SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Joe Ingles gets knocked out of bounds by Golden State’s Draymond Green, but instead of a whistling a foul, the officials call “force out” and award the ball to the Jazz. A few minutes later, Ricky Rubio gets fouled in the backcourt by Steph Curry and makes his first free throw. But after missing his second, he’s awarded one more foul shot because of the NBA’s three-to-make-two free throw rule.
The future of the NBA?
Actually it’s the past NBA and the not-too-distant past.
The aforementioned rules were in effect as recently as the 1970s when the Jazz franchise was born in New Orleans. They are just a couple of NBA rules that old-timers remember, but young fans probably laugh at when they hear about them.
Since the league began in 1946, NBA rules have undergone numerous changes over the years, such as the widening of the lanes in the 1950s and the addition of the 3-point shot in 1979.
Most years, there have been subtle changes to the rules that are hardly noticed by the fans, while some are not rule changes, but “points of emphasis” that make a noticeable difference in the game. That’s been the case this season with the “freedom of movement” tweaks that have opened up the game, resulting in advantages for the offense with higher scoring.
Many experts agree the NBA game is as good as it’s ever been and any future changes to the game will be minor.
This year’s changes, including resetting the shot clock to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound, were not hugely publicized, but the freedom of movement emphasis has had an effect on the game. Some say it has affected the Utah Jazz as much as any team in the league because they’re a defensive-minded team that perhaps used its hands more than other teams in the past.
“It’s something we talked about quite a bit in the preseason and wanted to address our habits to be aware of that point of emphasis,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who feels his team has adapted as the season has progressed. “I think there’s a balance that starts to get achieved. It’s something we’re aware of and conscious of without sacrificing some aggressiveness.”
NBA coaches and players who are asked about possible rule changes are usually reticent about making suggestions, perhaps because they don’t want league officials to think they are unhappy with the current state of the league.
Snyder has been on a rules committee with fellow NBA coaches and wouldn’t say if there’s a particular rule he’d want to change right now. He said changing a rule is an extensive process and that a lot of study goes into it.
“It’s a developmental process where they use the G-League and summer league to try out new rules,” he said, noting this year’s change of the shot clock being reset after an offensive rebound.
“There’s all kinds of data behind those things,” he said. “With respect to points of emphasis whether it be traveling, screening, freedom of movement — that’s really an educational process that happens with the officials, and the officials then educate the players. There’s a dynamic where those things evolve and settle in and there’s a greater understanding of what exactly that means.”
Former longtime Jazz assistant Gordon Chiesa has seen an overall change in the game since he coached the Jazz for 16 years up until 2005.
“You used to be able to hand-check Derek Harper or put your whole arm for leverage from behind like Buck Williams who mastered it and bothered Karl (Malone),” he said. “Now if you touch a guy, it’s a foul. It’s almost impossible to guard Steph Curry one-on-one because of the way the rules are now. Television wants a 127-122 game versus a 97-92 game.”
However, Chiesa doesn’t think there should be changes to the game, and if there is, it should be minor, such giving a team an extra foul before the bonus, until the sixth team foul of each quarter rather than five. But he agrees the game is better than ever.
“There’s nothing like it. The athletes are incredible,” he says of the current NBA.
Utah Jazz radio analyst Ron Boone played in the 1970s and '80s when the NBA went through some significant changes. He says the biggest difference today from when he played, is the lack of physicality that used to be present on the court.
“The game has changed so much,” he said. “It’s not as physical and an offensive player has an advantage now. I’m not one of those guys who thinks the old way was the best way — you realize everything changes.”
“You think about what the league has done,” Boone continued. “They got the most out of the ‘Bad Boys’ back when the league was physical and they’ve gradually done away with that. I think the NBA has done a great job of changing with the times and it gets better and better.”
If there’s one change Boone would like to see, it would be to not allow players like James Harden or LeBron James to go barreling into defensive players and get foul calls. “If you’re backpedaling and they initiate it, it’s huge advantage for an offensive player,” Boone said.
Boone also mentioned 4-point baskets, somewhat facetiously, saying, “If you watch Trae Young and some of these guys, maybe one day there’ll be a 4-point shot.”
One guy who wouldn’t mind that is Jazz sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who’s made a living out of sinking 3-point baskets during his 16 years in the NBA.
“I think it’s worth exploring,” he said of the 4-point shot. “There was a time in my first few years when they were talking about getting rid of the 3-point line because they felt like there were too many bad 3-point shots being taken. It’s funny talking about a 4-point line when a few years ago they were talking about getting rid of the 3-point line.”
But Korver is happy with how the game is now, especially from an offensive standpoint.
“I think the game is much more fun and open and free than when I first came into the league,” he said. “Most of the rules changes have been so we can score more points and that’s made the game more fun with higher scoring and a lot more actions. It’s more of an offensive game.”
(This is a chart to run with the story)
Significant NBA rule changes over the years
- 1951 — Lane widened from 6 feet to 12 feet
- 1954 — 24-second clock is introduced
- 1955-1964 — No rules changes
- 1964 — Lane widened from 12 to 18 feet
- 1972 — No foul shots are attempted, except shooting fouls, until fifth team foul
- of period
- 1977 — Force-out rule is eliminated
- 1978 — Number of referees increased from two to three
- 1979 — 3-point line established 22 feet in the corners extending to 23 feet, 9 inches at top of key
- 1979 — Referees reduced from three to two
- 1981 — “3 to make 2” and “2 to make 1” free throw rules eliminated
- 1984 — The 2-3-2 Finals format adopted, changing from 2-2-1-1-1 format
- 1988 — Number of referees permanently increased from two to three
- 1992 — Shot clock is reset only when ball hits the rim (previously it was reset if ball hit either the rim or backboard)
- 1994 — Three shots awarded for foul on 3-point attempt
- 1994 — 3-point line shortened to a uniform 22 feet around the basket
- 1997 — 3-point line lengthened to original 23 feet, 9 inches, except in the corners where the distance remained at 22 feet
- 1997 — A “no-charge” area established with a half circle with a 4-foot radius measured from middle of goal
- 2000 — Timeouts increased from six to seven, fourth-period timeouts increased from three to four
- 2001 — Illegal defense eliminated and zone defense allowed. Defensive 3-second rule prohibits defensive player from being in lane without guarding offensive player
- 2001 — The time to advance ball past midcourt reduced from 10 seconds to 8 seconds
- 2002 — Instant replay implemented for review of certain last-second plays
- 2007-15 — Expansion of instant replay every year except 2010-11
- 2017 — Timeouts reduced from nine to seven per team per game with no more than two after the 3-minute mark of the fourth quarter
- 2018 — Shot clock reset to 14 after an offensive rebound rather than 24