Wednesday, June 13, 2007

If last night's 75-72 NBA Finals game has taught us anything, it's that the NBA needs to shorten its 24-second shot clock. Preferrably to 14 seconds.
In the past five years, as the NBA has implemented multiple rules changes designed to encourage scoring, I've always been in favor of shortening the shot clock as the single most simple and effective solution. And the league instead insists on tinkering with hand-checking and zone defense. Those moves have brought about a slight uptick in leaguewide scoring and encouraged teams like the Phoenix Suns, who employ a fast-break style of play, but the fact remains that the most successful teams are still those who slow the game down to play to their half-court strengths, a la San Antonio and Cleveland.
If you tighten the time frame these teams have to execute their half-court sets, however, you limit their effectiveness and play into the hands of the more fast-paced clubs who rarely use the whole 24-second clock anyway. When you look at games from 20 or 25 years ago, teams rarely walked the ball up the floor and stood around, and you rarely saw teams pass the ball from perimeter player to perimeter player five or six times until somebody either drove the lane or took a shot, which is what so many teams do now.
A consistent aim of the defensive-minded coaches who implemented the current slow-it-down mode of play is to limit the number of possessions each team has in the game. The easiest way to counteract this strategy, from a rule-making perspective, is to necessarily increase the minimum number of possessions per game by shortening the shot clock. When it was invented in the mid 1950s, Syracuse Nationals executive Danny Biasone simply divided the average number of possessions by the 48-minute length of games, which came out to 24 seconds. Considering its aim was to increase scoring, instead of merely maintain the status quo, Biasone would have been wise to use a number greater than the average number of possessions.
But the advent of the shot clock did prevent teams and coaches from limiting possessions any further, and in fact coincided with the rise of the Celtics dynasty, which was predicated on the fast break. Scoring surged for three decades before defensive-minded coaches caught up.
And now that they have, it's time for another adjustment. It's time the NBA did for offenses what Biasone should have done more than fifty years ago, and make time short.

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