Referees: Kobe Bryant Will Continue to Get Plenty of Free Throws
PHOENIX -- There were a wide variety of rule-based points of emphasis discussed by the NBA's Vice President and Director of Officials, Bernie Fryer, during his session with the media on Tuesday in Phoenix. But the one that stood out was the conversation about a certain type of play that became increasingly popular last season, and one that fans (for the most part) seem to be the most upset about.
If you watch a lot of NBA basketball, then you've seen this one a bunch of times: a player has the ball in the triple-threat position, usually quite far from the basket, and often near or behind the three-point line. The defender is trying to prevent the uncontested shot, so he extends his arm into the space of the player with the ball. The guy on offense swings the ball from his lower left hip to his right, creating contact with the defender's arm and initiating a shooting motion -- by taking a shot he'd likely never make, mind you -- which forces the referee to call the defender for the foul.
In case it's unclear what we're talking about here, video can be seen below before we continue the conversation.
Now obviously, Kobe Bryant is among the most polarizing figures in the game, so using his technique as an example tends to skew the opinion numbers a bit. But the fact is that unless you're a Lakers fan, this seems like a cheap move by Bryant, aimed at nothing more than exploiting a loophole to try to gain some unearned free throws.
Bryant isn't the only player in the league who does this, but he's the one I remember doing it the most often. (If I'm wrong about this, apologies -- I tend to watch a disproportionate amount of Lakers games. Sue me.) So, I suppose I have some bad news to deliver in case you were hoping that the league would close this loophole in the offseason -- they haven't. And not only will officials continue to tolerate this, the league has actually spent some considerable time discussing it, and they have determined that calling the defender for the foul in these situations -- a shooting foul, no less -- is absolutely the way to go.
Here's the thought process behind it: it all comes down to whether the defender is in a "legal guarding position."
When the defender's hand is extended into the offensive player's space, that's not considered to be in that legal guarding position. Therefore, when contact is made by the offensive player initiating a (poor attempt at a) shot, the contact cannot be ignored by the officials, so the foul call is made.
The biggest point of contention on this call from the coaches (during meetings with the league over the summer) was not the reach-in aspect of the call, but the fact that it's a shooting foul 100 percent of the time. The question of continuation was raised, and the even-broader topic of, "what is a normal shooting motion?" was discussed at length.
The determination was that it's virtually impossible to define a "normal" shooting motion.
Several examples were given of players making ridiculous shots using all kinds of different techniques. The final verdict was, all that matters is that the shooting motion has been started, and once it has been, if contact is made with the defender, the player with the ball will be awarded free throws every single time.
So while fans may not like it, and might see this as nothing more than a cheap way for players to con their way into a trip to the free throw line, the bottom line is that this play has now been effectively approved by the referees, and will continue to be enforced just as it has been in the past.