Potential rule changes to modernize the NBA

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The NBA game has changed dramatically in the last decade. This is the result of a few rule changes and the rise of analytics. The modern game is the best product in the history of the NBA in many respects. However, it has its flaws. And the NBA has always been willing to change its rules to improve the quality of play and make the game more appealing to fans. It is time for the NBA to implement some new rule changes to adjust to the modern state of the game.

This article aims to propose some rule changes that would make the NBA more fun to watch. Some are reasonable and commonly discussed. Others might be coming next season, according to the NBA. And a few are ambitious ideas that would represent seismic shifts to the game. And others are a little bit wacky and a little bit more fun. Not all of these ideas will actually happen. In fact, it’s unlikely that more than a few of these ideas come to fruition. But the goal is to at least think about the potential for rule changes and have some fun in the process. This thought exercise also forces us to re-evaluate how basketball is played and how we would like it to be played.

A brief note on organization: There are five categories for these rule changes. Each category represents a goal to improve the quality of current NBA basketball. Within each section, the potential rule changes will be listed from most plausible to most far-fetched. With that said, let’s dive right in.

Goal 1: Keep three-pointers interesting

Dec 19, 2018; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) puts up a three-pointer in the second quarter against Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Some old-school basketball “purists” might say that there are too many threes in the modern NBA. Analytics would say that there aren’t enough. And the average fan? Well… it depends on whom you ask. Millennials and Gen Z have grown up with the three-pointer. In the last decade, three-point attempts have increased exponentially. There are a million stats to illustrate this point. Here are two. The San Antonio Spurs attempted the least threes per game this season with 28.4. That number would have been the most per game in 2014. The lowest-volume three-point shooting team from 2014 (the Grizzlies) would barely eke out 2021 Steph Curry by himself in attempts.

More threes are not necessarily a bad thing. However, there are ways to improve the quality of threes while also preserving other shots. The NBA has always been willing to make rule changes to preserve stylistic diversity. These playoffs have demonstrated that the midrange isn’t dead yet in important basketball games. But in the regular season, teams get almost all of their shots in the paint or behind the arc. And threes are just so dominant in the regular season. Gregg Popovich spoke on the issue a few years ago and put it better than anyone.

“There’s no basketball anymore, there’s no beauty in it. Now you look at a stat sheet after a game and the first thing you look at is the 3s. If you made 3s and the other team didn’t, you win. You don’t even look at the rebounds or the turnovers or how much transition D was involved. You don’t even care…I hate it, but I always have.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in 2018

Here are a few ways to limit the overpowering nature of the three-point shot

Move the three-point arc back

They changed the dimensions of the court when George Mikan was too dominant inside. They did it again for Wilt Chamberlain. Now they need to do it for players like Steph Curry, James Harden, and Damian Lillard. The easiest answer might just be the best one. Move the three-point line farther back. There are two sub-categories within this idea.

First, just push the line back a few feet. The NBA already did this in 1996. After teams shot too well from three, the league moved the line back by over a foot. If players are too good from 22-24 feet out, make it 26. It is simple, easy, and will make three-pointers harder to make and thus less popular to take. It is simple and easy to follow. The other sub-options might be less appealing to a broad audience.

The second idea is the data-driven line, as proposed by Kirk Goldsberry (whose book, Sprawlball, explores all of these ideas in great detail). The average NBA shot generates nearly exactly one point. With all the data the NBA tracks now, they can calculate the distance from which three-pointers average a point in value (i.e., where NBA players shoot 33.33%). Per the 2017-2018 season, this distance would be 25.773 feet. So there’s another new solution. To weigh twos and threes equally, push the line back by around two feet.

Get rid of the corner three

Jul 8, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) shoots against Milwaukee Bucks forward P.J. Tucker (17) during the first half in game two of the 2021 NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Teams shoot a ton of corner threes every game, and the reason is simple. The three-point line is not a perfect arc. The line flattens in the corner, making those shots 1.75 feet shorter than the top of the key. NBA players shoot almost 40% from the corner, compared to 36.7% on all threes. These shots are closer to the hoop and thus easier to make. Get rid of that loophole and make a perfectly circular arc. This would likely be unpopular, as NBA players would have to adjust to essentially no room in the corner, and it would drastically change the look of the court.

