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An interesting thing has happened recently that has changed the legacy of the game. Towards the end of the 90’s the talent in the NBA was getting old and defenses were getting tougher. Ramping up the defense has always been a way for less athletic teams to win. This culminated in 2003 when the Detroit Pistons nearly swept the Lakers in the finals and affirmed themselves as an elite team if not the greatest defensive team in history.
Now since that time, they’ve made the finals once (not deserving, due to a Wade shoulder injury, I’ll add) and the east finals every single year. Hard to say they’ve not done well. Right? Wrong. The Pistons have been tagged as a lazy team, or an over confident/arrogant team. But realistically, they should have multiple more rings and be vaunted as the best team since MJ’s Bulls as well as one of the best of all time.
Why you ask? The league responded to the Pistons winning the championship with rules that directly reduced the effectiveness of their style of play. They also emphasized the enforcement of previous rules meant to weaken defenses to stop teams like Detroit from having success. This has also resulted in the improvement of perimeter players like Tony Parker, Kobe, Bron to appear to be that much better players then their elders. Check it out.
Heres a site with all the rule changes the nba made over the years. Take a look at the last few years (post Jordan years you’ll note).
They’ve been making it much, much easier for guards to score which has really hyped how ‘good’ a lot of today’s guards are. Tony Parker (and I hate to include Nash) really benefited from these… a lot. The rules were changed over years and not all at once so even hard core ball fans didn’t really take notice.
Here are a few highlights.
• Illegal defense guidelines will be eliminated in their entirety.
• A new defensive three-second rule will prohibit a defensive player from remaining in the lane for more than three consecutive seconds without closely guarding an offensive player.
• During 20-second timeouts in the last two minutes of the fourth period and/or any overtime period there are unlimited substitutions.
Previously the team calling the timeout could substitute one player. The other team could substitute only if the team calling timeout substituted.
• If a player is fouled when he has a clear-path-to-the-basket, he gets one free throw and his team gets possession of the ball at midcourt.
Previously, the player received two free throws.
• On the weakside, defenders must remain on the weakside outside the paint unless (i) they are double-teaming the ball, (ii) picking up a free cutter or (iii) closely guarding an offensive player.
It sounds counter-intuitive to say zones increase scoring, but quick guards who can shoot cut a zone to pieces, even more so when your big has to leave the paint which defeats the entire purpose of the zone: as a player gets closer to the hole the defense always gets bigger and stronger. Not as you get closer the biggest defender has to move in and out of position. Help defenders on the weak side are no longer even allowed in the painted area greatly reducing their ability to grab rebounds and clog the lane.
By adding unlimited substitutions it also allows coaches to sub in players and run a quicker team who won’t tire out the same way they run shifts in hockey, but only in the last two minutes. This means that for 98% of the game you can’t sub in and out so your players have to pace themselves. In the last two minutes you can run your quick small guards like crazy, get them out and rotate them as much as you want creating the illusion of players overcoming defenses at the end of the game.
By adding a clear path rule you could no longer foul when a player beats you in the open court to prevent an automatic two points as they will keep possession. You saw this move constantly in the 90’s and its got to account for a few points change in differential each game. All this made it much harder to win with defense.
Against these changes they still won the title with hard nosed defense. In a direct response the NBA rules committee made it even easier to score, harder to defend and thus harder for the Pistons to win. The next season, the NBA made these small changes on paper.
• New rules were introduced to curtail hand-checking, clarify blocking fouls and call defensive three seconds to open up the game.
In practice they however they changed reality instructing the refs to start calling these things MUCH more frequently. The result: a dramatic explosion in scoring, smaller guards becoming incredibly effective and an increasingly difficult league to defend.
They sat a couple years on that and then helped small quick guards like Tony Parker by making defensive 3 second calls even easier to whistle… this was the first year Nash’s style started to dominate the NBA… You’ll also remember that this is ‘precisely’ when guards like Arenas/Wade/Nash/Barbosa started scoring points like crazy. This opened that strong side high screen to the weak side curl that Lebron does all the time and was so evident when he had his historic playoff game with the Pistons. A few years previous and Bron would not have such clear lanes to the hoop. He could still do it, but its a lot easier when Ben Wallace is out of position when he was starting his drive.
Super dominant bigs like Duncan/Shaq/Wallace also started looking less effective. It makes sense too: on the defensive end guards were killing them. Rail thin agile bigs like Amare/Marion/Josh Smith started to look like they were just better since they could move back into position more quickly. Camby’s numbers went way up at the end of his career and seemed so much more effective then in his prime to the point where he won DPOY. For the first time, ever (I believe), a guard (Tony Parker) led the league in points in the paint.
