It's time to implement the 24-second shot clock at all levels of American basketball, including the college, high school and summer grassroots level. It will improve our game dramatically.
I had this epiphany in June at the adidas EuroCamp in Treviso, Italy, where I have been on the coaching staff for the past seven years.
Coaching some of the top young international players in the world (many of whom have already gone on to play in the NBA) has been an eye-opener for me. While not as athletic as our young American players, the international athletes have held their own against us in recent years. In my opinion, it's because they know how to play the game, both individually and as a team. Theoretically, because of FIBA's 24-second shot clock, they see more possessions during a game, and that, in turn, has a great deal to do with their excellent feel for the game.
An ancillary benefit of Jerry Colangelo's and Mike Krzyzewski's transformation of USA Basketball in the past five years has been a healthy respect accorded to international basketball. The basketball globe has shrunk, parity is closer, and the number of players in the NBA who are from outside the United States is at an all-time high. In fact, by Oct. 1, NBA and FIBA rules will be more closely aligned than ever. So while the NBA has utilized the 24-second clock since the 1954-55 season and FIBA since 2000, the rest of American basketball could utilize the shorter shot clock to improve our game. Here's how:
1. The development of multiskilled players
Because the FIBA shot clock is short even at the youth levels, there is a premium put on developing young players at all five positions who are fundamentally sound and can handle, pass and shoot the ball. Players who have the ball in their hands as the clock winds down must be skilled and be able to make smart decisions with the ball.
We often pay only lip service to the development of fundamental basketball in our country, and it has hurt our game. Because the 24-second clock requires teams to have a number of players who can handle the basketball while initiating and creating offense for their team and for themselves, it has becomes a necessity to continuously improve one's offensive fundamentals. The perception of international big men, who have developed multiple skills and can play both inside and out, has not happened by accident. Instead, it's because of the way the FIBA game is played.
While we continue to develop marvelous young basketball players in America, there is little doubt that their skill level could be improved. No shot clock at the grassroots and high school level (only seven of 50 states currently utilize a shot clock) means fewer possessions and fewer decision-making opportunities. The increasing amount of possessions at lower levels with a 24-second clock should improve the collective development of young players in the country. In my opinion, it's not that far-fetched to believe that we could develop a few more Kevin Durants and Stephen Currys with a 24-second shot clock.
2. Smart, efficient and fundamental team play
The 24-second clock forces teams to get into their offense quickly and with efficiency. Regardless of the offense, there can be no wasted time. Every cut, screen and pass becomes a critical part of each possession. One fumbled pass puts a possession in jeopardy.
Therefore, there is a premium placed on fundamental and intelligent play -- from a team perspective.
The beauty of the 24-second clock is that it forces teams to continuously be in attack mode, whether they are facing a man defense, a zone defense or a combination of the two. A team's preparation against every defense would be a result of its players' skill level and efficiency and its coach's preparation and creativity.
On the other hand, the notion that the more talented team would win a game with more possessions is skewed. The more talented team usually wins anyway. The challenge for well-coached teams, but possibly less-talented teams, would be to out-execute its more athletic opponents -- and not just on the offensive end. Smart teams utilize the lower shot clock, defensively, to force tough, low-percentage shots each time down the floor versus teams that lack offensive discipline.
The culture that is being created by USA Basketball's senior men's national team is trickling down. The USA is the current reigning world champion at the Under-19 and Under-17 levels. The teams, playing with FIBA rules, drew rave reviews for playing great team basketball.
3. Coaching creativity
The difference between the NBA/FIBA game and the rest of American basketball is like the difference between learning Spanish and Portuguese. They may sound alike, but they're two distinctly different languages. On a given night, an NBA game could have 50 percent more possessions than a college or high school game, which means many more decisions are made, and it's at a quicker pace.
We are playing different games in our country, and the 24-second clock would bring uniformity to all levels of the game. That uniformity would improve coaching because it would enhance creativity at the college, high school and grassroots level by "going to school" on the use of the shot clock. And fewer questions would have to be answered as to whether a college coach would be, tactically, ready to make the jump to the NBA. The 24-second clock would ensure that.
Few are better than NBA and FIBA coaches at the execution of offensive systems like the screen-and-roll, motion offense, the penetrate-and-kick game and set plays because of the shot clock. They understand the implications of creating quick-hitting scoring opportunities for their best players due to the shot clock. In addition, they are comfortable coaching important possessions down the stretch in a close game. They understand which players should have the ball in their hands with time winding down.
4. Quality game action
I recently witnessed a summer tournament game in which the team that was clearly more talented jumped out to a 14-2 lead against the opponent's zone defense. The coach with the lead proceeded to hold the ball for the next three minutes until the other team came out of the zone. I wanted to come out of the stands to tell the coach to dispense with the Dean Smith "four corners" imitation. While the more talented team eventually won the game, it didn't continue the offensive flow it had to start the game. The shot clock would eliminate this kind of coaching nonsense.
Many of my college coaching friends would wonder "Why 24 seconds and not 35 seconds?" My feeling is that with FIBA moving toward the rectangular NBA, the longer 3-point shot and semicircle in front of the basket on Oct. 1, the NCAA could make a good-faith effort to contribute to the unifying of the rules. By experimenting with the 24-second clock over the next couple of seasons, we might find that college basketball could improve as the game would speed up and, logically, become more fun to watch.
Each year at the EuroCamp, I experiment with an offense for my camp team that I was intrigued by during the previous college basketball season. This June, I ran Butler's quick-hitting screen-and-roll offense with the 24-second clock. The players loved it. There is no doubt in my mind that NCAA coaches, as they have each time a major rule is changed, would make the proper adjustments to playing with the reduced shot clock.
What would be the downside to a 24-second shot clock? While it's second nature to NBA and FIBA players, its implementation at our lower levels would take only minor adjustments. They include the cost of shot clocks for every high school gym in the country. It's an expense that, like repainting the 3-point line or the block/charge semicircle, many might balk at. In Europe, where resources for basketball are often limited, many gyms use portable shot clocks on each end of the court that are readily in view of both teams and are easily affordable.
In 1954, with the NBA floundering and struggling to attract fans (due in large part to teams holding the ball once they took a lead and opponents being forced to foul to get the ball back), one owner had a revolutionary idea. After some experimentation, the Syracuse Nats' Danny Biasone got the league to buy into the idea of a 24-second shot clock to speed up play. The result, according to many, saved the NBA game.
Basketball in this country, especially at the lower levels of competition, may not need to be completely saved. However, it could certainly use improvement. I believe the 24-second shot clock would strengthen players' skills and their understanding of the game. It would also enhance teamwork at the high school and grassroots level. And it would make for a much more exciting game for players, coaches and the fans. The success of our game, in the long term, would be helped dramatically by this rule change.