Three-Man Weave: Resting players is NBA's biggest issue? Nope, these issues are bigger

With the NBA schedule released on Tuesday, the commissioner suggested the league's biggest problem was resting players at, ahem, inopportune times. Well, that is not the league's biggest issue, and our triumvirate of Brad Botkin, James Herbert and Matt Moore offers issues. They also tackle whether the schedule is improved (it is!) and if some rules should be changed (there are some!). Time for the Three-Man Weave. Let's get it on. 

1. Adam Silver says resting healthy players may be the NBA's biggest problem; do you agree (and what is it if you don't)?

Brad Botkin: No. The biggest problem is the playoff structure and it's not even close. The conference unbalance is laughable at this point, and don't talk to me about it being cyclical because if it changed next year and the East was the vastly superior conference, you would have the same problem. The pendulum is almost never resting right in the middle, and there's no reason it can't be. Even if you don't balance the regular-season schedule, and even if you still put eight teams from each conference in the field, at the very least seed those teams 1-16 regardless of conference. 

The whole thing is ridiculous. Statistically speaking, the Cavs have the easiest schedule in the league this coming season. They will again be able to cruise through the regular season with no concern over their playoff seed, just as they did last season, because it simply doesn't matter what seed they are in the East. It would be a lot different story if they had to play San Antonio or Houston in the second round. 

Not only would this represent a more equitable championship journey, it would also be a much more enjoyable one for the fans -- who, at the moment, are not getting new, fresh playoff matchups to spark their interest in the earlier rounds. For a league so smartly focused on young fans in so many other areas, this is a problem. 

Let us see Oklahoma City play Boston. Let us see Houston against Toronto. Let us see Golden State against the Wizards. The NBA has always been a predictable league in terms of who is actually a championship contender, so we have to focus on making those earlier rounds truly worth tuning in for with both fresh matchups and, at the very least, somewhat reasonable doubt as to who will advance. To that latter point, let's make the first two rounds five-game series. Not a one-and-done, not a best of three -- those are too susceptible to a fluke outcome. You still have to earn a win in a five-game series, but upsets are at least reasonably plausible.

James Herbert: Not at all. Healthy players resting is a byproduct of the 82-game schedule and teams getting smarter about sports science and injury prevention. It has certainly become more prevalent in recent years, but the degree to which it is a "problem" depends on your perspective. It is mostly a PR issue, and that kind of concern pales in comparison to, say, the matter of protecting players' bodies.

A non-exhaustive list of bigger problems than healthy players resting: the length of the schedule, the nonsensical age limit, incompetent owners, the disparity between the two conferences, the warped incentive structure, restricted free agency and intentional fouling. 

Matt Moore: It is not even close. You're essentially talking about a few hundred, at most a couple thousand deeply disappointed fans in attendance and a blow to the league's image with their television partners. It certainly feels that way to Silver, given that the television partners paid billions and keeping them happy is a primary part of his job. But this belies a much bigger issue. The reason players resting has become such an issue is because the competitive balance is so out of whack and the league is dependent on a handful of teams to boost its ratings and revenue.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks deserve more nationally televised games, says our Matt Moore. Getty Images

The NFL has 32 engaged fan bases, with roughly 20 every season thinking that if things go exactly right, this could be their year. So when they appear on national television, those teams still pull huge ratings. The NBA does not have the same setup, and so Milwaukee isn't being featured on those late-season Saturday games, despite the fact that they feature a player who will likely be top-10 this year and could finish in the MVP conversation in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they'll actually be battling for a playoff spot. Instead, the league fills those spots mostly with teams who are only jockeying over which seed they'll get, or weak teams in big markets like the Knicks and Lakers. 

The league's biggest issue isn't players resting, it's the need for those players not to rest because a handful of teams are expected to prop up the national television ratings. 

2. What jumps out at you most about the schedule?

Botkin: The obvious answer is the emphasis the league continues to put on rest, at least to the extent that it can with an 82-game schedule. No more four-in-five stretches, fewer back-to-backs for the third straight year -- these were no-brainers, frankly, and the league did well to organize it this way.

But you know what that tells me? If the league really feels something needs to be addressed regarding the schedule, it can get it done. Adam Silver said there was no issue more pressing than healthy scratches during marquee games, and just like that, 22 nationally televised games are now protected by both teams coming into those games after an off day. So when I hear there is no way to put together a balanced schedule between East and West, I don't buy it. There would be some compromises, but if the league feels it's a big enough problem -- and it should, considering the extreme disparities in both conferences -- there is a way to fix it. They just have to be willing to do it.