The four-point arc

This idea goes in the opposite direction. If the NBA wants players shooting from deep, implement rule changes to encourage them to shoot from even deeper. Players like Lillard, Curry, and Trae Young thrive from the logo. Incentivize more of this excitement. Add a four-point line that is 10 feet behind the three-point arc. See what players can make of that. Again, this is not unprecedented.

Many NBA teams paint four-point lines onto their practice court to improve spacing. So the players have the range. The three-point contest features a bonus shot from a deeper range worth three points (compared to one on other shots and two on money balls). And the Big3, a three-on-three league featuring former NBA players, features four-point shots. This at least changes and adds more excitement to the deep shot, with the bonus of helping teams come back to make games closer.

Implement a three-point quota

For everyone who thinks there are too many threes, this is the bluntest solution. Limit the number of threes a team can take in a game. For now, let’s set the hypothetical number at the 20th-highest volume in the league (the Kings). Each team gets 33 three-pointers per game. Teams would have to be strategic about how they use their threes. If you’re the Warriors, how many do you allot to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson?

The benefit to this rule is that it limits the number of analytically valuable shots that aren’t entertaining. Would you rather see five P.J Tucker corner threes or Giannis Antetokounmpo driving in for dunks over helpless defenders? To continue to keep games competitive, teams could take unlimited threes in the last five minutes. This is on the more radical side of these rule changes but would guarantee more stylistic diversity in the NBA.

Make the three-point line part of home court advantage

This is far and away from the most controversial and unlikely rule in this article. Again, Kirk Goldsberry deserves credit for imagining it. What if each team got to draw the three-point lines in its home stadium? Would the Warriors let Steph and Klay cook from 30 feet and dare other teams to expand their range? Do the Bucks not draw an arc and let Giannis, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Brook Lopez dominate inside? Each team gets to play to their strengths, and it makes the regular season more meaningful. (Bad teams in need of an attraction could also draw a zigzag or squiggly line just for the aesthetic.)

The race to secure home-court advantage for the postseason would be crucial. This idea might be too extreme. The likely caveat to make this remotely possible would be that the line must fall within a certain range. Each team’s arc would likely have to fall between the free-throw line and half-court. But this rule change leaves the most room for intrigue and strategy.

Goal 2: Speed up the game

Jul 14, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) shoots a free throw against the Phoenix Suns during game four of the 2021 NBA Finals at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The modern world is fast. Social media constantly floods us with short clips to watch. Basketball, on the other hand, is slowing down. NBA games are over two hours, which isn’t terribly long compared to football or baseball. But there are still plenty of ways to make games, especially the end of games, shorter. And while enforcing ten-second violations on Giannis Antetokounmpo would be a start, these rules focus on broader picture changes.

Less timeouts

It’s easy. Per the current rules, each team has seven timeouts per game. Seven! Is that really necessary? This is especially noticeable at the end of games. Each team usually saves two or three for the last couple of minutes. That grinds the game to a halt. It’s important for teams to strategize, but they can figure out ways around a timeout after every possession. So here’s the alternative. Each team gets one timeout in each of the first three quarters and two in the fourth. They don’t carry over from one quarter to the next. It’s simple, and it significantly cuts dead time from the game.

Either to supplement that or to function independently, here’s another idea to decrease the amount of time in timeouts. Make them shorter. Each timeout is one minute and fifteen seconds. Cut that to a minute each, except one can stay 1:15 in the fourth quarter. That’s another two minutes of dead time cut out already, which feels even more significant in the fourth quarter to keep things moving.

Fix challenges

Challenges are a new addition to the NBA, and hopefully, a short-lived one. They slow down the game and are not necessarily that effective. Coaches were successful on under half of their challenges in the 2020-2021 season. Here are a few simple ways to remedy the challenging situation.

Abolish challenges. It doesn’t really need much explaining. Officials aren’t perfect, but they’re part of the game. Challenges were a good idea to try, but they haven’t improved the state of the game. Just get rid of them and tell teams to live with the calls.

If that is too extreme, here is a slightly milder idea. Each team still has one challenge per game. But they only get 15 incorrect challenges per year. Again, this adds another layer of strategy to the game for the coaches. If you are going to make everyone sit through a review, you have to be confident. If you go 0-15 in your first 15 games, tough luck, but you’re out of challenges the rest of the year.

And lastly, here’s a little more fun on the topic of challenges. If a coach gets one wrong after the game, he should apologize to the fans for wasting their time and the referees for questioning their judgment. It adds a little bit of direct accountability for the coaches. They should feel bad if they slow down the game for no reason.

