Generally speaking, the NBA has done well to adjust its rules over the years in an effort to promote more free-flowing offense. The hand-checking, the illegal defense, it has all played a major role in elevating the NBA to a level of entertainment that can command the likes of a $24 billion television deal.
But here's the thing: We have enough offense now. Continue to erode what little is left of a modern defender's fighting chance, and it won't be long before we're all watching a gloried game of H-O-R-S-E. Case in point: the flagrant foul that Milwaukee's Tony Snell was hit with for apparently over-invading the space of Jayson Tatum on his 3-point make early in Thursday night's Celtics-Bucks game. Have a look:
This is the newly implemented "Zaza Pachulia Rule" stating that defenders must give jump shooters a clear space to land, which was, of course, a response to Pachulia crowding the landing zone of Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of last year's Western Conference finals, causing the Spurs star to land on Pachulia's foot and further aggravate an already-injured ankle -- which ultimately ended his season.
We can go back and forth about whether Pachulia really got under Kawhi on purpose, with the actual intention of hurting him, but either way, the spirit of the rule is based on good intentions. Player safety is clearly important, and jump shooters are particularly vulnerable on their descent. But look at that Tatum clip again. He takes off from behind the 3-point line, and lands at least a foot inside it. As a defender, what is Snell supposed to do? Just not close out at all?
Look, you can call this a foul. It's a bad call, in my opinion, because again it was Tatum who jumped forward into Snell. But fine, call it a common foul. No big deal. But a flagrant? Come on, man. Within the definition of what constitutes a flagrant foul you'll find the words "excessive or violent contact," and if you can look at that clip and call what Snell did anything close to violent or excessive, you need glasses. Or a dictionary. Or maybe both.
This is the problem with these rules: the unintended consequences. You institute them to protect players, and that's good, but in the end, you also fundamentally uproot those same players' ability to truly compete. Pretty soon guys will stop closing out at all. Offense is fun, and again, establishing rules to promote scoring and fluidity is undeniably good for the entertainment value of the game. But this rule here is too much of a good thing.
As a defender, you already can't even breathe on a shooter without getting whistled. You can't body him in the slightest. You can't even graze his fingertip without him flailing like he just took a bullet. Now your feet can't be anywhere near his either? Look, ankle injuries happen. It's basketball. If a defender truly sticks his feet under a shooter in an unnatural, obvious way, fine, call it a flagrant, the same way you would any other action that is obviously outside the scope of a basketball play.
But when you make something like this a formal rule and such a point of emphasis, officials are going to err on the side of caution, if only for their own job evaluations, and you're going to end up with more and more calls like the one against Snell. Which, again, wasn't just a foul. It was a FLAGRANT foul. That is laughable. The guy was contesting a shot. Nothing more. I know you get a flagrant these days for looking at someone the wrong way, but if we're going to talk about giving players room to operate, let's not forget that defenders are players, too.