Flop and Punishment; Adapt or Suffer
During the game Saturday night, James Harden executed a flop to perfection against Tyson Chandler. He bumped into Chandler, and then when Chandler reacted by putting his arms up, Harden flopped at a point where Chandler’s elbows protruded maximally. Worked like a charm, Chandler got whistled for a technical.
I can’t think of a finer scenario for a meditation on flopping and rule making.
If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’
First let’s talk about this from the perspective of the specific player who commits the flop. Coming to the world of NBA basketball and seeing how referees call the game, it is irresponsible NOT to flop. A player should do all he can to help his team win short of some great universal moral transgression. Flopping causes no physical injury to the opponent and on average helps your team.
What’s more, basketball has long accepted the strategic breaking of rules. Players regularly commit fouls with the intent of getting caught so as to stop the clock, or put a hapless free throw shooter to the line such as Shaquille O’Neal.
More generally, the nature of all laws is that they are essentially meant to be broken by anyone who is willing to pay the price of the consequences for the benefit the violation confers. In any setting where regular rule breaking takes place, it can be assured that the typical consequences of such action are simply not consistently serious enough to fulfill their intended purpose.
With flopping we have something that often times works (i.e. they don’t get caught), and when it doesn’t work the consequences are only those of a blown play at most. Clearly fear of a blown play in the face of the way referees currently call the game is not enough to stop the behavior.
You’re blind ref!
The first place everyone looks when trying to hang blame is at the referees. The poor referees of basketball, partly because of the flopping, get more hate tossed their way that perhaps any other referees. This despite the fact that the large number of possessions in a basketball game and the relatively even success between offense and defense mean that none of their screw ups has anywhere near the consequence of a wrongly awarded penalty kick in soccer.
While I’d never assume that the NBA’s refereeing system bordered on perfection, it seems pretty safe to say that if there were obvious ways to make referees much better at identifying fouls on the floor in the heat of the moment way, it would have been implemented.
Bottom line is that getting calls right in an incredibly fast, incredibly physical game like basketball is very hard. And it gets much harder when you realize that every single player on the court isn’t simply trying to outsmart the other team, they are also trying to trick the referees.
Thanks a lot guys.
Hindsight is 20/20
The next thing that then needs to come up in the minds of decision makers with every problem involved in managing player behavior is in the punishing of players after the fact. Obviously this is already done in the case of physically dangerous behavior. It’s also done in the case of socially embarrassing behavior, which really isn’t questioned as much as it probably should be imho.
When Van Gundy discusses fining guys for flops, I’m guessing the idea shocks some people. Players in general won’t like as it literally means more money coming out of their pocket. Jackson sure didn’t like it, and brought up the point about it being unreasonable to take money out of a guy’s pocket for trying to help his team.
That argument resonates intuitively, but ask yourself “Why the heck not?”. If Chandler comes back and decks Kevin Durant tonight, can he not also claim he did it for the good of his team? Would such a rationale make him any less likely to get some kind of severe after-the-fact, money-losing, punishment for his actions?
Of course not. While there is a pragmatic reality that the players’ association probably needs to be closely involved in any kind of policy such as this, there’s nothing fundamental that should prevent fine or suspension type penalties for floppers.
Above all when considering rules and penalties, a league needs to ask “What’s best for the game?”, “What can we do to make our basketball a beautiful and entertaining event to watch?”. On the whole the NBA has done a good job of this. It’s not a coincidence that the game is much more oriented to fun-to-watch agile marvels than it was 50 years ago.
They have not however exhausted all of their options to try to stop flopping. It’s possible that they completely understand how they could curtail flopping and simply choose not to. After all, it tends to be the more agile players who can pull off the flopping well. I cannot speak for their frame of mind, only that it is clear that there is a way to adapt to make the game a more honest one.
And that the Association must either explore that way, or continue to suffer as players become more and more adept cry babies.