NBA D-League Goaltending Rule Changes, A Preview Of Things To Come?

The NBA D-league announced today it is (immediately) changing two rules of the game to match how basketball is played in the rest of the world. The FIBA rules being incorporated are:

Three minute overtime period instead of five minutes and a change in the goaltending rule to allow touching the ball above the cylinder.

The shorter overtime time makes sense. A real no-brainer there (and in fact, we could have a serious discussion about reducing the regulation game from 48 minutes to 40 minutes -- some other time). 

The change in the goaltending rule, however, has the potential to radically alter the way the game is played.

From the press release:

The new goaltending rule follows the standard used in the international game that allows a player to knock the ball away when it is on the rim. Prior to this season, the NBA D-League used NBA goaltending rules, which prohibit players from touching the ball when it is on the cylinder.

Here's the two main impacts of that rule being implemented in the NBA:

  • Reduced scoring: By touching the ball when it's above the cylinder, it will be much easier for defenders to swat shots away. How many times have you seen balls hit the rim, bounce up and then fall back through the net? Long-armed, athletic defenders will be able to reject those would-be points and perhaps reduce scoring by five or even 10 points per game.
  • Athleticism will trump skill: When filling NBA rosters, teams will have a big incentive to give a job to a guy who can sky up and knock the ball off the rim, which will take jobs away from the less athletic but often more skilled players. This will mostly impact the order guys are drafted and what types of players get the 8 through 15 spots on a roster. It will even further the trend that values jumping over basketball playing talent.

It will be interesting to watch how this rule impacts the D-league this season, but the talent level there, as in Europe, won't be an accurate predictor of how it will change the NBA game. There are plenty of athletic guys in the D-league, but overall, the size, length and hops is a far cry from what we see at the top level.

And there's no question that these rules are being tested by the NBA's "research and development arm" for possible implementation at the big league level, so don't be surprised when it comes to the NBA in the next year or two.

Like New Coke and the synthetic basketball, I suspect and hope this trial goes down in flames. Watching long-armed stiffs like Mouhamed Sene camped in the lane and swatting the ball off the rim is not what I want to see.

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