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NBA

The Crackdown On Unnatural Motions Begins

James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets is fouled by Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Officiating produces the most beautiful language. I just nod in gratitude as officials devise and deploy novel phrases in order to describe such clinical phenomena as Chris Paul laterally launching his ass into the kidneys of an unsuspecting defender, or James Harden figuring out how snugly he can entrap a defender’s arm in the damp crook of his elbow. But players who dare to attempt such maneuvers in the course of this NBA season will find themselves out of luck. The basketball gods looked at pretty much all the stuff that people do, figured out what stuff is basketball and what stuff is not basketball, and sorted it into two columns. Big chunks of big players’ offensive repertoire have now been designated “non-basketball moves.” “But I saw that move during a basketball game, pretty much non-stop, from many of the best scorers alive,” you, a rube, might protest. Not anymore: What you saw were “unnatural motions.” And the NBA is looking to stamp out unnatural motions.

Ahead of the debut of Summer League on Sunday, league officials announced a crackdown on some of the most common offensive hijinks. The goal is to restore balance between offense and defense, according to Monty McCutchen, head of referee training and development, and these are the moves coming under scrutiny, in the words of the officials:

  • The shooter launches or leans into a defender at an abnormal angle
  • The offensive player abruptly veers off his path (sideways or backwards) into a defender
  • The shooter kicks his leg (up or to the side) at an abnormal angle
  • The offensive player’s off-arm hooks the defender (often in the process of attempting a shot in a non-basketball manner)

They also supplied four examples of the offending offense, some of which will be treated as no-calls, the worst of which will be treated as offensive fouls, and all of which are recognizably crappy features of contemporary NBA play:

Free throws are as efficient as offense gets. As long as the system was that easy to game, top-shelf individual offense was guaranteed to be driven not just by physical brilliance but also by legalistic ingenuity. That’s the kind of play the old incentive structure was bound to produce. Players like Harden, Paul, Steph Curry, Devin Booker, Jimmy Butler, Luka Doncic, and Trae Young—the most notorious culprit of the moment, averaging 9.3 and 8.7 free-throw attempts a game over the last two seasons—have all mastered various aspects of these dark arts. They are often seen taking jump shots where the ball’s motion towards the hoop is wholly secondary to their bodily contortions to entangle, bump, or leg-poke defenders who are guarding or closing out on them in good faith. As Steve Nash once hollered after watching Young snake around his defender and suddenly stop dead to bait a foul, “That’s not basketball.” To the extent that the refs actually stick with this and don’t revert to their old star-charmed ways by midseason, this should improve the NBA viewing experience. Now please excuse me as I head out to serially “abruptly attempt a shot in a non-basketball manner,” or, as I used to call it, shoot around.