THE BASKET INEFFICIENCY: BELT PACK MALFUNCTIONS HAPPEN

February 19, 2017
Nicholas Patrick

On January 21, Georgia inbounded the ball in the backcourt while trailing 63-62 at Texas A&M with 16.5 seconds remaining. Later in the possession, Georgia big man Yante Maten was fouled while attempting a lay-up with 5.6 seconds remaining on the game clock. However, the game clock had actually frozen at 5.6 much earlier in the possession due to a belt pack malfunction. In fact, Georgia players made three passes during the span when the clock was frozen, passing up contested shots – presumably because they believed ample time remained to find a better shot.

Officials initiated a review of the possession, and – after crowding around a tiny monitor with stopwatch in hand for nearly five minutes – determined that more than 16.5 seconds elapsed between the beginning of the possession and the moment Maten was fouled. The foul would not count, Georgia would not be granted free throws, and the game was over. Final score: Texas A&M 63, Georgia 62.

Basketball can eliminate late-game clock controversies from the sport, and improve late-game quality and style of play overall, by adopting the hybrid duration format described here.

Continue reading to see more detailed information about the game clock’s warping effect on late-game quality and style of play:

This particular sample includes each of the 55 nationally-televised NBA games played January 16, 2017 – February 16, 2017 (three of these games proceeded to overtime, so 58 total 4th quarter/overtime periods are considered), and each of the 89 NCAA men’s games televised live by ESPNU from January 16, 2017 – February 16, 2017 (five of these games proceeded to overtime – including two games that proceeded to double overtime – so 96 total 2nd half/overtime periods are considered)

DELIBERATE FOULING
Trailing teams often commit deliberate fouls late in games in an effort to conserve time. The effectiveness of this strategy can be categorized in the following ways:

  • Counterproductive: fouling team ends same period with a deficit equal to or greater than its deficit at the time of the first deliberate foul
  • Futile: fouling team ends same period with a deficit narrower than its original deficit, but still trailing (and losing, necessarily)
  • Partially Successful: fouling team ends same period in a tie with its opponent, forcing overtime (or an additional overtime)
  • Completely Successful: fouling team ends same period with the lead (and the win, necessarily)

Trailing NBA teams committed at least one deliberate foul in 22 of the 58 sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods, and trailing NCAA teams committed at least one deliberate foul in 58 of the 96 sampled 2nd half/overtime periods, including the following overly aggressive deliberate fouls:

  • January 25: Georgia flagrant-1 foul with 2:00 remaining vs. Alabama
  • January 30: Hampton flagrant-2 foul with 19.1 seconds remaining at South Carolina State

Overall, the foul-a-thons produced  the following underwhelming level of success:

NBA NCAA
Counterproductive 17 (77.3%) 41 (70.7%)
Futile 4 (18.2%) 14 (24.1%)
Partially Successful 1 (4.5%) 3 (5.2%)
Completely Successful 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%)

STALLING
Leading NBA teams stalled in the overwhelming majority of the 58 sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods. In many other games, the leading team was deliberately fouled before it had the chance to stall. And in most of the remaining instances, the trailing team overtly conceded the game before the leading team would have normally considered stalling. Only two (3.4%) of the sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods was truly stalling-free:

  • January 16: Hawks at Knicks
  • February 2: Hawks at Rockets

Similarly, only one (1.0%) of the 96 sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods was truly stalling-free:

  • February 12 (2OT): Virginia at Virginia Tech

In three instances, a leading NBA team willingly accepted a shot clock violation while stalling in the closing seconds. In four instances, a leading NCAA team willingly accepted a shot clock violation while stalling in the closing seconds.

RUSHED/SLOPPY/INCOMPLETE POSSESSIONS
The game clock further contributes to an ugly brand of basketball by forcing the trailing (and in some cases, tied) team to attempt ugly shots. This effect is strongest during the final possession of a 4th quarter/2nd half/overtime period.

Consider that nine of the sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods ended with a possession that could have tied or won the game. Only one those possessions (11.1%) was converted (on 0.22 points per possession):

  • January 19: Clippers’ Jamal Crawford gathers offensive rebound and airballs three-pointer in one motion vs. Timberwolves
  • January 21 (4Q): Cavaliers’ LeBron James misses three-pointer vs. Spurs
  • January 21 (OT): Cavaliers’ Kevin Love airballs three-pointer vs. Spurs
  • January 24: Raptors’ Norman Powell airballs running three-pointer vs. Spurs
  • January 29: Trailblazers’ Mason Plumlee misses tip-in vs. Warriors
  • February 6 (4Q): Cavaliers’ Kevin Love inbounds pass knocked out of bounds by Wizards’ John Wall
  • February 13 (4Q): Hawks’ Paul Millsap makes runner at Trailblazers
  • February 14: Lakers’ Lou Williams misses deep three-pointer vs. Kings
  • February 16: Celtics’ Al Horford misses catch-and-shoot turnaround long two-point jumper at Bulls

14 of the sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods ended with a possession that could have tied or won the game. Only two of those possessions (14.3%) was converted (on 0.36 points per possession):