Fewer official reviews

Jun 22, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; NBA referee Scott Foster (right) with Kane Fitzgerald and Curtis Blair during a video review in the Phoenix Suns against the Los Angeles Clippers during game two of the Western Conference Finals for the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Among potential rule changes to speed up NBA games, this is by far the most important. The NBA needs to spend less time on replays. There are two main solutions.

First, every replay should have a time limit. If the officials can’t decide in a minute, the initial call stands. At the end of games, officials spend minutes at the monitor. This has many detrimental effects. Coaches get extra time to strategize without burning a timeout. Players get taken out of their rhythm. And most importantly, the fan is forced to sit around with no action. To add insult to injury, even after reviews, officials still make questionable calls.

And a second idea, make fewer calls reviewable. Fans will have to sacrifice some correct calls for a lot of faster games. Reviews should be reserved for two things. Did a player release a shot before the buzzer, and was a foul a flagrant offense? Don’t review every out-of-bounds call. Usually, there’s not any new evidence on replay. And has been mentioned in the last paragraph and the challenge section, they are often judgment calls. Referees are human and a part of the game. Teams have to learn to live with that. If that is too stringent, maybe there could be an exception in the last 30 seconds for out-of-bounds calls.

The NBA desperately needs to implement rule changes to speed up the end of games. The Suns’ signature moment of these playoffs, The Valley-Oop, came nearly three hours after a tip-off. Most of that time came in the last two minutes when there were four timeouts and five official reviews. The NBA needs to fix this, and there are plenty of possible rule changes that would do the trick.

Goal 3: Make the game tougher and give defenses a chance

Jul 17, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) against Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during game five of the 2021 NBA Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

People who say that teams don’t play defense in the modern NBA aren’t watching very closely. They are. However, it’s an uphill climb. A combination of rising skill, more intricate offensive strategies and rule changes have tilted the balance in favor of offense. While more offense is generally a good thing for the NBA, a few rule changes are necessary to give defenses a chance to compete. Some current rules are a step too far and allow offensive players to get cheap calls for soft fouls.

Less technical fouls

A technical foul is for unsportsmanlike actions. Sometimes they are necessary to keep the game clean. But things have gotten out of hand. Giannis Antetokounmpo got one for staring down a defender after a dunk. JJ Redick got one for throwing a ball to a referee. Jayson Tatum was called for one after slamming the ball on the ground. These are just players expressing emotion. If anything, that is good for the game. Fans want to see that players care. These are terrible calls, and it should be really easy for the NBA to legislate them out of existence.

Eliminate gimmicky foul calls

NBA rules force referees to call a lot of ticky-tack fouls. Players like Chris Paul, James Harden, and Trae Young learn to take advantage of these rules. There are many gimmicks in their bag of tricks, but here are a few that the NBA could eliminate.

First, a move that Chris Paul and Trae Young have mastered. When a ballhandler has a defender trailing, they will stop abruptly and draw the foul. A common variation is a player coming around a screen from beyond the three-point arc, then abruptly stopping to make the defender ram into them. These should be offensive fouls because the offensive player is initiating contact. Fans don’t pay to see free throws from manipulative ball-handlers. And coaches and defenders have no way to really combat these moves while still playing good defense.

Second, get rid of the rip-through foul. This is a move that James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul again use a ton. If a defender has their hands in front of them, the ball-handler will go up through the defender’s arms for a shot. After a dramatic flail, the referee has to call a foul. This should be a no-call or an offensive foul instead.

A third annoying foul that the NBA should make rule changes to account for is the “pump-and-jump.” When a perimeter player pump-fakes and a defender lunges to contest the shot, the shooter jumps into the defender and gets three foul shots. The NBA has tried to eliminate these calls, but many players still get away with the move.

Less flopping

May 23, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas (17) charges in to Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the fourth quarter at Vivint Arena. Memphis Grizzlies won 112-109. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has implemented rule changes in the past to punish flopping and flailing. In 2013, the NBA added fines for flopping. But it still happens regularly. Referees need to take more initiative and call more flops. At the very least, if referees aren’t going to call offensive fouls for flops, they should swallow their whistle. Look at Team USA in international competition. The NBA star-laden team struggled to adjust to FIBA rules in its first few games. Because they were so used too gimmicky calls in the NBA, they struggled to generate good offense without easy officiating. More specifically, stars tend to get lenient calls in the NBA based on reputation alone. Less flopping means more high-quality basketball. This is a reasonable and achievable goal for the NBA.

