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November 25, 2011
NBA
While They're At It

by Bradford Doolittle

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Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we're into the list-making portion of the calendar. That's when we jot down the things we want or maybe even need and that we weren't able to acquire during a Black Friday riot. I'm not too big on these lists, just as I'm not big on gift buying and--especially--gift receiving. It's much easier and less awkward to want things for others than to want them for yourself. Since we're making these lists and the NBA is on the cusp of a makeover, it seems like a good idea to put some things out there that the league could fix. It's a different kind of wishlist.

Keep in mind, few of these things have anything to do with the lockout or the CBA negotiations. Those are serious issues that demand better treatment than to be cast as a bullet items. But make no mistake. Even though I'm taking a light approach, these are changes and/or tweaks I would love to be made to a league I love in its present form. Well, not present form. I would actually prefer that be playing games.

Hopefully, this will be the last day a superflulous list like this will make sense to publish. In other words, it would be nice if come Monday we can get back to business as usual. If so, there will be plenty of analyzing to do on the new CBA and random lists of complaints like this will be out of place. I'll have my fingers crossed.

There are really no rules tweaks on this list. You see lots of similar approaches that call for things like the abolishment of the defensive three seconds rule or the elimination of flopping or a tightening of the traveling rule, or at least its application. I've not overlooked these things. The on-court product of the NBA is something I don't believe needs much tampering. In other words, I like the league the way it is. That is also to say I like it better than basketball at the college, high school or international level. Frankly, I don't many of the complaints about the league. I often want to resort to the accusation that those list-makers just don't watch the game often enough or closely enough. Except I know some of them do. Oh well.

Lists like these usually are ten items long. As you've probably anticipated, ours go to 11. I urge you to use the comments section to chime in with additional thoughts. And if there are rules/enforcement items that you'd absolutely, positively like the league to change, don't be afraid to speak up.

1. Eliminate divisions. Divisions in the NBA are about as useful as Rick Perry in a debate. No one cares about them. I don't even have a tab in NBAPET that tracks divisional standings, only the conference version. Last March, I read a note at a Bulls game that they were about to clinch the Central Division. I had no idea--I hadn't looked at divisional standings the entire season. The divisions have little effect on playoff seedings. Home court advantage in the postseason is determined by record, not seed. This makes the guarantee that a division champion will get no lower than a four-seed pointless and confusing. Just get rid of this weird grouping of teams altogether.

Doing this doesn't require any tweaks to the scheduling formula. Currently, teams play intradivison opponents four times each. They play six intraconference, non-division opponents four times as well. They play the other eight conference opponents just three times. It's kind of weird, but that's how the 52 conference games a team plays are scheduled. A team has 14 conference opponents and as you can see, 14 doesn't go into 52 evenly. So either you have a handful of conference opponents that you play just three times, or you have to trim four games from the interconference schedule to make 56 conference games. But the simple home-and-home format teams have with their counterparts in the opposite conference is too simple to change.

So just keep the schedule the same. Just don't call any of those opponents division opponents and, perhaps, you can make sure that teams in the same geographic region always meet four times per season.

2. Hide scores on League Pass Broadband. This is the first of a couple of fan experience items on my list. Major League Baseball's broadband package is what the NBA needs to emulate. (Though I have never been able to figure out why MLB cut announcers out of their condensed games option, which makes it impossible to figure out where you're at in a game.) If you go to the League Pass Broadband the day after, it gives you a 'Hide Scores' option which is nice--it shows that NBA.com is sensitive to the spoilers issue. But if you're watching a game live, perhaps as a supplement to a live game on the regular League Pass product then you have to jump through all sorts of hoops to avoid seeing scores. Just add the option of hiding all scores from the main menu. Don't worry so much about a graphical interface. A simple menu like MLB uses will be just fine. After that, convince all broadcast partners to eliminate scrolling scores at the bottom of the screen. It's the scourge of being a sports addict in the DVR era.

3. Archive all games on League Pass broadband. MLB and the NFL are just as militant about protecting the integrity of the broadcast rights of their carriers as the NBA. Yet unless like those other leagues, you cannot get archived games on the NBA's broadband package if it originally aired on ESPN, ABC, TNT or--this is the kicker--NBA TV, the league's own network. The league gains nothing from this and, in fact, doesn't allow those networks to archive the games themselves. So the contests just disappear into online oblivion. Sure, you can DVR the games and, if you're mobile, you can watch the DVR'd games with Slingbox. But you shouldn't have to. There's just no good reason for it.

