Flopulation Control

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I hate flopping. I’m onboard with TrueHoop’s quest to Stop The Flop. I’m a “zealot”. Flopping ruins games.

But if I were king of the world, NBA, the TrueHoop network, and the @HoopIdea feed—and why aren’t I?—my benevolent dictatorship would unfold differently than the landscape envisioned by Flop Of The Night. Please don’t misunderstand; I support #StopTheFlop. The amount of attention they’ve raised about flopping is unprecedented. But the wrong solutions won’t bring about the beautiful basketball we want. The conversation has taken a direction that won’t correct flopping, and may make things worse.

Big Time Players Flopping Big Time Plays:

For every flop there’s a flipside

We’ve seen several examples of would-be highlights ruined by a flop-charge. Who wants to see that? Or that? Or this?

But what about this play?

That is a textbook charge. It’s a great defensive play under the current rules. Manu Ginobili is in front of Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo doesn’t pull up and shoot over him, instead one of the more athletic scorers in the league just jumps into him. What are we losing by disallowing that offensive play?

Lou Williams is small. (Picture via Game Notes blog)

A charge is almost by definition a flop. Andrew Bynum will never draw a charge from Lou Williams even if he ran into him full speed, because Bynum will barely notice the light bump from someone half his size. Thus many players who are rammed into will wisely fall down or exaggerate contact. Why?

Charging ahead without a clear path

Some have called for the complete removal of the charge rule. But when any contact—even legal contact—even contact with the ball—may well still lead to a foul, and charges aren’t available, who’s going to play fast break defense? “He was rewarded for aggressively drawing contact.” “And he draws the foul by attacking the rim.” “The officials see him forcing the action and are responding.” Just Monday night, “James Harden draws the foul on the backpedalling Bynum.” How is it not a charge when the player was running away backwards?

Defenders have enough trouble getting calls. If they can no longer take charges, their internal “Time To Bail Out Of Here” clock will start a lot closer to zero. Ginobili, in the play above, might have gone up for the contest, risking a three-point play or risking fouling when the shot would have missed. He also might have chose to lower his shoulder and take an ugly hard foul, hoping Carmelo would only make one or even miss both. Or he may have just stayed out of the way and hoped for a miss. If completely uncontested layups and dunks, excite fans, that’s fine. Or if an increase in hard fouls and holds sounds fun, that’s fine. But that’s not what I call beautiful basketball.

Back to the fundamentals

Some writers are less extreme. Instead of banning all charges, they only want to remove charges away from the basket, or away from the play. I agree with the sentiment—who wants to see Derek FIsher rewarded for lining up a player running down the court and causing a collision?

But do we really want big men trailing the play to come into the picture and just (surely by accident) plow over unwitting defenders? They already stroll down the court in front of a pressed point guard, pretending they’re not setting a series 10-foot-long moving screens.

Don't tread on my legally established position. (Image by Lexicon, Vikrum via wikipedia.org)

If we have to go in this direction, I would change the rule as follows: It’s not charging if the victim is facing the charger. This removes the incentive to cheaply run in front of someone, and still protects defenders from being bowled over from behind as they’re coming up court. But since I’ve made myself King of the NBA, I’m not making that rule.

The fundamental rule of basketball that players are entitled to their legally established ground should remain unchanged. Screens, post play, and boxing out are built on this foundational rule.

Is it really dumb that Derek Fisher can make that play? Yes! I agree! But doesn’t Taj Gibson have a responsibility to look where he’s going, too? Think of the Clippers running a break. Chris Paul, coming up the right side, tosses a pass short of the rim for Blake Griffin, streaking down the center of the court. Dwight Howard is outside the charge circle and jumps straight up to deflect the lob, but Griffin hasn’t even looked and dangerously collides in mid-air with the Magic superstar. Clearly, this would be a charge. Shouldn’t Howard be protected if he tries to make the same interception at the three point line? Or is he out of luck?

Alex broke the news of the Clippers' 2013 rebranding right here at TheSportsGeeks.com

Paradigm flop

Charges are only one particular type of flop. Screen flops, rebound flops, and fight flops have all been discussed at length. This ignores the most nefarious type of flop, which I will cover later.