More hand-checking

Nobody wants to go back to the style of basketball from the ’90s and before. While the Bad Boy Pistons were a great team, that is not what the NBA wants its modern style of play to look like. However, the game is now too far on the opposite side of the hand-checking spectrum. It is so hard for defenders to impede the offense when they can’t touch them. This makes life too easy for the offense.

They can get by defenders one-on-one, triggering help and rotation. While that is good basketball and fun to watch, defenses hardly stand a chance. And that’s only regarding isolation. Actions like the pick-and-roll become even more difficult to guard. The Finals demonstrated how the quality of play rises when officials let defenses get a little physical. The NBA shouldn’t reverse the 2004 no-hand-checking rule, but it should amend it to allow for some contact.

Goal 4: Add drama to the draft

Jun 20, 2019; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Zion Williamson (Duke) greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number one overall pick to the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has done a great job with its draft. While the NFL tried to drag its draft out for three days and baseball still has no clue how to create an event, the NBA has one action-packed night. They fill an arena with fans, invite some of the best players in their fanciest suits, and let the drama unfold. The human drama of the event is enough to make it a television spectacle. Players and fan bases alike get to see their futures unfold in real-time. However, there are still ways to improve the draft, and the NBA should consider them.

Less time per pick

Scouting departments have all year to rank players. Coaches and the front office have plenty of time to discuss before the actual draft begins. GMs can discuss trades beforehand. While circumstances change based on who is available, teams should be very prepared before the night. In the second round of the draft, teams only have two minutes between picks. In the first round, that number is five minutes. That could be shorter. Maybe three or four minutes would be a better number. While television probably wouldn’t love this because there is less time for analysis, interviews, and highlights, they could work around the change.

The benefits are clear. First, the action never stops moving. Second, it puts more pressure on teams to make quicker decisions. And third, it cuts a significant amount of time off the event as a whole. This probably isn’t super likely because TV money is a powerful opponent, but the NBA should consider it.

Give draft-eligible players some say in their teams

This might sound a little absurd. But give it a chance and think about it. In what other business model do the best prospects go to the worst environments? The best players shouldn’t be punished for their abilities. Another issue with the current model is that it incentivizes tanking. Many small-market teams (OKC is a recent example) decide to lose in epic proportions to move up the draft. The NBA has tried to combat this by flattening the lottery odds among the bottom teams. However, it’s not that simple. The best teams shouldn’t get to add the most talent. So there’s a dilemma where it shouldn’t work either way. But there are a few solutions.

Tiered Free Agency

May 14, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum reveals the number two pick for the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery at the Hilton Chicago. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA could replace the draft with a modified form of free agency. Obviously, the best players shouldn’t be allowed to form everlasting juggernauts on the best teams. So the NBA could do free agency in tiers. The 14 lottery teams that didn’t make the playoffs have a free agency among themselves. Each team gets to sign one player. When they all have, the teams that lost in the first round have their turn at free agency. After them, second-round exits, and so on. A quick note on the logistics of this structure: just as teams can trade draft picks, they would be able to trade free agency tier spots.

There are three main obstacles to this plan. First, it is terrible for TV. And second, it strips terrible teams in small markets of their best chance to rebuild. Ja Morant and Zion Williamson probably wouldn’t end up in Memphis or New Orleans this way. And third, it also punishes cities like Detroit and Cleveland for being less desirable cities to live in.

However, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. First, it encourages teams to build good cultures to attract young players rather than consistently losing for a chance at lottery luck. Second, it gives draft-eligible players some control over their career paths. This takes multiple forms. Maybe a player wants to stay closer to home. Or, more importantly, maybe they know that there is a certain coach who would be best for them. Or a team they think they could find a good role on. Replacing the draft with free agency is the fairest way to treat incoming NBA players.

Veto power

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Dragan Bender (right) greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number four overall pick to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This is another ambitious proposal, but again it has its merits. Incoming NBA players should have the ability to veto one team. This produces similar incentives to the last proposal. Rather than trying to lose, rebuilding teams should focus on building a culture that attracts prospects. It also gives players some say in where they get to play, in what system, and with what players. However, it once again tends to punish cities like Detroit and Cleveland, where the team is bad, and the city isn’t attractive either. However, at least in this model, players can only veto one team. So it’s unlikely that it would have a ginormous impact on one team alone.

