Sunday, December 25, 2011

Explaining the NBA 2011-12 Season's Points of Emphasis

As the NBA begins its shortened 2012-plus-one-week-of-2011 season, fans might notice some differences on the court in regards to the officiating: how games are being called, as well as some more seemingly cosmetic parts of the game; such as the 24-second shot clock.

Every year, the NBA's competition committee goes through the league's rules book and interpretation manual, occasionally adding, modifying and deleting sections at a time.

Some rule changes are so substantial—and some old rules additionally become so significant—that the committee sends its crew chiefs, referees and other officials a list of those items, called points of emphasis.

Points of emphasis (POE) are often considered the most important year-to-year revisions or adjustments in the officiating arena. Officials are extensively trained in the new curriculum.

Occasionally, some points of emphasis review concepts unchanged from the previous year, but every POE is correspondingly vital.

Prior to the 2011-2012 season, the NBA trained, drilled and exhaustively tested its officials with the following POE for the upcoming year.

According to NBA executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson, many of the following points of emphasis emanate from the universal truth that "players are always going to have tricks in the game."

With the following POE for the 2011-2012 season, the NBA is clearly trying to crack down on the thespian, phony and dangerous sides of basketball:

Directional Swing-Through Moves

This technique used to be the smart shooter's way of cheaply getting to the free throw line. When a defender extends his or her arm to an offensive player's side—typically while guarding on the perimeter.

The ball carrier "swings the ball into a defender's outstretched arm and then attempts a shot once he has created contact."

Formerly a shooting foul, these moves will be judged non-shooting fouls if the official judges the player has only initiated a shot attempt after ensuring a foul had been called.

Picture the court as a map with either basket representing north and south, either sideline east and west. Swing or rip-throughs at the top of the three-point arc that draw contact in an east-west motion will generally be considered non-shooting fouls, while north-south motions may be considered shooting fouls.

Shooting Fouls Clearly Defined

Related to the previous play, the definitions of "act of shooting" and "shooting motion" have been interpreted to exclude granting a shooting foul for an attempt, that had been clearly executed only in response to a foul call or expected foul call.

Clearing Space and Offensive Fouls

Today's offensive players have a tendency to try and clear space by using their off-arm,and  illegally displacing their defender in the process. Significant contact will be called an offensive foul. Remember, a defender need not be stationary to be in legal guarding position.

Protecting the Airborne Shooter

A shooter is considered airborne if he takes flight during his habitual act of shooting. Airborne shooters, particularly jump shooters, must be given a space to land.

Defenders can expect to be called for a blocking foul if they employ a walk-under type move to prevent the shooter from landing safely. Jackson indicated this type of foul could easily draw a Flagrant one, if not Flagrant two.


A POE that crops up almost every year, officials will be on the lookout for players who illegally change their pivot foot, take too many steps or use spin or other moves, which commonly induce traveling violations.

Block / Charge

Like traveling, this POE is emphasized fairly regularly. With defensive flopping taking place more often and with much better precision, including this POE was an inevitability.

Low-Post Contact

Designed to protect the offensive player from being put at an unfair disadvantage while trying to move across the floor, defenders are reminded only one hand may be used to contact an offensive player. When that second hand or arm connects, the absolute foul must be called.

Perimeter Contact

Even the slightest illegal hold outside the three-point arc has the potential of changing an entire play. It can potentially place one team at an extremely unfair disadvantage. This POE hopes to curtail such a position by getting the fouls early and getting them often.

Illegal Contact in Transition

Related to the perimeter POE, illegal contact in transition can manifest itself in the subtle rerouting of a player or a major disruption to the game. Either way, this is a foul and must be called.

In addition to the aforementioned POE, the following administrative rule changes have been made to either provide clarity and precision, or to speed up the game.

Shot Clock "Loses" 0.9 Seconds

Referees have long known that a typical 24-second basketball shot clock begins at 24.9 seconds (displayed as 24 seconds), with a buzzer sounding once the clock reaches 0.9 seconds remaining (displayed as 0 seconds).

This is generally always true in college and high school gyms, because a game clock can theoretically indicate less time remaining than than a shot clock.

The NBA has revised their shot clock this season. For a video example of the "old" vs. "new" format, watch this presentation.

Imagine the following scenario: A ball is batted out-of-bounds at 24.0 seconds remaining on the game clock. The shot clock correctly resets to 24 seconds.

With the old 24.9 version of the shot clock, as soon as the ball is inbounded and the game clock reads 23.9 seconds, the shot clock will still display 24 seconds, as the shot clock is actually at 24.8 seconds.

Many all-in-one scoreboards—in that the manufacturer sells the game and shot clocks as a set—contain a computer program that automatically shuts off the shot clock, if it displays a time greater than the game clock.

This is great if the game clock is at 0:12.0 seconds when the shot clock is reset to 24. However, it causes problems when the shot clock is fully reset when the game clock reads, say, 24.8 seconds.

As soon as the game clock gets down to 23.9 seconds, or 0.9 seconds later, the shot clock will still read 24 seconds (as it still is actually at 24.0 seconds), and the computer will dutifully—yet incorrectly—shut the shot clock off, even though the potential for a shot clock violation still exists at 0.8 seconds.

Easy, right?

This offseason, the NBA has finally fixed the glitch: No longer will the shot clock read 24 seconds when the game clock reads 23.9 seconds, and no longer will the mystery of the vanishing shot clock violation go unsolved.

Accordingly, the eight-second backcourt violation will occur at 15 seconds, not at 16.

Shot Clock Now Displays Tenths of a Second

The aforementioned revision allowed the NBA to add tenths of a second to the shot clock. The 2011-12 season welcomes the new shot clocks, which will display tenths of a second when the clock gets below the five-second mark.

Why not start at 9.9 seconds? According to Jackson, the league's coaches collectively decided the final five—not 10—seconds were most valuable.

Substitution Limitation

Finally reflecting the college and high school rule, the NBA will allow substitutes only before the final free throw during any free throw substitution situation.

Warning Horns After Timeout

Similar to interscholastic ball, the NBA will now sound two horns 15 seconds apart to indicate:

1. A first warning

2. A final warning that the ball will be put in play.

Instant Replay Only When Time Permits

Instant replay will only be used during full or media timeouts, not during 20-second timeouts.


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