Herbert: It's better! Back-to-backs are down again, and the decision to shorten the preseason and start the regular season early is logical and long overdue. This means nobody will play four games in five nights, and there will be less incentive for teams to rest healthy players in national television games, a public-relations problem that commissioner Adam Silver was determined to fix.

These are not radical changes, but they represent progress. They are the result of the league listening to players and paying attention to the research about the effects of cramming games close together. Maybe one day it will be ready to make more significant changes in this area. 

Moore: It's better, no doubt about it as James noted. The four-in-five stretches eliminated is going to make way more impact than people realize. I also don't think people understand what kind of offensive season we're looking at. Last year, with a slight reduction in back-to-backs, we saw an unprecedented increase in offense year over year. Consider the following: 

40-Plus Point Performances in the NBA
2016-17 season: 67
2017-18 season: 110

That's a 60 percent increase year-over-year with a modicum of changes to the schedule. Now, there's no direct evidence linking the schedule changes to that kind of offensive jump. Those changes were seen not only on the individual, but team levels, hence things like Russell Westbrook averaging a triple-double and multiple teams placing top-10 in all-time offensive efficiency. But there does seem to be a strong correlation between star players having more rest and a jump in huge performances. 

Could additional rest days result in another monster season for Russell Westbrook? USATSI

One additional interesting note on the schedule, when I did a deep dive, I was looking for something in particular. In 2016-17, a lot of teams got stuck with entire months when they were basically on the road. Those home games weren't actually helpful, it just meant they were taking long flights back for a game or two before flying out on long trips again. Coaches, particularly Mike D'Antoni, Steve Kerr and Steve Clifford complained about these stretches. Some teams still have months like this, but it's considerably down. That's going to help things as well. 

3. If you could change one rule in the league, what would it be?

Botkin: I can't narrow it down to just one. I'll give you three. First, the elimination of live-ball timeouts, which absolutely killed the flow of a game. It already feels like there are a million television timeouts, and now every time a team puts together a few consecutive buckets and the energy picks up, a timeout is called. It's like clockwork. It kills the viewing experience, and it also hinders teams' ability to employ defensive trap and press strategies, because any time you're in trouble as a ball handler, you can just call timeout.

The second is the continuation rule, which is way too soft and leads to way too many situations where players are not even close to being in the shooting motion yet still end up shooing free throws. Some of these fouls on 3-point shots are a joke. A guy getting fouled at the free-throw line just as he's picking up his dribble, then taking two steps and finishing an uninterrupted layup, should not be a shooting foul.

Finally, you shouldn't be able to intentionally foul when you're up three points late in a game. It is completely ridiculous that you can restrict a team's ability to score a game-tying bucket by doing something for which you are supposed to be punished. If you're up six in a football game, you can't just force the other team to settle for a field goal because you jump off sides. You foul away from the ball or outside the 3-point line when the shot clock is turned off, the result is three free throws. Simple as that.

Herbert: It's not really a rule, but ditch the outdated 82-game schedule. No matter how many times the NBA tweaks it, there are going to be times where players are worn out, sleep deprived and more susceptible to injury. There may be multiple ways to try to combat fatigue-related injuries, but there is no better one than simply playing fewer games. If the league does this, there will be added benefits that go beyond player health: each individual matchup will be more meaningful, and fans will get to see better competition.

The risk, of course, is that the league could lose money doing this, though I'd argue that this will not necessarily be the case because scarcity would drive up television ratings and ticket prices. If some revenue would be lost, though, it's worth asking what extending the careers of stars would be worth, as well as how much responsibility the league has to do what's best for its players even when it might hurt financially. 

Moore: Ban the charge. There's been significant evidence that those crashes increase the odds of injury. They're risky, dangerous, and their end result is to stop offensive play without actually trying to defend the shot. This would have to be accommodated with a leniency in at-rim defense, lest we have an even higher increase in free throws, but removing the charge would force bad defenders to be better while freeing up more acrobatic highlights, which is what fans want to see. 

It's time to ban the charge, according to Matt Moore. USATSI

Oh, and we'd get rid of that moment when the ref pauses for dramatic effect, then throws his fist forward to indicate the offensive foul, which seems like it's pointed and made to incite the fans one way or another every time. 

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