A prime example of when this would have been beneficial is for the Suns over the last decade. They drafted many young players, many of whom were deemed busts and are now out of the league. However, the actual issue was that the Suns had a dysfunctional front office. Incoming players under this premise would have had the ability to steer clear of a bad situation for their career.

Out of all the parts of the game most in need of change, the draft ranks pretty low. But these are some rule changes that the NBA should consider to de-incentivize tanking while also giving players more agency over their career trajectory. The two main obstacles are television and the fact that the NBA is a union. If one team struggles continually and can’t get better through the draft, that is less money for everybody. The draft serves as an equalizer, and that benefits the whole league.

Goal 5: Increase the entertainment factor

Feb 17, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Team Giannis guard Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (30) dunks the ball against Team Lebron forward Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers (23) during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is in the entertainment industry. While the previous rule changes focused on the basketball side of things, the NBA could also create some rule changes to raise the entertainment factor. Some of these qualify less as rule changes but are more along the lines of new ideas to try. Compared to the previous rule changes, these are less significant and easier for the NBA to execute. All of these are going to be relatively shorter sections. The ideas are more self-explanatory, a little simpler, and a little more fun. They won’t require paragraphs of explanation.

More “Mic’d Up/Wired” Segments

It is almost impossible to separate the NBA experience from the quality of broadcasting. Even with Marv Albert retiring, the NBA is still loaded with talented commentators. That said, there are still a few ways that the league could improve its broadcasts. One of the things that that they’ve already implemented is their “Wired” or “Mic’d Up” moments. These segments have been hits. During the finals, the wider NBA audience has gotten a look into Suns head coach Monty Williams’ leadership. Fans would benefit from getting more of this look inside the game. It’s a hit, and the NBA should try to do as many of these segments as they can.

Add different camera angles

In the 2020 bubble, the NBA had the chance to experiment with new camera angles. This might not be possible, but how about a camera on a player’s headband or in their jersey? Wouldn’t that be a cool glimpse inside how NBA players see the court? Or maybe a camera on the baseline, again to give a different, closer view of the action. These specific angles might be beyond reason, but it’s good to keep thinking about new ways to push the envelope. . Closer camera angles can better show the game’s speed, something that can get lost in a wide view.

Bring back ninja headbands

Jan 19, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Jimmy Butler (23) dribbles against Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) during the fourth quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In one of the strangest rule changes in recent NBA history, the league outlawed ninja headbands before the 2019-2020 season. The league claimed that there were “safety concerns.” It’s hard to see how in league with record injury numbers (at least according to LeBron), ninja headbands can be considered a threat. Jimmy Butler and the 76ers made them part of their team’s look. De’Aaron Fox wore one regularly. They were cool, and they were fun. Don’t outlaw fun, NBA. Let people wear what they want.

New awards

The NBA has six main awards: Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player, Sixth Man of the Year, and Most Improved Player. In addition to these, there are a lot of smaller awards. NBA players can earn hardware for work in their community or their hustle play. The existing awards are great. But the NBA should add a new category of awards that emphasize fan involvement.

Entertainer of the Year: Voted by the fans, this award goes to the player who creates the most must-watch moments both on the court, in interviews, and on social media. Contenders for the 2020-2021 season would have included Lamelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. These guys kept crowds enthralled between their highlight dunks, amusing Twitter accounts, and some instant-classic interviews (especially Edwards).

15th Men of the Year: Voted by the players and fans, this team award recognizes the rowdiest bench squads. The 6MOTY award recognizes how bench players contribute on the court. However, NBA fans can sometimes ignore the energy that a good bench can provide. Who can forget the 2018-19 Nets’ bench celebrations? Led by Jared Dudley and a group of lesser-known players, they could swing momentum after one good play. Teams like them reward recognition. The voting is 50% fans, 50% players.

Fan Base of the Year: This award, voted by the players, goes to the fan base that creates the rowdiest home-court advantage in a given season. This year’s Phoenix Suns, led by “Suns-in-four guy,” have shown just how valuable home court can be. Throw fans a bone and stir up some more drama. Give one fan base bragging rights for a year.

All-star weekend improvements

Mar 7, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Team Durant guard Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz (45) talks with Team Durant guard James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets (13) during the 2021 NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It is challenging to make all-star weekend super entertaining. Players are just there to have a good time. Nobody wants to get super competitive or work too hard. Fans aren’t as eager to watch events with no real significance. So the NBA has to work extra hard to create engagement; here are a few rule changes that would be a start in this effort.

