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VOL. 127 | NO. 205 | Friday, October 19, 2012

Take Another Look at Officials’ Split-Second Calls

By Don Wade

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Hindsight, especially from press row or your seat in the 17th row of the upper bowl at FedExForum is a wonderful thing. After all, with the benefit of a gigantic video board and replay, we can see when the official got the call wrong and we got the call right.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) could be one of many NBA players affected by the league’s new rule meant to crack down on flopping. Offenders will be fined by the league.

(Photo: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Unfortunately, when subjected to just a 15-minute video shown to actual NBA officials, one quickly gains an appreciation for just how difficult their job is.

Before the Grizzlies’ recent preseason game with the Atlanta Hawks, local media were afforded the opportunity to watch the video, learn about the league’s points of emphasis for the 2012-2013 season – yes, we’ll get to flopping – and ask questions of crew chief Jason Phillips.

The best part: Unlike at the annual referee camp, held a few weeks ago in New Jersey, there was no pop quiz for reporters. For once the video got rolling, it was stunning how fast everything went and how nuanced an illegal screen can be, how close the call can be between a block and a charge, how difficult it can be to see illegal contact – especially in the post – and on and on.

“As physical as the game is, the speed of the athletes, it’s gotta be tough (to officiate),” said Grizz guard Mike Conley.

Block-charge calls, illegal screens, contact with jump shooters (or by jump shooters, believe it or not), “freedom of movement” for players making cuts, traveling, and “respect for the game” all rate as points of emphasis for this season.

Atlanta’s Kyle Korver, whose main job is to hit 3-point shots, says he is more likely to be fouled below arm level in an effort to throw him off balance.

“So maybe they’ll be looking for that now,” he said. “We’ll see.”

The key part of the freedom of movement issue, according to the training video, is that “a defensive player may not impede an offensive player’s progress.” Which sounds fine in theory, but pay attention to how much contact, incidental and otherwise, that might impede progress and basically you’re left with the same situation as the NFL: holding calls on the offensive line can be made on every play.

Phillips says this particular point of emphasis actually isn’t new, but “more a reminder to keep the game flowing.” In other words, nobody wants the game to get bogged down into push-and-shove Mike Fratello-style basketball.

As for traveling, that’s another call that can be whistled almost at will. Former Grizz guard O.J. Mayo made the video for changing his pivot foot off a shot fake when starting a drive. Juwan Howard, then of the Miami Heat, was shown taking three steps after making a rebound and an outlet pass (probably the first time he had been out of his warm-ups since his Fab Five days).

The flopping rule will not, in theory, change calls on the court. Rather, the league will review plays and hand out fines to offenders.

“As a staff, we’ve never wanted to reward people that flop,” Phillips said.

“Unfortunately, it’s become a huge part of the game,” said Korver. “That’s why they’re trying to do something about it.”

In the first quarter of the Grizz-Hawks preseason game, Phillips whistled Atlanta’s Josh Smith for fouling Rudy Gay after Gay had poked the ball away from Smith. Despite a disrespectful reaction from Smith – stared Phillips down, used an impolite four-letter word, Phillips let it go.

It was a moment of discretion from a 13-year NBA veteran official who just watched the NFL go through its debacle with replacement officials and has witnessed some controversial calls in the baseball postseason.

“I always pull for the fellas in blue or stripes,” Phillips said. “I always want them to succeed.”

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