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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NBA Makes Correct Rulings About Ariza and Odom

The NBA has suspended L.A. Lakers forward Lamar Odom one game for leaving the area of the bench during an on court altercation that broke out in the wake of the Type 2 Flagrant Foul committed by his teammate Trevor Ariza against Portland's Rudy Fernandez. Here is the play:

The Odom suspension was automatic and easier to predict than the sun rising in the East. The NBA rules unequivocally state that if any player who is not in the game leaves the area of the bench during an altercation then he will be suspended. The league has been enforcing the letter of this law for more than a decade and has brought the hammer down on everyone from Patrick Ewing to Amare Stoudemire. Around the :25 mark in the above video you can see Odom straying several feet beyond the bench area (he is past where the three point line extends), so he was a dead man walking by that point in terms of being suspended. Phoenix Suns' fans have hated this rule ever since Stoudemire and Boris Diaw violated it during a playoff series in 2007 but this is a good rule that works and should absolutely not be changed. The only two actions during a game that lead to an automatic suspension are throwing a punch (whether or not it connects) and leaving the bench area during an altercation. Those two rules have been strictly enforced by the NBA and that is why fighting has become virtually non-existent in the league. Since everyone knows that those rules will be enforced, players can keep their "tough guy cred" by walking up to each other, talking like big shots and then heading back to their own huddles; no one will question why they did not throw a punch because everyone knows that this will lead to an automatic suspension that costs them money and hurts their team. Look at that video again: NBA players average about 6-7, 230 and if they had started throwing real, closed fist punches they could have seriously injured someone, including very possibly fans and/or camera operators who were right in the vicinity of the players who were squaring off. It is up to the referees, coaches and the 10 players who are in the game to act as peacemakers, while the players who are on the bench need to stay on the bench, because just walking over is an escalation. Think about it: if you are arguing with someone and his 6-7, 230 buddy starts walking over, in the heat of the moment are you going to assume that this guy is a peacemaker or an antagonist?

A Type 2 Flagrant Foul carries with it an automatic ejection. The NBA announced that Ariza will not face any further disciplinary action. I first saw this play while watching NBA TV, so I heard the local Portland feed. The announcers should be named Homer and Homer, because they were screaming bloody murder almost before Fernandez even hit the ground. Before the referees even had a chance to make a ruling, they kept going on and on about Ariza; I thought that they were going to request that a War Crimes Tribunal be immediately formed. Fernandez took a horrible fall that was scary to watch and I hope that he makes a quick and full recovery. That said, the NBA handled this situation perfectly from beginning to end. The referees correctly assessed a Type 2 Flagrant Foul; as the NBA rulebook explains, a Type 1 Flagrant Foul involves "unnecessary contact," while a Type 2 Flagrant Foul involves "unnecessary and excessive contact...(that) usually has a swinging motion, hard contact and a follow through." Note that it is irrelevant whether or not the fouling player made a play on the ball or attempted to make a play on the ball; the only issues are whether the contact was "unnecessary" and/or "excessive." This play clearly fit the Type 2 Flagrant Foul definition.

A player only receives an additional suspension beyond the automatic ejection if the NBA really considers his conduct to be egregious in some fashion or if the player is a repeat offender. Play the above video and freeze it at the :18 mark. Fernandez is jumping to lay the ball up (or dunk it) and Ariza is jumping to attempt to block the shot; if you draw an arc of the natural swinging motion of Ariza's arm the way it is positioned, it looks like he has a good chance of blocking the shot. Unfortunately, because of the differing speeds that the players were moving at and Ariza's angle of pursuit, Ariza caught Fernandez right on the head. The Portland announcers kept making a big deal that Ariza grabbed Fernandez' arm and flung him down but that is ridiculous; if you look at the video from the :18 to :22 mark, Ariza's arm simply continues in the path that it had been going. He does not grab Fernandez. That may not have been obvious live and at full speed, but the Portland announcers kept insisting that Ariza had maliciously grabbed Fernandez even after they watched the replay repeatedly.

I think that Ariza was sincerely trying to go for the block but the angle of the play did not work out well. In retrospect, it looks like a dangerous play and perhaps an unnecessary one considering the lopsided score at the time but he only had a split second to make a decision; if he quits on the play, then he might be criticized for not hustling. Sometimes bad things happen even when there are not bad intentions. A Type 2 Flagrant Foul is the correct ruling, as is not disciplining Ariza any further.

