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A Solution For The Block/Charge Conundrum

There was a play during tonight’s Washington vs. Atlanta NBA playoff game. The Wizards’ John Wall drove the lane. One official–Kenny Mauer, if memory serves me right–was about to call a blocking foul on the Atlanta defender, but the baseline official overruled him.

Replays were inconclusive; the defender was outside the restrictive area, was (perhaps) a little late getting over to cut off Wall…but Wall did make an aggressive move to the basket. It was a call that could have gone either way–as the refs’ initial disagreement testifies.

This kind of play happens all the time in today’s game. Every NBA contest features a handful of these contentious calls; the college game has become a festival of players flopping to the hardwood aiming for charge calls. It’s bad basketball, and it really needs to change.

Fortunately, there’s a pretty simple solution to the issue, and, like most things in life, it hinges on the concept of ‘control.’

Most of the time, the player getting dinged with the charge call loudly protests his innocence, and he usually has a point. If the essence of playing good defense is moving your feet–and it is–then it makes little sense to reward a defender for just standing there. And, of course, if he’s not just standing there, it’s hard to characterize that player as having established his defensive position–in which case, how then can he take a charge?

It’s a conundrum, but one that has a fairly simple solution.

If referees stop looking at the block/charge play as a question of whether the defender has established position or not, and starts viewing the play through the prism of whether or not the offensive player is playing under control, then the conundrum largely goes away. If the player on the drive is not out of control, the contact is a blocking foul. If he is out of control, the contact is a charge, and the ball is turned over.

Now, one can argue that determining whether or not the player driving the lane is in ‘control’ is just as arbitrary as the current standard, but I don’t think that position is legit. Generally, a seasoned observer can easily see when a player is out of control in making his move to the basket. The flailing arms, lack of ball control, the head snapping back accompanied by dramatic cries to heaven–they’re all dead giveaways of a player who has lost control of his move. When that player smacks into the chest of the defender, it’s a charge. Otherwise, contact that gives the defender an advantage should be called a blocking foul.

By changing the mindset around the block/charge question in this way, several things are accomplished. For one, the benefit of the doubt will mostly go to the offensive player, which is as it should be, particularly in the NBA. The high skill level of the best players–which gets its best showcase when players drive to the basket–should be encouraged and rewarded, not punished because some scrub just happened to be standing there. (Again, just standing there is not playing defense; see ‘moving your feet’ above.) With the calls leaning towards the offensive players–and fewer defenders angling for charging calls, rather than playing good D–you get a better game: better flow, more scoring, and better defense overall.

Finally, because the question of a player being ‘in control’ is still a subjective judgement, this way of looking at the call continues to empower the referees to make–wait for it–judgement calls, which is what they are paid to do.

If this recommended change were implemented, you’d see less of those argumentative calls, more offense, the best players being the best players, and an overall better game. Let’s hope the refs get the message.


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