By 2006 the Pistons had clearly lost a series to Lebron specifically due to the rule changes and appeared very weak. They didn’t even deserve to make the finals. An injury to another quick perimeter guard, Dwayne Wade, gave them the series vs Miami. Karma’s a bitch though: nope, not who you think in SA. TD was quite quiet. The Pistons were able to push it to 7 games but it was two perimeter players under new rules who dominated them, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker. Not to be out done the NBA could not stand the Pistons/Spurs finals matchup of the two best defensive teams and brought in more rules.
• Free substitution is permitted during all 20-second timeouts.
• On a clear-path-to-the-basket foul, the team that is fouled is awarded two free throw attempt and the ball on the sideline.
The substitution rule makes basketball more like hockey so super quick guards could jump on the court, run it out, then jump off got updated to cover entire games. You could see Barbosa and phoenix benefited a lot from this. Dantoni knew if they ran up the score the opponents would call time. Then he could and used everyone on his bench to switch up his players constantly. Kudos to him for realizing the advantages the new rules produced. They also updated the clear path rule to punish defenses for grabbing a player on the break even more.
They missed a rule change on that page too. After they changed all the perimeter hand check/blocking fouls players were complaining about getting whistled for ticky tack foul that had never been called in the history of the league. Basketball is a contact sport but on the pro level this has changed. It was blowing the NBA’s campaign (and hurt their image) that the talent level was going through the roof cuz the players were always pissed off.
Being most image conscious and paranoid organization I can thing of, the NBA brought in a 0-tolerance policy that would t up a player for ‘any’ complaints about calls, and suspend them a game for every T they got past 14, even in playoff games. This was not intentional, but within the theme, it affected Rasheed Wallace and the Pistons more then any other team.
I do think the new rules improved the game. A high scoring seven seconds or less style is much me exciting to watch then the aforementioned Pistons/Spurs series. What is problematic though is a tarnished legacy of pro basketball. If MJ played today he would dominate these defenses unlike any player today but ignorant Kobe fans claim 81 points means Kobe is the best in history. Likewise fantastic and great defensive teams like the 01-09 Pistons will never be able to be compared to their late 80’s counterparts because the game has changed without people noticing so this version of the Pistons gets slagged.
The irony: it was a direct reaction to Detroit winning a title in the 04 finals that scared the NBA into the new rules. Changing the rules to account for your success is the greatest compliment that can be served. It means you are the best. So good its unfair to others. Wilt had many rules changed for him in the same way. But its A little back handed. After having the rules changed the Piston’s have been punked by various writers, fans and players.
The reality? Tough defense on the perimeter (Billups/Rip/Tay) with great enforcers at the rim (Wallaces) were about to dominate the post Jordan era as the best defensive team of all time. Realistically they might have won 3 or 4 more straight when you consider it may have been Vets like KG signing with the proven winner instead of Boston. But the NBA is not very good at marketing defense. They wanted the next Jordan. Since new Jordan wasn’t coming they changed the rules to try and create one. The Pistons changed their style and still made the finals but their team was built to play by different rules and fell short.
What should be? This Pistons team should been a dynasty. A hall of fame team credited with one championship and a label of arrogant underachievers. Its a great what if but seems that had the NBA not plotted directly against defense and indirectly against Detroit they’d have at least 2-3 championships and 2-3 more finals appearances cementing them as ‘the’ post Jordan team and team of the new millennium.
Conversely, the Spurs and Duncan, who are that team, would probably have lost vs the Pistons in 05 and faced the Pistons in 07 for a much tougher finals matchup (they killed the Eric Snow Cavs). If they lose that series, its Duncan and the Spurs who are underachievers and teams will say “they feel they can just turn it on and off.” The Pistons will have 3-4 championships in 5 years and the Spurs won’t have won since David Robinson was there which would lead people to say Timmy could never win without him.
Its is a what-if. Maybe it does not go that way. But its quite evident that the rules didn’t lower the ceiling of this team but took them down from potential they had already fully realized. The rule changes redistributed the wealth of credibility in the NBA and that should be duly noted. Look at the 10 game stretch on the right. They held 5 straight teams under 70 points and 10 straight under 85. Defensively you don’t get higher. They went on to destroy the Laker marketing machine of 4 HOF players on one team and as I’ve stated the NBA knew something had to be done. It can’t market scorers and super star players when a real team playing together can this effectively shut them down.
Hey, I’m honest, I’ll take Bron and Wade instead. Entertaining as hell and I watch to be entertained. I just think it should be noted that the greatness of nearly every star today owe a huge chunk of their games and notoriety to Wallace, Wallace, Billups, Hamilton, Prince and Larry Brown. One of the greatest teams to ever play basketball.