You may recall that earlier this season, Andrew Bynum committed a Flagrant Foul that collapsed Gerald Wallace's left lung and fractured one of his ribs. The referees in that game only cited Bynum for a Type 1 Flagrant Foul but the league office subsequently upgraded that to a Type 2 Flagrant Foul, though they did not suspend him. I called Bynum's action "dirty" even though I made it clear that I don't believe that he is a dirty player. The difference between the Bynum play and the Ariza play is that what Bynum did is not a natural basketball move; he delivered a high elbow/forearm shiver into Wallace's chest, as opposed to swinging down to try to block the shot (or commit a regular foul) with his hand. I said at that time that the NBA was right to upgrade Bynum's foul and I thought that the only reason that they did not suspend him is that they were giving him the benefit of the doubt because he does not have a track record for being dirty. Regardless of whether Fernandez or Wallace turns out to be more seriously injured, the Bynum foul was a much worse action than the Ariza foul.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:32 AM



At Wednesday, March 11, 2009 3:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think those plays were purely accidental. Think of it this way, in a pickup game, you accidentally put your opponent to the floor. The first thing you normally do is apologize. "Dude, my bad, it was an accident, I'm sorry. Are you ok?" If his teammates get riled up and are approaching you menacingly, you try to diffuse the situation.

Ariza didn't check on Rudy, he screamed at the other Blazers. It was clearly a "message" foul.

Even if it was really an accident, and Ariza was just being a jerk about it, it was still a high risk, low reward play. The chances of hurting an airborne player was a lot higher than getting a clean block/strip. The slightest bump on an airborne player can be disastrous.

While playing hard and with passion is admirable, players have to be always aware where the line is drawn.

"Make them earn it from the line" has hurt Stern's vision of a fun and gun NBA more than defense.


At Wednesday, March 11, 2009 5:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


To be fair to Ariza, if you look at the video you can see that he is swarmed by Blazers (and then by Lakers coming to his aid) right after the play, so he could not have checked on Fernandez at that time. After the game, Ariza said that he was sorry and that he was not trying to hurt Fernandez.

I agree that it was a dangerous play and, as you put it, a "high risk, low reward play" but I can also see that from Ariza's perspective in that split second he could have legitimately thought that he had a good chance to block the shot. LeBron James makes that kind of play regularly and Ariza is an athletic, long armed defender.

As I said, it was a dangerous play and full deserving of being classified as a Type 2 Flagrant Foul but I actually think that Bynum's foul on Wallace was a dirty play and that this play was not dirty.

"Make them earn it from the line" is not a new philosophy at all and was in fact more violently enacted prior to Stern becoming the commissioner. The flagrant foul rules have toned down most of the rough stuff.

At Wednesday, March 11, 2009 9:11:00 AM, Blogger Joel said...

Definitely a reckless play by Ariza in my opinion. I agree with Z that it was "a high risk, low reward play", but not that it was deliberate. Ariza's reaction was disappointing but I don't think he (or a lot of the Blazer players themselves for that matter) were aware of how seriously Fernandez had been hurt.

David, you must be unfamiliar with Portland's local commentators, especially Mike Rice (the colour commentator). They are biased, classless, and perpetually whining about the officiating. I thought Boston was bad with Tommy Heinsohn but these guys are in the same class (same goes for the Denver and New Orleans local feeds by the way). As soon as Fernandez went down I know they would be baying for blood.

At Wednesday, March 11, 2009 4:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In retrospect, the play looks dangerous, reckless, high risk/low reward, etc.--but it is important to keep in mind that we have the advantage of knowing the outcome of the play and of watching the video in slow motion from multiple angles. Ariza had a split second to decide what to do and he followed his instinct to make a play on the ball. The result was unfortunate but it was not a dirty play.

I've heard the Portland commentators a few times but never paid that much attention to what they were saying. This time it was hard to miss because the game action had been stopped and they kept saying the same things over and over, particularly the ridiculous assertion that Ariza had intentionally pulled Fernandez' arm.

