One of the most discussed topics of this basketball (post)season is speeding up the game/increase scoring. That might sound like two items but, really, if scoring was to increase, no one would give a flip about the pace of the game. It’s just that when anyone brings up additional scoring, the first thing that comes to mind is “speed up the game,” i.e. the 35-second shot clock is entirely too long.
Let’s, for a moment, assume that’s correct. Does that mean that if the shot clock were shortened to, say, 10 seconds that games would be in the 100s? How about 5 seconds? Ludicrous ideas, don’t you think? I recall reading an article in a recent Sports Illustrated (long since given to a friend) in which it stated that, while scoring is down the past ten years or so, there was actually more scoring before the 45-second shot clock was introduced (in 1985). What frightened the rules makers into a shot clock was an embarrassing game in the 1968 ACC tournament between underdog NC State and powerhouse Duke which ended 12-10 because the Wolfpack held the ball to bring the Blue Devils’ big man away from the basket (a move Duke refused to make) and a 1973 contest between heavy favorite Tennessee and visiting Temple which ended 11-6 (because of a similar situation). Other than those outliers (and no more than a handful of others), scoring was quite a bit higher than it is now. As is often the case, fear ruled the decision-making process.
The problem isn’t the length of the clock; it’s the teams’ inability to score – combined with the (extreme) possibility that today’s coaches are better at devising and teaching defense than they are at designing offense that will give players opportunities in which they can get very high percentage shots.
Why is that? Take a look at the differences between defense and offense. Technically speaking, the main goal of every defensive possession is when the opponent doesn’t score. Any coach would be foolish to think an uncontested lay up that doesn’t go in is good defense. Yet, the goal was accomplished.
Conversely, if the team with the ball executes its offense precisely as they practiced, and gets an uncontested lay up which the shooter happens to miss (even if it was missed by the team’s best player), nobody is feeling too good – especially if it was at the buzzer of a game in which the team was down by one.
The point is this. Good defense is made up of proper stances and techniques, all-out effort, communication, rotation and, finally, rebounding. Add in anticipation and it becomes great defense. Good offense is based upon skills, timing, execution, recognition and, in usually more than half of the possessions, also rebounding. The former tactics (excluding anticipation) are much easier than the latter, i.e. on offense players have to be able to do something positive.
If a defender gets beaten backdoor, many outcomes are possible. 1) The passer doesn’t see the move. 2) The passer makes a poor pass that goes out of bounds. 3) The pass is good but the cutter fumbles it away for a turnover. 4) The pass is good, the cutter catches it, but travels. 5) The pass is good but the cutter catches the ball and commits an offensive foul. 6) The pass is good but the shot is missed. Only if everything is done correctly – and the ball goes in the basket – is the team rewarded. Even if the defense fouls, the offense still must make the free throws in order to claim a positive offensive possession.
The opposite occasionally occurs, e.g. good defense combined with bad offense can lead to scores. But the only time that happens is when the ball ricochets off of a defender, say an arm extended in the passing lane, and finds its way into the basket. Obviously, that doesn’t take place nearly as often.
Other reasons scoring is down is the amount of information available to coaches, e.g. more televised games, easier access to opponents’ game video (beyond TV), more statistics (analytics) which coaches can use to thwart offenses and offensive tendencies. This means coaches can take away more scoring opportunities.
Wouldn’t it, then, stand to reason that there are increased opportunities for teams to put points on the board? The answer is yes – with a caveat. As stated previously, offense takes more skill – and the more skilled players aren’t staying in college as long as they once did. This means one of two changes need to be made. The first is to mandate players, aka student-athletes, stay in college longer. Since that idea has been floated and shot down (something about being unconstitutional or against the last CBA of the players association), let’s disregard it. That means the college players must improve their offensive skills (or coaches have to design offenses that are harder to guard than the current ones). Some coaches employ that philosophy, namely Bo Ryan’s “swing” offense and Mark Few’s “flotion.”
If the players are to make marked improvement in their offensive games, either the NCAA needs to alter its rules and give coaching staffs more access to the players (an action flying directly in the face of recent NCAA rule changes) or schools need to be able to use outside help – in the form of independent “player development coaches” – to work with the players during the off season, be it pre, post or summer. The NCAA has shied away from this idea, as it would lead to the dreaded lack of institutional control situation. Additional staff , i.e. non-institutional employees and all the potential problems they bring, is an area of which the NCAA tries to steer clear.
To wrap up the “get more scoring in the game” controversy (since forcing players to stay in school is off the board), either have coaches become more creative or have players improve individual skills. Unless we want the officials to call more fouls on defenders.
But, then, wouldn’t that lengthen the game?