I would like to say first that I am more excited to write this specific article than any other in my journalism career. Yes, that would only include about 10 high school sports section articles about the local football teams and JV tennis, and only one previous Rhombus article up to this point, but let me explain.
Not only have I been critical of these three mistakes that exist in the NBA for the last few years, but I have now been inspired by the Sports Guy himself, Bill Simmons, while reading his New York Times bestseller The Book of Basketball, and know, now more than ever, that these three things really do need to change in the NBA — and they need to change fast.
On December 18th of last year, Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce addressed the media on a local Boston blog and gave us the three things he would change about the NBA. I think it’s good to hear what needs to be done to make the NBA better from a player’s prospective, as well as from an avid NBA fanatic like myself. Then you can make your own decisions. Paul Pierce:
1. I’d get rid of the age minimum: I don’t know why they have it. I think if you’re a pro, you’re a pro. And if a team wants to draft you and you’re good enough, you should be able to go no matter what age you are. You see it overseas, guys are pros at 14, 15, 16 years old. You’ve got to give everybody an opportunity.
2. Shorten the season to 60 games: Every year somebody gets hurt. That’s a combination of wear and tear in preseason games and regular season games.
3. Raise the rim three inches: The athletes today are crazy. You see the way guys are jumping these days. I would raise the rim three inches. Then, you have to learn the art of the jump shot. You’ll have to know how to play this game a little bit better then. Raising the rim, you’ll see improved play. You’ll see increasing fundamentals. I’m telling you.
I find one of Pierce’s opinions coinciding with mine. The 82-game NBA season, along with the ridiculous 162-game baseball season (apologies to fellow Rhombus sports writer Jake Welch), needs to be shortened. I think Pierce hit this one right on. Sixty games would be the perfect length for the NBA regular season. After 60 games we generally know who the contenders are. Quite frankly, we usually know this a month into the season. There are never more than four or five teams that have a legitimate shot at the title anyway.
Likewise, we also know who the 16 playoff teams are after 60 games — and considering we know only four or five teams are going to contend anyway come playoff time, we don’t need an extra 22 games to see who squeezes into the 7th and 8th spots in each conference. Sixty games is enough to earn it, and it gives each team the opportunity to play every team in the NBA once, and those in their respective conferences three times.
But I would not only change the number of games played each NBA season, I would also decrease the number of teams that even make the playoffs. Some of the current sixteen teams (over half the league) do not deserve to be considered playoff teams in the first place. Let’s look at the current standings as an example to see how many of the 16 teams that would make the playoffs today have sub-.500 records: three, plus an 18-17 Miami Heat team.
Now this is for another article, but all three of those teams (plus Miami) come from the Eastern Conference. But even looking at the standings just one week ago, the West would have been representing one sub-.500 team itself. My opinion? A sixty game NBA season that ultimately gives the top eight teams in the league, no matter their conference affiliation, a shot at the NBA title.
The second problem in the NBA is that the majority of the players today cannot make a wide-open, uncontested 15-foot free shot, commonly known as a free throw. Let me get this straight — you play basketball for millions of dollars per year and devote your entire life to putting a ball in a hoop; Once you begin playing competitive basketball, you hear from every coach how crucial free throws are at the end of a game, and sometimes practice this unique shot for hours at a time. How is it that some 18-plus-year-olds playing this game professionally (and in college) can only make 60 percent of these free shots consistently? How is it that the majority of NBA players can barely make even 70 percent?
This is the most frustrating aspect of watching basketball, in my opinion. I seriously challenge any current NBA player not shooting at least 80 percent from the free throw line to a contest. I probably played an above-average amount of basketball growing up, but never played in high school. And I’ll still guarantee I shoot 80 percent from the free throw line. I mean, why is it that I was not given the genes that would have made me an all-star basketball player?
Let’s look at Ben Wallace, for example — he is a career 41.9 percent free throw shooter. He should not be allowed to play the game. My opinion? A buddy of mine and I decided a few years back there needed to be a new NBA rule added regarding free throw shooting, requiring every player that air balls a free throw in a game to donate $1 million to charity. This would hopefully encourage players to learn how to shoot a free throw. Throughout Wallace’s career in the NBA, he has made roughly $80,550,000. Had the NBA adopted this new rule, Big Ben would have only made $35,550,00 at this point — but also saved thousands of starving children in Mongolia, due to his 45 career air balls from the stripe.
The third and final thing I would change about the NBA is the jump ball rule. I can see much of the world disagreeing with me on this, but I personally do not see anything fair when the 5-foot, 5-inch (if he’s lucky) Earl Boykins hustles his butt off to chase down a loose ball and gets tangled up with Lebron James, resulting in a jump ball. Well, who is going to gain possession 100 times out of 100 in that match-up? I don’t even need to answer that question.
My opinion? Bring the possession arrow from college basketball to the NBA! Not only would it encourage a small guard to make hustle plays on the ball that will make a difference for his team, but it would also bring an excitement to the end of an NBA game that we currently only see in college — BYU down two points with less than a minute left, UNLV puts up a shot that clangs off the rim and we see every player on the court diving for the ball to gain possession. Point guard Jimmer Fredette ends up with the ball on the ground while the 7-foot center for UNLV is falling on top of him. They end the play tangled up with the ball and the result is a jump ball. In today’s NBA, UNLV wins that game — but in this case we turn to the possession arrow and see that it’s BYU’s turn to take possession of the basketball, and we now have the chance to see a thriller down the stretch.
Dear NBA commissioner David Stern, please read Rhombus Magazine and please listen to your players. The insights we all have as NBA players and fans will make the league safer, more exciting and, to your benefit, much more profitable. Yours truly, Preston Johnson.
Preston Johnson is an occasional sports correspondent for Rhombus. He also appears on the magazine’s PB&J Report sports podcast.