At Wednesday, March 11, 2009 9:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just don't think that it was 100% accidental. Just like getting in a car crash while you're speeding is not 100% accidental.
While Ariza probably wasn't thinking about trying to hurt Rudy, he was thinking of going after the ball regardless of what happens to Rudy.
It was a reckless and irresponsible move, as a said, a high-risk, low-reward play that borders on false hustle.
It was a "Varejao" play if you know what I mean.

It's easy to apologize after the game. However, take a closer look. As the angry Blazer mob approached him, Ariza was barking at them!
If you accidentaly hit your opponent on the head and sent him crashing to the floor, and his angry teammates start to approach you, would any sane person start barking and pointing??
Shouldn't the first thing that comes out of your mouth be "I'm sorry, it was an accident?" He wasn't being competitive, or being passionate, he was ready to escalate it.
What players say after their PR managers have a talk with them hold no value whatsoever.

I wasn't criticizing Stern, he did clean up the game, but I think monitoring the "make him earn it from the line" philosophy would be better for the game than removing handchecking and allowing travels just to see the score go up.
Oh, and that "no charge zone" semi circle is probably the dumbest and most dangerous of them all. Because defenses have been handicapped against penetration, the only thing defenders can do is go under a jumping player and try to fall down.
But that's another topic for another day.


At Wednesday, March 11, 2009 11:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Neither of us was there to know what the approaching Blazer players said to Ariza--or even what he was saying back to them, for that matter. In the heat of the moment people can say and do things that don't necessarily reflect what they would think/do normally. If you look at where Ariza ended up after the play, he could not even see Fernandez to have any idea of how seriously hurt he may be when the other Blazers came rushing up to him.

I think that the whole situation has been blown out of proportion by certain people, notably the Portland broadcasters and anyone who thinks that he and he alone knows exactly what Ariza's true motivations were. It was a bang-bang play that is now being overanalyzed to the nth degree. If you look at the :18 to :22 marks on the video that is embedded in this post, it is easy to see that he was going for the block and that what happened was an unfortunate accident. Should Ariza maybe have let the play go, particularly in a 30 point game? It is easy to say that now, less easy to do that when you only have a split second to think about it and it seems like you can make a hustle play, particularly when making hustle plays is the main thing that you are asked to do.

Removing hand checking actually got rid of one the types of contact that led to escalation and led to confrontations; the defender used to hand check, then the offensive player slapped the hand away and problems ensued, plus the game was not fun to watch, unless you enjoyed those 75-70 NY-MIA barnburners when both teams had the philosophy of committing five fouls on every play because the most the ref could call was one--and maybe he'd just let everything go.

I don't think that there is more or less traveling now than there has been in the past 20-25 years. The refs are instructed to watch the defender first and that is why some of the travels are missed; if the ref just stares at the dribbler's feet then he is going to miss blatant fouls and the fans would be complaining even more than they do about the occasional travel that is not caught.

I think that you don't understand how the restricted area (what you called the "no charge zone") works--most fans and even a few commentators don't know the rule, either. NBA players have the ability to take off from far away and fly to the hoop, so there is a real danger of them being undercut (much more so than at the collegiate or high school levels). The restricted area only applies to plays when the offensive player starts his move outside of the paint (i.e., not on postups). The defender must establish defensive position with both feet completely above the line in order for the offensive player to be called for a charge; otherwise, it is a block. This is actually a great rule both for the safety reason mentioned above and also because it makes the block/charge call under the basket much more definitive: either the defender gets to the spot or he doesn't. Of course, it is possible for the defender to get to the right spot but arrive too late, which is still a blocking foul (the offensive player, by the principle of verticality, must be given an opportunity to land, so the defender has to arrive early enough that the offensive player has a chance to avoid the contact). Without this rule, I think that we would see a lot more players getting hurt by being undercut.

At Thursday, March 12, 2009 12:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the heat of the moment? If Ariza didn't know what happened to Rudy, shouldn't there be a more puzzled look on his face why angry Blazers were approaching him?
I have accidentaly hit an opponent on the head with a block attempt, and have had that happen to me as well. I know when my elbows hit an opponent's head.
There is always an "oh crap, I hit his head" moment. The offender always checks to see if the player is all right.
Have you ever committed an accidental bad foul, where your first reaction afterwards was to point, bark, and move toward the opposing team??
Do you personally know anyone who's first reaction was to pick a fight with the opposing team, if it was really 100% a pure accident??
Yeah, while barking and pointing Ariza could have slipped in an apology of some sort, sure.

