The points of education for NBA referees in the 2017-18 season will focus both on continuation shots on the perimeter (mainly involving screens) and closeouts on shooters.
The league wants to make sure players are actually in the shooting motion when fouled rather than throwing up a shot after they feel contact but before they begin their shooting motion.
It’s a play Houston Rockets guard James Harden mastered last season. But it just wasn’t Harden taking advantage. League officials noticed an increase in those type of plays in 2016-17.
But this season, NBA refs will pay close attention to that play, focusing on the sequence of movements of the ball-handler and determining if the player was in a shooting motion before or after the contact.
If the referee determines he wasn’t in a shooting motion, it will not be a shooting foul.
The league’s referee operations staff studied the play during the offseason and determined that, a majority of the time, a player was not in a shooting motion when the foul occurred but was still awarded a shooting foul.
There is a lot for referees to watch for on the play: Is the screen legal? Is the defender going into the screen committing an illegal act? Is the player with the ball in a shooting motion when the foul happened?
Refs are being trained to process that sequence through better positioning and more eyes in a concerted effort to make the right call on a complex play. It is (or was) a savvy move if the offensive player was awarded a shooting foul, especially on a three-point attempt.
The closeout turned into a controversial play during last season’s playoffs when San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard landed on the foot of Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia. Leonard had taken a jump shot when Pachulia’s foot extended into Leonard’s landing area. Leonard came down on Pachulia’s foot and sustained a playoff-ending injury.
But it just wasn’t that one instance. League officials charted other times when a defender was in a shooter’s landing area on a closeout.
Referees will now look at the play under the guidelines of flagrant fouls. Was a player injured? Could he have been injured? Was it a reckless closeout? Was it a non-basketball move on the closeout?
Refs can use replay to determine if a closeout falls into the flagrant foul category.
Follow UT Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt
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