Celebrity game champs get front row seats to the finals

This one kind of speaks for itself. But the celebrity game was once a defining event of all-star weekend. Its popularity has fallen off a little bit in recent years. One way to drum up some interest is to add some higher stakes. This also has the bonus of getting some more celebrities at the Finals, always a fun thing to see.

Spice up the skills competition

The skills competition began in 2003 and has seen multiple iterations since then. None of them have really raised the event to the level of the three-point or dunk contests. However, there are plenty of ways to improve this. Rather than just testing players ballhandling around cones and passing into nets, the NBA should make some rule changes within the event. Here are a few ideas.

Make players dribble blindfolded for some segment of the race. Have the players chug a beer while keeping their dribble alive. Rather than a straightaway three, force players to knock down a trick shot (behind the backboard, granny-style free throw, etc.) Force players to make a dunk off a trampoline from the free-throw line. When you think creatively, there are endless possibilities for the competition. The NBA should put on its thinking cap and implement some rule changes to make the event a little more fun.

Have the all-stars play Family Feud

NBA players don’t want to wear themselves out over the all-star break, and that makes perfect sense. So maybe the NBA should consider an off-the-court option to add a new event. What NBA fan wouldn’t want to watch Giannis or Klay Thompson play the Feud. While other game show formats could be fun, a special live edition of Family Feud makes a lot of sense. It is a short, fun, popular game show. Maybe it’s the starters or just ten players who volunteer. Or maybe it’s a tournament. There are a lot of ways the NBA could make a game show work out if they wanted. It’s another way to show fans the human side of their heroes.

Front office game

Thunder general manager Sam Presti has time to work a trade if he pleases with plenty of 2021 draft picks.
BRYAN TERRY via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Okay, this idea might not attract the most live viewers, but the highlights could be absolutely hilarious. Sure, it’s fun to watch NBA megastars go for crazy dunks and make half-court shots. But it could be equally entertaining to watch a bunch of competitive number-crunchers get out there on the court. Each team can send one scout, PR person, GM, or another front-office member. The Eastern and Western Conferences face off in a dynamic showdown. The only rule is that no participant can be a former college or NBA player. They would play six-minute quarters, and the whole game would take under an hour.

Outdoor Games

Leaving all-star weekend, we arise at the last of this article’s potential rule changes for the NBA to consider. The NHL has Winter Classic games where teams face off in outdoor rinks in scenic locations. The NBA should take a page out of that book. A large part of basketball culture takes place outdoors. Basketball players of every level have fond memories at their local park. How cool would it be to see an NBA game at Rucker Park? Or maybe a game in Venice Beach? Each year, two teams should play an early-season or maybe preseason game outdoors. It is a great way to pay homage to the game’s storied history.

Alumni Games

Dec 18, 2018; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Javin DeLaurier (12) and forward R.J. Barrett (5) and forward Cam Reddish (2) and forward Zion Williamson (1) and center Marques Bolden (20) react during the second half against the Princeton Tigers at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

A classic debate among NBA fans is which college produces the best NBA talent. Players could settle this with alumni games. Wouldn’t it be fun to see the best five from Duke lace it up against Kentucky players? Duke’s starting lineup would feature four all-stars Kyrie Irving, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Zion Williamson (likely joined by Seth Curry). They would match up against a deep Kentucky team. The school has churned out NBA talent better than any other in recent years. Their guards include Devin Booker, Rajon Rondo, John Wall, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jamal Murray, and De’Aaron Fox. Their bigs are equally gifted, led by Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Julius Randle, and Bam Adebayo.

No NBA fan would want to miss that star-studded matchup with school pride on the line. This would most likely be a casual offseason pickup game or maybe during the all-star break. Other schools like UNC, Michigan, Kansas, Texas, and UCLA could also field teams, though they wouldn’t be at the same level. While it feels unlikely that the NBA will try to create more events to play, this would be an enjoyable one for the fans and help bring some more college fans to the NBA.


So that’s it for this article. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other rule changes out there that could improve the state of the NBA. The goal of this article is to start a dialogue. As a reader, the takeaway shouldn’t be to absorb or block out these ideas mindlessly. They’re supposed to inspire more thought. Dream up ways to improve on these ideas or think of new ones altogether. The NBA is a beautiful game, but there is always room for improvement. So let’s keep imagining what a better NBA might look like.

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