Handchecking is allowed in the post, but I don't think post players are fighting any more than perimeter players, do you?
You can hand check in highschool and college. Do you think they fight more because of that? Or is it because they're kids?
Add one ref to watch for travelling calls ONLY. The rest of the refs then would not have to watch the dribbler's feet. How hard is that?
Right now, with all the advantages given to perimeter players, the defender's only chance is to try to take a charge.
It's a very dangerous play simply because if the defender is late, then the offensive player has no where to land.
More often than not, that means freethrows. Scoring is up partly because freethrow attempts are up. This allows for more commercial breaks.

The "no charge zone" is all that the referees are looking for.
Never mind that the offensive player has already taken off, as long as the defender is not in the circle, it's not a blocking foul!
When the defender gets there before the player has taken off, but his heel is juuuust touching the circle, he gets called for the foul!
You can even drive your knee to his chest if he's in the restricted zone!
Why should the rulings be based on a curved chalkmark? Forget looking at the rest of the play, let's just stare at the defender's heels.
Right now, it's, player dribbles the air out of the ball, player goes for a drive, player and defender falls to the ground, a whistle is blown.
Officials and also color commentators don't agree on what happened. So they look at the video replay... "his feet were outside the circle, that's a charge." Ridiculous!

"unless you enjoyed those 75-70 NY-MIA barnburners when both teams had the philosophy of committing five fouls on every play because the most the ref could call was one--and maybe he'd just let everything go."
If they indeed committed 5 legitimate fouls on the play, why on earth would the referee not call the first one? Then call a technical on the succeeding ones?
This example only shows that the way that the rule is enforced is flawed, but is not a good argument for why you think the rule is bad.


At Thursday, March 12, 2009 6:10:00 AM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

David, I agree that it was a reckless play, and deserved a flagrant two. However, Trevor did hit the ball, as you can see in the first two photos in this sequence:


I wonder how many players go up for two-handed dunks off of one foot on fast breaks. I think that was the reason that Rudy ended up so off-balance. After Trevor swung through the ball (hand on ball, but forearm caught Rudy's head), his swing made contact with Rudy's left wrist, which was still raised due to his two-handed attempt at the dunk. If he only goes up with his right hand like most NBA players do, he probably lands far less awkwardly and Trevor only gets called for a flagrant one or a regular foul.

At Thursday, March 12, 2009 6:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Slow down. You are taking all of this a little too seriously and too literally. I did not say that Ariza did not know that he hit Fernandez in the head. I said that he had no way of knowing how seriously Fernandez was hurt. Did you instantly know that Fernandez was going to be carted off on a stretcher? I saw Scottie Pippen get hit in the head by Alonzo Mourning so hard that a huge bump literally popped right out of Pip's head almost immediately but Pip did not have to leave the game, let alone get wheeled out. I've been hit in the head playing hoops and I've hit other people in the head (accidentally) and you don't immediately know how badly that person is hurt.

This was not a casual pickup game between friends at the local rec center. This was an NBA game between two division rivals, so your analogy only works so far. Before Ariza had a chance to say or do anything after the foul, all he saw were Blazers rushing at him. You don't know what they were saying and neither do I. Since you like hypothetical analogies so much, I'll give you one: Let's say you went for a block and were not trying to injure someone and two of his teammates ran up to you right after the play and screamed, "You *&%$(Y*. We're going to kick your *(&%*)#. What kind of ()*&#)&%# play was that?" In the heat of the moment, would you calmly reply, "Dear sirs, please contain your rage. I was only trying to block the shot. Please stand aside so that I may check on your dear teammate's condition."? If you can honestly say that you would, then I nominate you for the Nobel Peace Prize.

What is allowed on the post is not handchecking per se. The defensive player can place a bent forearm in the back of a post up player but he cannot extend that forearm to push the player off of the post. A hand check means placing your open hand on the offensive player's hip and redirecting him. If you talk to old school players about this--and I have--they will tell you that a guy like John Havlicek had such strong hands that to an outsider it might look like he was barely touching you but he could stop a player in his tracks and impede his progress. The NBA has cleaned up a lot of the off the ball contact and has prevented defenders from manhandling perimeter players who have the ball. I think that those are good changes that lead to a cleaner game.

