Three Soccer Concepts That Could Help Make Basketball Better

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Sports are a fascinating thing, created often by specific cultures at specific moments in time which define the rules and aspects of their play. Baseball and cricket, for example, have so much in common with a pitcher, batter and fielders, while being incredible different in scoring, time of play and the fact that gloves are not even used in cricket. Often, sports influence one another. Instant replay started in 1963 at an Army-Navy football game but now can is used (often too much) in sports including football, basketball, baseball, and now, soccer in form of VAR.

Soccer Basketball Comparison: Three Soccer Concepts That Could Help Make Basketball Better

You can argue that learning from other sports has made each sport for the most part better, improving its overall product. While things such as instant replay may have gone too far, sometimes hurting the flow of the game or enjoyment in the last couple minutes, it has signaled progress.

With that in mind we should look at three ways in which soccer can help out basketball, which has been affected the most in recent years regarding run of play and the stoppage of flow. By looking at how soccer uses the concept of advantage, the disciplining of simulation, and the allowance for anyone to take a penalty kick, basketball can become a much more enjoyable sport to watch by adopting similar philosophies.

Ending Hack-A-Shaq:

The first concept is the simplest to adopt. In the late 90’s a term “hack-a-Shaq” was born. Shaquille O’Neal was a dominant center for the Los Angeles Lakers, a behemoth of a man whom few could stop when he was trying to score. He was an absolute brute who was just bigger and stronger than most of his competition.

Unfortunately, in part due to his size, where a basketball appears more like a golf ball in his hands, he was historically bad at free throw shooting. He was a career 52.7% shooter, missing over 5,300 free throws in his career. While a smart strategy for opposing teams- intentionally fouling Shaq, forcing him to shoot free throw after free throw, it slowed down games to a crawl. This concept has now been adopted across the NBA, whether it is now hack-a-Ben-Simmons or hack-a-Giannis, it is an ugly reality in the modern NBA.

In soccer, when a player is fouled in the penalty box, the box encompassing the final 18 yards of a soccer field, the team is awarded a penalty kick, very akin to a free throw, except against a goalie. In Premier League history, 83% of all penalty kicks are successful. Part of that reason is, anybody can kick the penalty regardless of who was fouled. This has made committing a fouled in the penalty area one of the most egregious acts you can commit.

If the NBA would allow anyone on the court to shoot a free throw when an intentional foul was committed, it would nearly eradicate the concept of an intentional foul, or at least it’s frequency, and would cause the opposing team to simply play tighter defense and take more chances to steal or block the offense to gain back possession. Fouls are still often called but they can be diminished further through adopting soccer’s more revolutionary concepts, the idea of advantage.

Playing Advantage:

The concept of advantage is relatively straightforward. If a player is fouled, but the team is still attacking and has not lost a tactical advantage, the foul is either delayed or ignored (sometimes a card is still issued if the act is particularly egregious) and the play is allowed to continue. The results often keep run of play moving and has at times led to a great opportunity on goal or even a goal to be scored. It is a nuanced rule up to the referee’s discretion, but a concept that only hockey has similarly adopted, though hockey’s use is more tightly controlled.

In the NBA, players are often fouled when they are on a breakaway, about to dunk the ball, or change the momentum of a game with a great opportunity. If advantage was installed, players could break through touch fouls to still score on a breakaway, or a chance near the basket. In doing so we could rid the game of tactical fouls that slow down the game, but also remove the concept of and-1. And-1 is where, if a player is fouled and they score, they get an opportunity to score an additional point via free throw. It is a concept that rewards players for enticing fouls and is wholly unique in basketball. If a soccer player scores during advantage, he doesn’t then also get a free kick.

Ultimately this is about encouraging continuity of play and ultimately fans enjoyment of the game. Basketball has had an epidemic of fouls, often referred to as touch fouls, where application of rules are often as subjective as they are enacted according to the letter of the laws.

To this writer, the most beautiful basketball is a free-flowing game where momentum is caused by skill and fan engagement, rather than using fouling, for or against, to control the game. In fact the ‘art of being fouled’ has become a skill-set of the game, where players such as Trae Young and James Harden have become experts in getting calls – whether it’s stopping mid-dribble to have someone run into you, or kicking out a leg during a shot to draw a foul. In fact, this embellishment can be solved with the last adoption from soccer, simulation.

Simulation and Embellishment:

Soccer is often referred to as the beautiful game, but it is often marred by the theatrics of players insinuating they were hurt or grossly challenged when, through replay, we can tell they were hyperbolic in their reactions. Basketball recently has also been plagued by such actions and faux attacks, and the NBA has admirably tried to resolve this epidemic by fining the players for what they refer to as ‘flopping’.

Soccer has an even better rule, embellishment. In short, if a player simulates being fouled or ‘takes a dive’, they can be given a yellow card. Two yellow cards and a player is ejected from a game and a team is forced to play with one less man the remainder of the game. If a player in basketball embellishes a call, kicks out a leg to illicit a foul, or decries they were fouled when they were not, they would be issued a foul. For key players this act would strongly curb such behavior as after 6 fouls a player is ejected from the game. More severe penalties could also be added, such as being given a technical or awarding the other team free throws as well.

Soccer is not a perfect sport and still suffers from embellishment, tactical fouling and time-wasting. The idea of advantage, simulation and allowing anyone to kick penalties has allowed the flow of play to continue, and has de-incentivized behavior that goes against the spirit of the game and the enjoyment of fans. Introducing these concepts into basketball would go a long way into speeding up play and bringing back more integrity in the game.

The NBA has a farm league, referred formally to the G-League and now the developmental league, and it can test these concepts there. Major League Baseball has used their minor league to test out changes to the game and it would be a great first step for the NBA. Learning from others has helped humankind evolve for centuries.

It is time the NBA looked to other leagues to fix what has become a negative aspect of their sport and allow it to flourish as it should. The NBA is in a golden era with players now having some of the greatest skill and athleticism the league has ever seen. Let’s celebrate this league as much as we can by discouraging some of its uglier aspects in order to showcase its greatness.

Article by former Last Word on Soccer contributor Ned Joyce. 

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