I mentioned that Milwaukee was #2 in made/attempted 3’s and had the league’s best record, I was conceding your clever retort before you even made it.

    My point about Giannis wasn’t a serious point, it was supposed to be a humorous point. Always interrogate the post for ulterior motives, I say.

    Oddly, I think the NBA is in a pretty good place these days. It is unfortunate that the past 10 years have been dominated by players choosing to join up with up other great players (James to Miami, Durant to GS), as I think it’s more interesting when there isn’t a dominant team. It’s also more interesting when passing and movement are rewarded, not one-on-one play, which I think is not only dull but inevitably makes the outcome more dependent on how the refs call things, so at least the current dominant team is a fun team to watch.

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    20. January 2019 at 10:12

    Anon, I stopped reading after the first paragraph in your first comment. You need to add smiley faces, so I know it’s a joke. 🙂

  26. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    20. January 2019 at 12:18


    But there is almost always a dominant team (or two) in the NBA. Did you not enjoy the Bulls run in the 90s? How about the Lakers/Celtics dominance in the 80s? Early 2000s Lakers?

  27. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    21. January 2019 at 08:31


    Well, I particularly did not enjoy the Bulls run the year they my favorite team in the finals. But yes the Bulls were dominant, and between them the Lakers/Celtics in the 80’s also. But I think the past twenty years, since Jordan’s retirement, have been a lot more interesting, since there really haven’t been any dominant teams, until perhaps now with Golden State.

    The Lakers with Shaq/Kobe won three in a row, I know, but were not really all that dominant – they had to win a couple of true “coin flip” games in the Western Conference Finals to get their three. They look more dominant than they were, I think, because they won both of those games. And of course the luck ran out and the last two Shaq/Kobe teams didn’t win titles.

    When the Lakers won the title in 02, that was the 9th repeat champ in 15 years. From 03 to 18, we’ve had 3 in 16.

    And in fact the last four repeat champs – Lakers in 02, Lakers in 10, Miami in 13 and Golden State in 18 – all had to win a very close Game 7 against a team that was roughly as good as them or better than them in the regular season also. Last Year’s Golden State Game 7 win over Houston was the only one that wasn’t an extreme nail-biter – the 02 Lakers and the 13 Heat only surviving on famous “hey, look what I found” shots – the Horry shot in 02 and the Allen shot in 13.

    Really since Jordan retired the only team that really looks “Bulls-level” dominant is 2016-2017 Golden State – a great regular season and then 16-1 in the playoffs. And they set the win record the year before and were good enough to beat Houston for the title last year.

    If Golden State has another great playoff run this year, that will really cement their “all-time greatness” status. However their record isn’t that great so far and also this year won’t be so easy – the NBA Finals may not be an afterthought this time. To win a title this year they may have to beat two (or even three) really good teams.

  28. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    22. January 2019 at 11:53

    Anon, Good point about the role of luck. If Brian Shaw doesn’t bank in a three pointer at the end of the third quarter of game 7, Pippen might have 7 titles. And of course the Miami win you cite was also lucky.

    Then there’s Sunday’s two football games. . . .

  29. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    22. January 2019 at 23:15

    Not old enough to remember the game in the 90’s much, but the NBA is much more enjoyable today than it was in 2000’s. I say don’t change a thing.

  30. Gravatar of AnthropocenicReader AnthropocenicReader
    23. January 2019 at 09:08

    Lots of good suggestions. Mixed emotions because the good news is the NBA has become so unwatchable that I get to read more. The bad news is I miss the actual game of basketball. My opinion (and I stress, opinion):

    Game has deteriorated due to virtual elimination of any physical contact. This has made the game generally more fragile, as players now over-react to what would have been considered normal contact in 2000 era league. Anyone who has played any amount of organized basketball knows that when an opposing player makes a bunch of jump shots (and does a touchdown dance after every make), you break his rhythm with a solid foul. That simply doesn’t happen in the NBA, despite being normal course at the YMCA. A few suggestions to slowly take the “tennis” out of today’s NBA.

    1. Eliminate prohibition on hand-checking on the perimeter (within limits.)
    2. Eliminate the Harden up-and-under move to generate a foul on a jump shot. (This is just ridiculous, and essentially forces defenders into poor guarding position)
    3. Make referees call moving screens that are bread-and-butter for creating open 3 pt shots
    4. Reduce fouls that qualify for review as flagrant, but make a single intentional flagrant an automatic ejection
    5. Eliminate clear path foul
    6. No timeouts if you get “trapped” by the defense

    All except #6 existed when Jordan, Magic, Bird, Isaiah (who was Steph Curry, before Steph Curry – check the stats), Barkley, Drexler, Olajuwon, Stockton paved the way for what the NBA is today. They didn’t grow up practicing 3-point shots, so league was less about that part of the game. (The Pistons in Isaiah’s rookie year attempted fewer 3’s than Steph in 1st half of last year). That said, the 3-pointer has made the game better, added skill level don’t tinker with it. But game needs to be re-balanced, because by legislating out any physical play, the league resembles an Atari version of itself.


    6. Eliminate 3 second rule (Low conviction on this one)
    7. Address regular season doldrums with a mid-year championship – Fedex Cup type mini–tournament; Winning team(s) get huge cash bonus, and favorable seeding in May-June playoffs

  31. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    23. January 2019 at 09:50

    I like all of your suggestions. Funny point on #2. I don’t like Harden and this season I have been rewinding a lot of the fouls he gets to see how many fall under the #2 category, and I’ve been disappointed to see that most are legit fouls. His movements are so sudden that he is extremely difficult to defend without fouling. That said, #2 would still make the game significantly better.

  32. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    23. January 2019 at 10:34

    Anthro, Good points. We need more defense.

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