4. Get retired players off the books. Here's a short list of players that still occupy cap holds on NBA teams' books: Dana Barros, Michael Olowokandi, Vernon Maxwell, Johnny Newman, Kevin Willis, Mark Jackson, Tim Hardaway, Rik Smits, LaSalle Thompson, Karl Malone. There's lots others. I mean, Mark Jackson is the coach of the Golden State Warriors. Karl Malone has already been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Kevin Willis is 79 years old. All are still on the books because they never filed official retirement papers and the last team on which they played has always been over the cap. It's absurd. Beyond absurd. This is actually a CBA issue--clean this up.

5. Make that StatVu available to general public. Before long, there will be cameras in every NBA arena that track everything, and I mean everything, that happens on the court. It'll track how many times every player touches the ball, and results of the possessions when he does. It'll track what happens after a player passes the ball, not just the assists. It's track how close defenders stand to the players they are guarding. It'll track secondary assists. Everything you can imagine will be recorded. There are teams that have been clamoring for this data and they'll be the primary customers of this product called StatVu. But the NBA needs to partner with Stats LLC to bring a chunk of this information to the general basketball public. Information increases knowledge. Knowledge increases understanding. Understanding increases affinity. I think Yoda said that.

6. Bring back Hot Spots. Remember those awesome charts that displayed how a player shot from every zone on the floor? You could break them down by all kinds of situations. You could either just glance at the graphic and tell where players is most dangerous, or you could dive into the accompanying data. It was awesome. Last year it was gone. The NBA has always been progressive when it comes to deploying non-traditional game data, as evidenced by last spring's foray into on-court/off-court information. Losing Hot Spots was a step back. But there is always this season!

7. Make the D-League a true developmental league. There has been a trend towards teams adopting their very own dedicated D-League affiliate, one that I'd like to see extended to include every team. A baseball-style minor league would be a great fit for the NBA. This is another CBA issue, but there are still too many players that come into the league before they are ready to handle it. Minor-league experience would be a godsend for these players. As it is, the Hasheem Thabeets of the world just get spot duty in the D-League. They should be spending entire seasons there without their presence counting against the big club's roster. They should be playing on a dedicated affiliate that is running the same systems as the parent club. Those teams would also act as a place to stash readily-available injury replacments who are also running the big club's offensive and defensive sets. It would make for a better brand of basketball at the NBA level. The one caveat is that you'd have to have a system in place that allows players to move to a new organization if the opportunity rises. This isn't so much for the lottery-level, raw talents like Thabeet, but more so for the Sundiata Gaineses of the world. You don't want players getting trapped in the D-League if there is an NBA team with ready-to-be-filled job.

8. Clean up the trade rules. Another CBA item and one that deserves a long treatment, so I'll just summarize it here. Think of it like this: How would you explain the concept of sign-and-trade to someone who knows nothing about the NBA? It's not easy because it's not logical. Here's what happens in a nutshell: A team signs a player that they probably want to keep but is forced to immediately trade because there is an agreement with the player and another team to do so. There has to be a better way. The same concept applies to things like trading retired players, players getting traded to teams that don't really want them only to be released and return to the team that originally traded them. It's just not good PR.

9. Kill the second round of the draft. While I like the concept of teams drafting European prospects and stashing them for a few years, I don't like the idea of the non-guaranteed contracts that most second-round picks end up signing. If you limit the draft to the first round--and 30 guaranteed deals--and you have a good system in place of honestly informing NBA hopefuls about their chances of being drafted, you'll have fewer players turning pro when they have no business doing so. Also, undrafted rookies can then go the Wesley Matthews route of finding a team that best fits their skills and, thus, maximize their chances of sticking in the league.

10. Block the $%&# out. I know I said I didn't want to change anything on the court. I guess I lied. This is something I thought about all last season. Why the heck don't NBA players block out consistently? It drives me nuts. It's not just in the middle of games. It happens on crucial possessions. Even at my meager level of play, when a shot goes up, the first thing I do is look for someone to get a body on. On the playground, this isn't always met with a lot of enthusiasm, but I just don't know any other way to play the game. NBA players just drift towards the ball after it comes off the rim. Opponents come unfettered down the lane. I'd say 3/4 of all put-back dunks--the ones that dominate highlight shows--would never happen if players just made a token effort to screen out. A point in my favor: Kevin Love gains a huge advantage simply by executing this fundamental, one that should be engrained in every player.

11. No more lockouts or strikes. Put this one in the "Never leave again" category.

Follow me on Twitter for Sim Season updates and more.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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