View Full Version : How getting rid of the illegal defense impacted the game

05-15-2015, 12:48 AM
His is something that is alluded to a lot but is rarely spelled out. How has this changed the game?

05-15-2015, 03:11 AM
Can you be specific?

05-15-2015, 09:21 AM
They allowed zones, which made it harder for one on one play, end of story

05-15-2015, 11:52 AM
Zones were allowed until the 80s when Don Nelson crafted the illegal defense rules which basically made the NBA the only man defensive basketball league in the world. That change along with Magic, Bird, and Jordan coming in lead to the NBA being the fastest growing sport entertainment in the world. Then the world adoption of the game grew and the rule difference became a problem for international and college fans to understand. The old illegal defense rules were hard to understand for casual fans and hard to officiate consistently so they were replaced with the simple 3 second illegal D rule. One on one play is still common because very few teams play much zone, probably largely by tradition. Over time that may change and the game will change more than it has thus far. The hand checking restrictions have had a far greater effect on the game than the zone defense.

05-15-2015, 03:24 PM
It opened the game up, similar to how spread offenses in college have altered the look of football. Used to be that almost every team in the NFL had well over half their plays run inside the hashes. Yes Bill Walsh came along long ago, but it was only really a handful of teams that really committed to that style of offense. Now, every team runs some hybrid of the West Coast and Coryell vertical attack unless they are severely limited at QB.

Similarly, there were teams that made their offensive identity on pick and rolls but most teams did not. Sure every team used it here and there but unless you had a Stockton you probably didn't base your entire half-court attack around it. For one, it allowed for a quick double team on someone who is usually your best player and for another, ball movement was risky given how aggressive defenses were on the ball. Posting up was a way simpler option - less physically taxing and more conservative playcall. Pretty much every team played with 2 true bigs most of the game because, in a 1v1 setting, ball control/rebounding/defense was valued over offensive efficiency.

Then came the removal of illegal defense and then later the clarification of the rules that led to how they call 3 second violations and handchecking. People talk about how handchecking affected wings, speculate on how Lebron would fare, etc. but the biggest change to me was how it affected bigs. First, it cut down on their offense because almost every NBA defense has a readymade double in the post that they can bring quickly or wait for. Also, the 5 seconds back to basket (and the clogging around the ball) made post options more turnover prone unless you had a big who could make fast decisions regarding pass or score - usually a rare talent for a big. It's hard to tell whether the dearth of offensively talented bigs is the result of this fact, or the fact that bigs defense became so much more important in zone defense era. You don't see the unathletic 7'1 goons with nifty hookshots anymore because they are liabilities defensively and on the glass - and it's way harder to get deep post position against set defenses.

In the 90s everyone cared who could guard whom 1v1. Now? Who cares. Unless you're Tony Allen or Kawhi Leonard your wing defense probably isn't all that impactful unless you are James Harden or you're just deliberately screwing up your team's scheme. Pick and roll freedom of motion means that even if you have an elite wing out there, you can probably do some stuff to get him switched away from the play (this is why I think TA's ability to not get screened is so valuable - he can force himself into the play). Even for bigs, many of the best defenders aren't that great 1v1. Way more important is rim protection/help defense and pick and roll defense. The defenders who can do both of those at a high level are the truly elite defenders in the game these days.

The problem that people figured out is 2fold: first there aren't very many bigs that are good at both those things - even fewer elite at both (probably just Tim Duncan). To compenstate, the successful defensive teams are playing more and more zone (think Warriors, Hawks, Bucks). Zone still has the same weaknesses it always did (poor rebounding position, give up open in gaps, relatively open on the weakside) but teams are compensating by trying to be bigger at every position, to win rebounding battles and get to closeouts quicker.

05-15-2015, 04:39 PM
flea, very good post. The only thing I'd say is that it was not the zone defense that opened up offenses but rather the clarification of hand checking and forearm checking.

The 5 second back to the basket change is an excellent addition to this discussion. It was to fix the growing problem of the ugly game of 94-95 with Jordan in his first retirement the NBA may have over-reacted when point guards like Mark Jackson were backing down players while everyone else on the floor was 20 feet away and standing and waiting.

05-15-2015, 06:01 PM
flea, very good post. The only thing I'd say is that it was not the zone defense that opened up offenses but rather the clarification of hand checking and forearm checking.

That definitely helped with how ballhandlers could dictate stuff on the perimeter, but I think that getting rid of illegal defense rules (and how they started to call 3 second violations in the big NBA lane) was just as much a factor in opening up the paint for drive and dish. Even if you could still handcheck guys like Aaron Brooks would be able to get into the paint these days - and that's really the primary goal of most NBA offenses (get the ballhandler in the paint).