Do you really think that traveling is such a pervasive problem that the NBA needs to hire 30 more refs just to watch that one infraction? Will the game be more aesthetically pleasing to you if 10 more traveling calls are made per game? I certainly agree that violations should be called whenever they happen regardless of who committed them but I just don't think that there has suddenly been an epidemic of uncalled traveling violations.

A foul is called if a player's heel is on the line because that is the way that the rule is written. The ruling is based on that line because it gets rid of all of the subjectivity that used to be involved with that call; the placement of the line forces defenders to take charges away from the basket when the offensive player is either still on the ground or just taking off, as opposed to sliding underneath an already airborne player.

Whether or not a color commentator agrees with a call is irrelevant. Many of those guys are either homers and/or they don't know the rules.

My point about the old NY-MIA games is that so much contact was allowed anyway that it led to a loosening of standards and encouraged teams to up the ante to see what they could get away with. Handchecking was allowed, so whether or not contact was so excessive that it warranted a foul became very subjective. That led to all of those 75-70 games. The game is much better now. Offensive players have more freedom but teams like the Cavs and Celtics have shown that you can play good defense under the current rules, too.

At Thursday, March 12, 2009 6:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Dude Abides:

It is important to remember that intent to make a play on the ball or even actually making contact with the ball have absolutely nothing to do with determining whether an action is a Flagrant Foul. As I stated in the post, the rules pertain to "excessive contact" and "unnecessary and excessive contact."

The fact that it is clear that Ariza was going for the ball indicates that he did not make a dirty play--in contrast to the Bynum foul that I mentioned in the post--but the nature of the contact clearly was worthy of a Type 2 Flagrant Foul.

At Thursday, March 12, 2009 9:29:00 AM, Blogger Ben said...

In terms of officiating, from the games that I've seen, the refs have been very inconsistent throughout the year.

At Thursday, March 12, 2009 10:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You *&%$(Y*. We're going to kick your *(&%*)#. What kind of ()*&#)&%# play was that?"

Honestly? "Whoa dudes, slow down it was an accident, my bad! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, chill." while slowly walking back.

3-4 guys coming at you threatening to kick your &#$* and your first instinct is NOT to back away? Seriousy? You already know you sent their guy to the floor. You would actually step forward and get in their faces? What would you do if it was you?

Whether or not Rudy was hurt seriously is irrelevant, his actions after the hit is not what a normal person who just hit someone on the head and sent him to the floor would do. I'm just saying. Again, I don't think he intended to hurt Rudy, he just went for the ball without thinking. The way he defended his actions was confusing to say the least.

30? I said assign one ref to watch the feet. If it is a travel, based on the NBA rulebook, then call it. Players will adjust. Players are travelling because referees let them get away with it. What's wrong with making sure that the rules are followed?

Your MIA-NYK example supports what I'm saying. Rules became lenient.
A lot of the altercations started when a defender got excessively physical, usually starting off the ball. A lot of slapping happens whenever the ref has a bad angle. If you had an extra ref watching, these problems would be minimized.

I'm just saying that in the race to take the charge, more often than not the airborne player has nowhere to land. The way it's called now, if you're out of the circle, even if you were late, it's a charge. In trying to keep his heels of the line, the defender is often in an awkward position. It's a weird looking mini-game that leads to freethrow contests.


At Thursday, March 12, 2009 5:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Again, without either of us knowing who said what this is all just speculation and tiresome speculation at that. If you can get a reliable account of what was said, then we have something. You are just looking at Ariza's body language and trying to read something into it that may or may not be there. I'm looking at the actual play itself. That is what matters. It was correctly called a Type 2 Flagrant Foul for the reasons that I explained. End of story.

There are 30 teams in the NBA, so if you want to have a designated ref to call traveling in each game then you need at least 15, but if someone gets sick or whatever you probably need more; that is why I said that the NBA would have to hire and train 30 new refs to do what you are proposing.

The NBA added a third ref for each game a number of years ago but I don't really hear anyone who is actually involved with the game clamoring for the addition of a fourth ref.

I think that the restricted area rule has actually made the game less dangerous for airborne players but you are certainly entitled to your opinion.


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