NBA pleased with progress in officiating non-basketball moves, sees no evidence of increased physicality

Monty McCutchen (the NBA's vice-president of referee training and development) said Tuesday that he was pleased with the league’s progress in eliminating foul calls for non-basketball moves.
He said that his officials were still trying to find the right balance between calling non-basketball moves, and missing some defensive fouls. The league is committed to offensive players being not held and grabbed. This is what the league calls "freedom to move."

McCutchen stated that the referees had done an "excellent job" during a conference call with several reporters following a meeting of league's competition committee Tuesday. "I believe that in any of these, there's an adjustment period on what constitutes the things that we're asking.

"There have been some instances, but nothing that has raised to a significant degree, where we would still like a defensive foul. It's being lumped in with a non-basketball move. The staff is currently in the middle of this adjustment period. Staff calls are being made at a faster pace than they would when this is not implemented. We're giving them examples to help us adjust in real time to meet the needs of the league.

"But, to be clear, we love the game from a freedom-of-movement perspective over the last few years and we don't want to give it up. The directive will be, will continue to adjust on mine, that we keep that freedom in place.

The NBA, McCutchen, and other NBA officials made it clear that this year's focus was to eliminate any "non-basketball" moves -- those the league deems "abnormal", abrupt, or overt" -- from the game. This has led to a decline in scoring, fouls, and free throws per match and almost elimination of fouls during the first two weeks.

Players have expressed frustration at the perceived increase in court physicality. However, League officials said that the data does not support the players' argument.

"I will just say that from an analytical perspective, we aren't seeing any evidence that there is increased physicality," Evan Wasch, the NBA Executive Vice President for strategy and analytics. So, for instance, there is a slight increase in personal, non-shooting fouls. This includes plays on the perimeter and handchecks. We don't see an increase in missed calls or incorrect non-calls in our game analysis data. This would be expected if there were more fouls being committed by defenders.

"So again, monitoring it and listening to feedback. But we don't see any evidence in the data for that so-called rise in physicality."

The league's message was, however, that the players, owners, executives, coaches, and players were pleased with the non-basketball moves and how it has changed the game's perception.

"It's free flowing one way, but the actual ability of a guy pump fake and go through a regular shooting motion afterwards is getting back to kinda the essence of the sport," stated Byron Spruell (the NBA's president for league operations). We're moving away from the gimmicks. We are not going to name names, but we are getting rid of the gimmicks. That's part what we set out to do.

Wasch said, "We concentrated on non-basketball movements because we want to see NBA moves." "So, the idea that you can have abnormal, overt actions but consider them non-basketball movements by definition means that they are not what we want in the game.

McCutchen stated that while the league denied that there was an increase in court physicality, he is working with referees now to address concerns from players and ensure that nothing becomes a problem.

McCutchen stated, "I think one thing we do when we hear criticism is that players are playing the games." "To ignore what they're saying to us would not only make it foolish but also lead to a situation where we don't do our job properly. We always listen. Data is our first and most important source of information.

"The data at the moment, there is no evidence for that. However, just because there aren't as many fouls, does not mean that a new type of play isn’t developing. We need to monitor this. We are monitoring this. To ensure we are within our guidelines, we will be monitoring drives. To ensure we are within our guidelines, we look at freedom of movement. When we combine our expertise and the data, we can see if we need to address it.

Spruell stated that the league has had little interaction with Wilson about the new basketball. Wilson will be the league's official partner for this season. Spruell stated that aside from a brief discussion about the ball's appearance, there has been very little feedback.

ESPN also received confirmation from sources that there was discussion on Tuesday about "take fouls" -- the practice of intentionally grabbing a player to stop a fast-break. It was already a common practice but it has become more prevalent this year. The committee decided to try to find a way to end this tactic. Although it is unlikely that such a change will occur this season, it may happen next season.