HoopIdea: tighten up timeouts

Miami HeatJim Davis/Getty Images

There doesn't have to be so much standing around during NBA games.

Back in February, Henry Abbott noticed that the last two minutes of close NBA games, when coaches tend to unload the timeouts they’ve hoarded throughout the second half, take forever:

The final two minutes of that exciting January Heat versus Hawks game, the one Chris Bosh sent into overtime with a clutch 3, lasted 15 minutes and 20 seconds. That means the ball was in play a mighty 13 percent of the time.

Even important moments can become boring when the action is delayed like that.

And it's not just the big nationally televised games, on Brooklyn Nets-themed blog Nets Are Scorching, Devin Kharpertian recalls a Nets-Bobcats game from March, “not a game you’d expect to drag on anywhere but in your fragile psyche,” in which the final 37.6 seconds took 11 minutes to complete.

Things haven’t gotten any speedier in the postseason. During Game 1 of the Finals, Abbott noted that a single 100-second full timeout stopped the game for 225 seconds.

That's almost four minutes!

And this has nothing to do with TV commercials, the camera never cut away from the game.

The NBA has tried to address these unnecessary, excitement-sapping breaks with a two horn system that is about as effective as it sounds. But Kharpertian has a great HoopIdea describing how the league can force teams and officials to pick up the pace without doing anything drastic:

“Enforcing time” is the abstract. It’s about putting it into practice.

But there’s a solution to that, so simple that it’s shocking they haven’t utilized it: the clock.

During the game, seconds are rigidly enforced, to the point where every shot near the end of a buzzer is subject to rigorous examination. Did a shot get off in time? Was the ball still grazing the edge of his fingertips as the red light came on? We need justice! We must know if the game is on! Until, of course, time-outs set in. Then game time stops, and we’re transported to an alternate dimension where time is not relative, but arbitrary.

In my NBA, once the huddles converge or five seconds passes from the timeout whistle, the clock begins to run: 20 seconds for a :20, a full minute for a :60. The referee, rather than holding onto the ball, lays the ball on the sideline or baseline at the eventual inbounder’s location. Once the buzzer sounds, the inbounder has ten seconds to pick up the ball at that location, and then the usual five seconds to inbound once the ball’s picked up. (I’d like to add here that this wouldn’t apply to video reviews during timeouts — in my NBA, the time-out clock would begin after a review has been decided.)

The maximum a 20-second timeout would ever take in this instance: 35 seconds, almost half the time of the timeout referenced earlier.

The defense has to be ready in time, or the offense has every opportunity to burn them downcourt for an easy basket. Theoretically, neither team has to return to the huddle — if the offense understands their playcall, the inbounder could stand right by the basketball, ready to fire it in on the 20-second buzzer to a teammate at the rim. And the defense can’t rely on the referee waiting for them to set up.

Kharpertian has plenty of good thoughts on the implications of this rule, so be sure to read the whole post.

But the genius of his solution is in its simplicity: Just use the same clocks the NBA relies on throughout the game -- problem solved!


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