Many have proposed punishing the flopper with a technical foul or ejection. I hope they mean retroactive technicals, because the whole reason flopping gets us mad is that it works! If the officials saw the flop as a flop, I would have to assume they wouldn’t have rewarded them with the call that infuriated us and inspired a movement. If flopping wasn’t rewarded, no one would care about people laying on the floor while play continued 4-on-5, or goofballs launching themselves backwards. So I ask: If the official is unaware who is flopping, how will they call a technical on the Floppers?

So perhaps they mean retroactive technicals. But this is only a small incentive. They are rarely assigned for clear, bright-line rules like elbows to the head. Will David Stern really go back and hand out boatloads of T’s for a judgment rule? The price is also not steep enough. If it’s the playoffs, who cares if about retroactive technical?

Other proposals go farther, and call for suspension and fines for the floppers. Certainly that would have an effect. I can almost support it, until I remember that David Stern’s office would be in charge of this. Everyone complains about Roger Goodell’s power trips and Brendan Shanahan’s inconsistent discipline. I’m imagining inane debates over the length of flopping suspensions. I’m imagining the various NBA conspiracy theories only growing when someday Kobe Bryant gets a $2,000 fine for feigning death and Zaza Pachulia gets 10 games on a play where he got elbowed in the face.

Flop of the Drive

Nearly all of the discussion of flopping has centered on defenders. Finally! Media attention is focused on the half of the game they generally ignore. Unfortunately it’s on a negative aspect of defense.

Somehow, the offense is largely overlooked in all of this hub-bub. When I’ve complained about flops, it’s nearly always been about offensive players, yet most of the discussion regards rebounding and charging, with a few oddballs thrown in. In fact, just one playoff Flop of the Night until last night has featured a ball-handler or screener; the rest were loose-ball fouls or defensive fouls. But offensive flops are subtle, they add to the Superstar Call perception, and they encourage dangerous plays just as much as the plays the Restricted Area is meant to remove.

[Like I wrote above, I am glad major attention is now paid to flopping, thanks to efforts such as those at TrueHoop. I just worry that the attention is on the wrong side of the ball, and that the largest cause is largely overlooked.]

Listen to a game for once. I mean that literally—pay very close attention to the sounds of the basketball, not the announcers or stadium music (curse it). There is a (seemingly growing) group of players who yell out every single time they drive to the rim, even when they’re not contacted or only mininimally bumped. It’s awful. “HEEYYYY! HEYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!

Players waited all day for this foul call. (screencap by Tom Lorenzo/CJ Fogler at Sportsgrid)

There’s are officials who appear to lean, unsure if a foul occurred, on these screams of agony as evidence. After all, there’s officials who watch layups hang on the rim before deciding if a foul occurred. (Watch out, I might recycle that sentence for the final part of this post.) Truehoop does note an audio cue accompanying this Johnny Flynn effort.

In addition to vocal flops, there are upper body flops: falling-off-a-buildingflailing arms, whiplash-inducing headsnaps, any motion available that can convey to the official, “I need a whistle!” It doesn’t matter if the defender did anything illegal, or even moved at all. A subset of this is the strip flop, where a ball is cleanly stolen from a player’s two hands, so they waive their hands and throw their head back.

Finally, fully committed players can full-body flop. This often involves launching into a defender regardless of their position being legally established or not. Call it the “A Fling and a Prayer” strategy. Once again, we’ll hear that the defender “bailed out” the trapped player by fouling him, or that the aggressor “did a good job forcing the action and drew the foul.” “Forcing the action” can be everything from lowering the shoulder and going sideways on the way to the hoop, all the way up to what would probably be considered an attack were it occurring on the street. But this is the NBA, and the defender has to stand there and take it, and will probably still be charged with a foul.

It's all part of the plan.

This is dangerous. The Restricted Area circle was invented in part to reduce collisions at the basket, but that only addresses the defensive side of the ball. There’s little incentive against an offensive player flying out of control into the big men. Which is probably all part of the plan. Want to see some points? (Or dingers?)

