Thursday, August 14, 2008

League Styles and the move toward standardization

When thinking about basketball, I tend to think of style as being tri-layered. Specifically, style presents itself in terms of League Style, Team Style, and Player Style.

Each type of style evolves in and of itself as well as evolving as a response to a set of constraints. Also, the styles all interact with one another -- so league style necessitates or at least encourages certain team styles, team styles sometimes require particular player styles to fulfill certain roles, and player styles may force a league to adjust its own rules and style (for instance, in baseball, dominant pitchers in the late '60's causing the league to lower the pitcher's mound).

League Style

This is the style nurtured by league-wide trends and rules, and Writers often describe basketball as though it is monolithic, that it is one game invented by Naismith and played ever since then by people around the world. In fact, though, it has grown and branched over the years. The branching of the sport has given us a variety of versions of basketball that are similar in some ways but also notably different from each other, hence the various styles in the NBA, the WNBA, the NCAA, FIBA, etc. (the sports media seems to have accepted that AL and NL baseball are very different because of the presence/lack of the designated hitter, but seem less willing to admit that different basketball leagues play very different types of basketball). The Olympics right now have given NBA fans a chance to see what international style basketball looks like. The most notable aspects of the international game that are different from the NBA are:

  • Defensive 3 seconds rule. In the NBA, a shotblocker can't just sit in front of the basket like a soccer goalkeeper throughout the game, whereas that is exactly what is allowed in the international game (in the international game, there is no defensive 3 seconds rule). A style-effect of this is decreased scoring in the paint in the halfcourt offense and an increase in mid- and long-range shooting ability, even for frontcourt players.
  • The trapezoid key: in the NBA, they painted area on the floor (the key) is a rectangle. Since offensive players are not allowed to be in the key for more than three seconds at a time, the shape of the NBA key allows post players to hold a position much closer to the basket on offense (near the basket just outside the key -- when the key is a trapezoid this area is included in the key). Because of this, back-to-the-basket low-post skills are emphasized and encouraged in the NBA game while in the international game frontcourt players are pushed a little farther from the basket. We often see the result of this in the NBA, where European bigmen seem more comfortable facing up and driving/shooting from the high-post and beyond than working from the low post (side note: the trapezoid key also seems to give the offense a better chance to retrieve rebounds off of missed free throws).
  • 3-point line distance. The 3-point line in the international game is drastically shorter than the NBA 3-point line. Among other things, the NBA distance creates much more space on the court, again providing an environment where low-post skills provide an advantage (less space between the passer and passee makes entry-passes more risky, and also makes it easier for the perimeter defender to double-team a post-player without giving up a potential open shot on the perimeter.

Team Style

This post is eventually going to be about the League Style question, but just for completeness I'll describe what I mean by team and player styles. Team style is often dictated by a coaching philosophy, and constrained by the ability of the players on the roster. Dribble penetration, motion offense, pick & roll vs. low post scoring, defending the basket or playing the passing lanes, these decisions all come together to create a coherent style that a team plays.

Player Style

What a player does, whether he shoots or passes, where he shoots from, and so forth, is very much dependent on his role on the team, making all of that a part of Team Style. However, how a player accomplishes his role is generally an expression of his own ability and aesthetics. Bank shot or not? Bounce pass or jump pass? Turnaround or Hook shot?

Anyways, the reason I'm talking about style is that I saw this -- apparently FIBA (governing body of international basketball) is changing its rules to make it more similar to the NBA:

FIBA is changing their rules to have:

- a rectangular lane of the same dimensions as the NBA's
- a 3pt line at 22'2"
- a charge circle like the NBA's

I feel a little bit disappointed by these changes. Part of the joy of watching different leagues is seeing the various skills and playing styles around the world. On the other hand, a bridging of the differences between FIBA and NBA basketball might lead to a decrease in domestic basketball xenophobia, so that could be good I suppose. What do you think? Good idea or not?

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