Expect most observers to applaud the ACC’s decision to experiment with a 30-second shot clock during the handful of preseason exhibition games its men’s basketball teams play in 2014-15.
This change presumably reflects a belief that faster is better, which may not be borne out by experience. Just last year Virginia throttled back scoring at both ends of the court and won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles. Clogging the game’s arteries worked as a stopgap measure for Miami, too.
In fact, shorter possessions may make it easier for defense-oriented teams such as UVa and Clemson to maintain their intensity, thereby further stifling opponents. Probably the bigger losers will be offensively challenged squads lacking the compensating virtue of a tough defense, or teams with particularly undisciplined shooters.
The initiative to shave five seconds off the shot clock got us wondering what other tweaks might improve the game at minimal cost and with minimal disruption. Among the possibilities are adjustments to a wealth of rules that have virtually fallen off the officiating radar, only to resurface at odd and potentially maddening moments.
Let’s look first at ways to juice point production:
* Call a technical foul on a defender who reaches out of bounds to contest an inbounds pass. This bothersome tactic already is illegal, if rarely called. As much a result of over-enthusiasm as of design, such incursions allow defenders to interfere with an offensive player’s ability to get the ball to a teammate in a timely manner.
If the aim is to facilitate offense, then assure the inbounder room to operate. Better yet, don’t allow opponents to guard the inbounder. Come to think of it, we’ve seen plenty of teams that need five defenders to cover four players, anyway.
* Do away with the three-second call for players camped in the lane. This rule is violated more often than the speed limit on a six-lane interstate. Allowing players to settle near the basket is a logical step toward greater shooting efficiency. Should play get too rough, hand out optional boxing headgear to forwards and centers. The equipment can double as a new vehicle for carrying sponsor logos.
* Allow offensive goaltending. If you touch the ball while it’s in the basket cylinder, good for you. Shows initiative. Makes life simpler for officials, too. The international game allows this handy approach to rebounding, and that hasn’t stopped the game from thriving in less anal-retentive cultures.
Besides, the adjustment will give fresh life to awkward seven-footers, an endangered species that needs a safe haven in modern basketball.
We’d also like to see a few alterations that, while ostensibly beneficial for the attacking unit, might also help the defense:
* Do away with the requirement that a team advance the ball across mid-court within 10 seconds. Women don’t bother with this stricture, which rarely comes into play in a men’s game, either. If a team only has 30 seconds to shoot, and squanders more than 10 seconds in the backcourt, all the better for an aggressive defense. Let passivity, lack of attention to detail, or shaky execution be its own punishment.
* Abolish the closely guarded rule, whereby a defender forces a turnover by dogging a moving ballhandler for five seconds, or by checking an offensive player who stands still with the ball for five seconds, or both in series.
This call, which in theory promotes action, has gone by the wayside. What’s close? What’s guarded? What’s the difference?
Modern guards often slip into the habit of dribbling the ball ad nauseum, if only to maintain a controlling role in the offense. So be it. Assuming the shot clock is shortened, such time-wasting is just as good for a defense as expending energy making a player give up the ball.
And to clean up a few of the game’s loose ends:
* Let a team choose to take the ball out of bounds rather than shoot free throws once the bonus is reached. A parade to the line is boring unless you’re trying to predict the trajectory of shots taken by the likes of James Michael McAdoo, the former UNC forward.
Interludes surrounding free throw attempts have become time killers, grotesquely elongated as players slap each other on the back, palm, or butt. Do teammates really need to touch each other that often? Save it for the huddle during a timeout. Just hand the shooter the ball, enforce the time limit for attempting a foul shot, and get on with the game.
* Call technical fouls on coaches who leave the coaching box. Depending on your perspective, this may seem obvious or hopelessly impractical. Some coaches shamelessly ignore the requirement to remain within a proscribed area, among them Pitt’s Jamie Dixon and Kentucky’s John Calipari.
A coach edging onto the court and waving his arms, or striking a defensive stance while ambiguously situated in a sport jacket matching his team’s colors (remember Sidney Lowe and his N.C. State-red jackets?), can cause an opposing player to alter course or lose focus. Moreover, sideline roamers needlessly freak out opposing fans and coaches who already have enough worries about their own teams without paying attention to wandering feet encased in $600 shoes.
* Allow use of instant replay to make sure the referee throws the ball straight up on the opening tap. Policing this simple yet important act can set a tone for subsequent competition, assuring both sides the officials will not tilt one way or the other.
These changes -- many constituting little more than variations in interpretation -- could make a far greater difference in altering how the game is played than shaving a few seconds off the shot clock. Even if they don’t, they’ll make things a lot more interesting.