Were I a player, the full-contact offensive flops would be the most infuriating since they endanger my moneymaker (my health). As a fan, the subtle ones are worse. Perfectly athletic players instead have clearly devoted time and effort to practice drawing fouls with the right combination of jerks, flails, and yells.

In order to attempt these types of offensive flops, a player must have the ball. Better players, particularly scorers, obviously hold the ball more and try to score with it more than others. It’s only a small step to theorize that flopping is a key source of the Superstar Bias we all hate. Look at the TrueHoop All NBA Flop Team—most of the team’s work is done on the offensive end. Turn up the TV during a Heat game, and listen to the sound of a Dwyane Wade drive or two. Watch Paul Pierce flail like a cat pawing at a string when he’s stripped of the ball while shooting.

Then watch them go to the line—superstars whose points are generated 25% from free throws. That’s not beautiful basketball.

Stop, flop, and roll

This all sounds pretty negative. To review, I’ve written:

  1. Flopping stinks. Flop-charges ruin great plays; away-from-the-play flop-charges are just dumb. Offensive flops are especially nefarious because they draw less attention, are a source of Superstar Bias, are equally dangerous to other flops and undesirable plays, and are equally aesthetically unpleasing as other flops.
  2. Changing the charge rule will make things worse.
  3. Adding a type of technical foul won’t Stop The Flop in-game, and I don’t trust the NBA office to fairly dose out retroactive flopping techs, fines, and suspensions.

Is there any hope?

Enforce the laws we already have

I have a plan.

It’s a radical reformation relative to what others have proposed. I doubt the Commissioner or owners would ever take on such a task.

            1. Enforce the rules

            2. Find officials capable of  1.

Flopping is already in the rules. Flopping is a technical foul.

Rule 12.A.V:

An official may assess a technical foul, without prior warning, at any time. [That's for sure.] A technical foul(s) may be assessed to any player on the court or anyone seated on the bench for conduct which, in the opinion of an official, is detrimental to the game.

Flopping is “detrimental to the game”. I’m not being a judicial activist. Here’s Comment II.B:

To be unsportsmanlike is to act in a manner unbecoming to the image of professional basketball. It consists of acts of deceit, disrespect of officials and profanity. The penalty for such action is a technical foul.

“Deceit” is the only way to describe egregious flops. But David Stern claims he has no power to Stop The Flop.

“I think it’s time to look at it in a more serious way, because it’s only designed to fool the referee. It’s not a legitimate play in my judgment. Some years ago I told the competition committee that we were going to start fining people for flopping, and then suspending. And I think they almost threw me out of the room, ‘No, let it be.’”

Who could say Stern was out of bounds if he tech’d players retroactively and fine them? Sure, the NBA Twittersphere would explode if a referee went rouge and hit Chris Paul with a technical for hitting the deck, but half of the tweets would be in approval. Remember the outpouring of support from everyone but the talking heads when Kevin Garnett was finally called for a moving, elbowing screen at the end of Game 2? Enforcing the rules is fan-friendly. Send a pre-season memo explaining the new Point of Emphasis in applying the written rules on deceit of the referee and no one can say they weren’t warned.

But it will be hard to assign as strong a word as “deceit” to more subtle flops, charge exaggerations, and more importantly, most offensive flopping. And as I said, if referees could see the flops, this wouldn’t be an issue, and retroactive technicals will likely be only a small incentive even if properly enforced.

So why are we dancing around it?

We need better referees. Ones who can see the flops.

I know, it’s tiring to hear fans whining about referees. Tell that to TrueHoop. No, they don’t blame the officials. But let’s look at some of their recent Flops of the Nights. Evan Turner is called for “charging” into Ronnie Brewer while spinning virtually in place. The official is not screened. Based on the regulation dimensions of a basketball court, he is no more than 30 feet from the play, and yet he “rewards” the flop. Another way to say it is he blew the call, because that’s not a foul. James Harden is called for “tripping” Jason Terry. The official is not screened; based on the regulation dimensions of a basketball court, is no more than 30 feet from the play, and yet he “rewards” the flop. Another word for this is “blows the call,” because that’s not a foul. There’s also examples such as Dirk flopping to earn a call from an official who is screened but makes a call knowing, presumably, that standard officiating positions means there’s a referee directly next to the play. But no blame is assigned to these officials in these posts.

