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If The NBA Wants To Get Serious About Fixing Their Defense Problem, The Answers Are Staring Them Right In The Face

Garrett Ellwood. Getty Images.

It wasn't too long ago that the NBA had an offense problem. I know it may seem hard to believe given the offensive explosion we're currently living through, but it certainly wasn't always this way. As recently as 2017-18, the average offensive rating was 108.6, which today would rank 28th in the NBA, just behind the Charlotte Hornets. Just 10 years ago, teams were scoring 101.0 points a night on average, which would be 30th today.

Improved talent, more offensive focused rules, a faster pace, these are all things that over time have shifted the balance between offense and defense throughout the league. Seeing as how we're currently living in the extreme of insane scoring, it has people longing for the old days where "defense was actually played". I do think part of that is a grass is greener situation, because nobody and I mean nobody loved how gross the offense was before this explosion. People hated the Spurs and Pistons and called them boring, despite their dominance. Why? Because they won every game 92-84.

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Adam Silver himself vowed to make the game more visually pleasing (which meant more offense) and that's exactly what he did. However, it now appears the time has come to perhaps shift things a little bit back to the old days in an attempt to have more balance

I mean I'm not sure what there is to really review here, the answer is clearly yes it has. You can't guard people in today's NBA, and even though the league has tried to help defenders out by adjusting flopping rules or baiting foul plays, at the end of the day that shit only really makes an impact for the first week of the season. You turn on any game right now and you'll still see flopping, baiting fouls, jumping into defenders etc. Those rule changes that are mostly subjective and have no consistency are not going to solve the problem, especially when there's also a whole separate issue of the people actually making the calls. Who can seriously trust an NBA ref to be consistent right now?

That's why if the league truly cares about having more of a balance and empowering defenders, it has to be done through things that are not subjective. It needs to be legislated. The good news is this really shouldn't be hard for the league to figure out. After thinking about this for 2 seconds, it's pretty obvious where the adjustments need to be

1. Eliminate defensive 3 seconds

This I imagine will be the most commonly mentioned idea, and I see no reason why the league should reject it (no pun intended by intended). Think of how devastating it is with players like Gobert/Wemby protecting the rim as it stands today. Now imagine what that looks like if they never have to leave the pant. You get rid of defensive 3 seconds, suddenly things get a whole lot tougher once a player enters the paint. The spacing changes, you can just wait for a big to tag out of the paint and then start your drive, something Luka talks all the time about. The second he sees that big leave the paint is when he attacks because he knows there's going to be a lane.

2. Bring back hand checking

Probably the most notable difference from playing defense in 2024 compared to the eras where it was actually tough to score. The NBA banned hand checking before the 2004-05 season and guess what happened? The ORTG averaged jumped from 102.9 to 106.1, and teams went from scoring 93 points a night to 97. From then on, we saw both of those metrics start to rise as it became clear that defenders couldn't touch an offensive player.

While I do think that point of attack defenders can still create some form of contact, I say just go back to how it was pre-2004. Given how skilled offensive players are, why not give defenders something back to help mitigate that?

3. Adopt the FIBA rim rules

Pretty simple. Once the ball strikes the rim, any player can play the ball by swatting it away. Frankly, I don't know why the league hasn't adopted this. We all watch the FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket. We all see how much better it is with this rule. Yet the NBA wants to be different…why?

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If you do those three things while also actually enforcing the rules that already exist in a more consistent manner, there is no doubt that the NBA will have more of a balance. But as long as we live in a world where a defender can't create any sort of contact while at the same time we see instance after instance of an offensive player initiating contact on drives and being rewarded/bailed out for it (aka the Giannis/Embiid/Trae Young special), this problem will never get fixed.

Now the pushback here could certainly be with the players and the union. Lowering scoring or making it tough to score could potentially impact someone's All Star/All NBA standing, which in turn impacts the contracts they become eligible for. Big time offensive players who throw up godly numbers tend to make All Star/All NBA, and those guys tend to get supermax deals. I could see a world where the NBPA pushes back on changes as long as contracts are going to be tied to those sorts of incentives.

But hey, at least they're talking about it. That's the first step. As long as they don't overthink it and are actually serious about making a change, it's pretty obvious to see where things need to be addressed.