The Whiteboard: Rule changes and innovations we want to see this NBA season

Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA is constantly tinkering with rules and innovations. Inspired by changes in MLB, here are a few things we’d like to see this year.

Last day of September! Time to schedule some apple picking, pull out those flannels, and swap iced coffee for hot cider. For baseball, it means one season is about to end, and time for a look-forward to another. Yes, this is still The Whiteboard, a basketball newsletter, but let’s look at some changes the MLB is going through and think about what the tone of the changes would look like in the context of the NBA.

For those who don’t know, the MLB is going to undergo radical changes in rules and processes over the next several years in an effort to make the game more watchable and attractive, particularly to a younger audience.

Baseball has been slow to adapt, a problem that stems from the purists of the game being unwilling to let it change, even when the change is for the better of the sport. Ultimately, that has put the sport in a precarious spot. It is sometimes slow and archaic whereas other sports have become intentionally faster and more exciting.

This season, the MLB started using a technology called PitchCom, an audio device innovation that allows catchers and pitchers to communicate without hand signals.

Soon, a pitch clock will be implemented, much like the NBA’s shot clock. Eventually, you have to assume that robot umpires will come as well.

The NBA doesn’t have the same problem that the MLB does… Or does it?

Ever watched the final two minutes of a close basketball game? Ever enjoyed it? The constant fouling, two minutes of gameplay taking 20 minutes. It’s not always fun to watch even though a tightly contested game should be the highlight of the viewing experience.

Though the NBA probably doesn’t need major rule changes right now — and though the ideas to come in this newsletter are rather radical and silly — it got me thinking about what equivalent rule propositions would look like for the NBA. If nothing else, maybe this can get the brainstorming going.

Here are some fun ideas that could speed up the game and make it more exciting.

Penalties don’t stop play and free throws are accrued and taken all at once at the next timeout

The most annoying rule in basketball has to be that penalties stop play. Teams are smart for utilizing that to their advantage to gain as many possessions as possible when they’re behind at the end of games, but it absolutely demolishes the viewing experience.

Even in the middle of games, we’ve seen hacking employed to send players with poor free-throw abilities to the line as often as possible. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be schematic, a game that just happens to have an excess of foul calls tends to be a bit more boring to watch.

Easy fix. Don’t stop games for fouls, and simply accrue them until the next timeout, doing the bookkeeping on free throws all at once rather than stopping play to line everyone up and take some shots.

The downside, of course, is this will lead to much more exhaustion for players without built-in breaks. It could also get hectic trying to remember how many fouls you have when they’re being called out on the fly.

Notably, the NBA is already adjusting how it approaches take fouls this season, making the penalty higher by awarding a free throw and possession. This rule doesn’t apply in the final two minutes of the half or game, where it would mean the most.

Coaches can sub on the fly and as often as they like similar to hockey

Substitutions don’t really slow the game down since they occur in-line with normal play stoppages, but it would be more exciting if coaches could swap players in and out whenever they felt like it.

Imagine the excitement. Not only would it be frenetic and add some pace to things, but think about how it would give elite coaches an opportunity to display just how good they are. Anyone can build a rotation that needs to wait for a timeout for a substitution. But doing things on the fly?

That takes real poise.

PitchCom device for calling plays

PitchCom has been a huge success in the MLB. It prevents sign-stealing and also has an underrated advantage: It breaks down language barriers. PitchCom can be programmed in whatever voice and language the player wants.

In the NBA, that could be even more useful with players hailing from a wide variety of different countries and speaking a wide range of languages.

Consider the Thunder.

Lu Dort could have his plays called in French. Aleksej Pokusevski could have his plays called in Serbian. Others could have them called in English. Players could even refer to plays with different vocabulary if they have trouble remembering certain words or phrases.

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