Unless the quality of officiating improves, how can a change of the rules change the results? Stop denying the problem. Mark Cuban can’t get simple explanations for calls and he’s paying their salary! The fact that an NBA owner says he can’t get “accountability” or “reporting” on the situation is beyond ridiculous.

“We turn in stuff not after every game, but we turn in stuff all the time and we get ‘inconclusive; inconclusive; yeah, we missed this; yeah, we got it right.’ That’s all fine and good, but there’s nobody reporting to us on accountability. And that needs to change.”

Imagine the crime wave if police arrested the homeowner after watching the crime from 30 feet away. Yes, the criminals are the ones stealing. Yes, a good judge handing down harsh sentences would be helpful. But obviously, the biggest gain would come from hiring or training better police, capable of arresting the robber, not the homeowner. But that’s what we’re talking about with flopping. The flopper is doing something illegal, resulting in a foul being called on another player. Just like the backwards policing scenario, the blame isn’t only with the flopping players.

TrueHoop isn’t the only place to find offensive flopping preserved on video. Every fan knows about Dwyane Wade’s efforts in the 2006 Finals. (Talk about theft.)

Big Baby thinks it's funny. (AP, USATODAY).

Would it be as upsetting if officials didn’t fall for for flopping? Wouldn’t it just be funny if, instead, guys were dropping to the ground or flailing about for no reason and it never worked?

A shining city flopped on a hill

In my utopia, Stop the Flop will be renamed Mock The Flop, because 99% of Floppers will be correctly ignored by the officials. There’d be little to nothing to stop.

How will I accomplish this improvement?

My officials will have the authority to call charges as the rules define them—based on the actions of the offensive player and the positioning of the players, instead of based on the distance the defender slides on the ass after launching themselves backwards. The call would not depend on the defender’s feet staying in place while they tilt over backwards. That’s not in the rules.

They will call defensive fouls accurately—not using easy shortcuts such as a yell, a flail, or whether the ball went in. Because these actions would not be rewarded, fouls would not be called on shots where no foul occurred, removing a key source of the NBA Superstar Bias conspiracy theory. The extra blatant flops will end, because my officials will detect them and assign technicals, using the existing rules cited above. In the rare event a flop were missed, I would assign a retroactive technical and the maximum fine available, knowing as stated above that this were only a small piece of the puzzle. Suspensions wouldn’t be necessary because flops are nonviolent. Catching the technicals in-game is key. The league office will only occasionally need to dispense retro techs, keeping the bias accusations at bay.

My officials would be accountable. The NBA’s rare announcements that a single call was incorrect laugh in the face of fans who see missed calls every night. There was also the small matter of a referee rigging games for gambling purposes. I don’t need to mention that gamblers adjust their bets depending on individual referees.

This all will end in my world. Daily staff videos will explain calls that were especially tricky, booed, or debated by the announcers—and not in a whitewashed manner. My videos will admit errors: “Another official correctly decided no foul had occurred, and was closer to the play. His judgment should have stood.” My videos would not end with “inconclusive” explanations some teams currently receive regarding bad calls they send to the league office.

I would restructure officials’ pay to further incentivize meritorious officials and officiating. This includes raising all salaries. I’m not a compensation consultant but the reported $90,000 starting salary is not high enough for a job that requires a nomadic life most of the year, and where every move is broadcast in HD for the world to criticize.

I would not hide from problems. I would not “counter” a fully peer-reviewed economists’ study about my officials with a faulty internal study that I refuse to fully release. I would fully investigate the Tim Donaghy era and release the results publicly instead of giving dismissive remarks.

My league will be Open. Fair. Safe. Fan-oriented. Rule-bound. Data-driven. Responsive. Accountable. Conciliatory.

We can fix flopping, if we face the real issue.

*Puns left in the chamber: Flopping like flies, We built this city on flop and roll, Flop it like it’s hot, Flopsanity…

Matt Aquiline - I mean what I write, except when it's wrong--then it was satire. I'm not far along towards my great aspirations. My many interests include sports, satire, religion, reading, politics, privacy, music, married life, and alliteration. - Follow him on Twitter here

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