  • January 18 (2H): Washington’s Markelle Fultz’s double-pump three-pointer blocked by Colorado’s Wesley Gordon
  • January 21: Nebraska’s Tai Webster unable to gather full-court inbounds pass from Michael Jacobson at Rutgers
  • January 21 (2H): Time expires before Cal Poly’s Donovan Fields can attempt three-quarter-court heave vs. Long Beach State
  • January 23 (2H): Time expires before Texas Southern’s Kevin Scott can attempt turnaround jumper at Mississippi Valley State
  • January 28: Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie makes fastbreak lay-up vs. Notre Dame
  • February 4: Penn State’s Tony Carr misses driving lay-up off bottom of backboard vs. Rutgers
  • February 8: Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte misses retreating three-pointer off side of rim vs. Baylor
  • February 9 (2H): UNC-Asheville’s Macio Teague makes three-pointer vs. Winthrop
  • February 9 (OT): Winthrop’s Keon Johnson has ball tipped away by UNC-Asheville’s Ahmad Thomas
  • February 9 (2OT): Time expires before Winthrop’s Keon Johnson can attempt halfcourt heave at UNC-Asheville
  • February 12 (2H): Virginia’s Darius Thompson’s halfcourt heave sails wide of basket at Virginia Tech
  • February 12 (OT): Virginia Tech’s Seth Allen misses three-pointer off front of rim vs. Virginia
  • February 12 (2OT): Virginia’s London Perrantes misses halfcourt shot off backboard at Virginia Tech
  • February 13: Morgan State’s Kyle Thomas’s three-quarter-court heave lands short of basket at Howard

Even if we broaden the definition from actual buzzer beater possessions to potential buzzer beater possessions (any possession where the offense is tied or trailing by 1-3 points, with the shot clock turned off), NBA teams still converted only six of 27 (22.2%) such possessions (on 0.56 points per possession), and NCAA teams converted only nine of 36 (25.0%) such possessions (on 0.64 points per possession).

CONCEDING
Trailing NBA teams conceded 40 of 55 sampled games (72.7%) by choosing not to foul deliberately (on at least one late possession when the strategy would have been advisable) while on defense and/or by choosing not to play at a frantic pace (on at least one late possession when the strategy would have been advisable) while on offense and/or by taking its best players out of the game. This does not include a number of instances when teams conceded by choosing not to use all of its available timeouts (to automatically advance the ball into the frontcourt). This includes at least six instances when a team conceded while trailing by six points or fewer.

Trailing NCAA teams conceded 61 of 89 sampled games (68.5%) by choosing not to foul deliberately while on defense and/or by choosing not to play at a frantic pace while on offense. This includes at least two instances when a team conceded while trailing by six points or fewer.

Such close games would never be conceded under a hybrid format.

CLOCK CONTROVERSIES
The final three minutes of all 58 sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods included six clock reviews/errors/malfunctions.

The final four minutes of all 96 sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods included 12 clock reviews/errors/malfunctions.

INTERMINABLE FINAL STAGES
The final minute of nine NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods lasted ten actual minutes or longer, including the following noteworthy instances:

  • January 29 Warriors at Trailblazers: 15 actual minutes (5 made field goals)
  • February 6 (4Q) Cavaliers at Wizards: 14 (2)
  • February 16 Celtics at Bulls: 12 (0)

The final minute of 11 NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods lasted ten actual minutes or longer, including the following noteworthy instances:

  • January 17 Pittsburgh at North Carolina State: 11 (0)
  • January 21 (2H) Long Beach State at Cal Poly: 14 (1)
  • January 23 (2H) Texas Southern at Mississippi Valley State: 13 (1)
  • February 1 USC at Washington: 10 (0)
  • February 7 Mississippi State at Auburn: 17 (1)
  • February 11 Minnesota at Rutgers: 10 (0)

UNCEREMONIOUS ENDINGS
The final moment of a given basketball game usually falls into one of five categories:

  • Meaningful made basket (also known as a buzzer beater!)
  • Unsuccessful meaningful possession (when offense trails by 1-3 points)
  • Meaningless (made or missed) shot attempt (when offense already leads, or trails by four points or more; this category also includes additional instances when a player clearly intended to take a meaningless shot, but when time expired before shot could be released)
  • Leading player stalls (in most cases, casually dribbling or holding the ball; in especially close games, this might include a player/team actively evading its opponent’s attempt to commit a deliberate foul)
  • Trailing player stalls (the most striking form of conceding)

The 55 sampled NBA games and 89 sampled NCAA games ended in the following ways…

NBA NCAA
Meaningful Made Basket 0 (0.0%) 1* (1.1%)
Unsuccessful Meaningful Possession 6 (10.9%) 6 (6.7%)
Meaningless Shot Attempt 7 (12.7%) 21 (23.6%)
Leading Player Stalls 37 (67.3%) 57 (64.0%)
Trailing Player Stalls 5 (9.1%) 4 (4.5%)

*The January 28 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech game ended with a made basket released in a tie game – so if the shot had been missed, the game would have proceeded to overtime. A hybrid format would not only lead to an endless supply of games that end with a meaningful made basket, but also with such shots made under greater pressure. After all, if a player misses a potential game-clinching shot in a tie game under a hybrid format, he and his teammates don’t get to settle in for overtime – he and his teammates must race back on defense to avoid losing on the very next possession.

ANTICLIMACTIC OVERTIMES
Let’s now consider all 4th quarter/2nd half/overtime periods (not just those at the true end of a game), and categorize possible period endings a little differently than in a previous section (listed in decreasing order of excitement):

  • Made basket to win
  • Made basket to tie
  • Unsuccessful meaningful possession (by tied team or team trailing by 1-3 points)
  • Meaningless possession (when offense already has lead, or trails by four points or more)

Three overtime periods were played in sampled NBA games, and can be categorized as follows:

  • Ending of overtime period failed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 2
  • Ending of overtime period managed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 1
  • Ending of overtime period exceeded the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 0

Seven overtime periods were played in sampled NCAA games, and can be categorized as follows:

  • Ending of overtime period failed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 4
  • Ending of overtime period managed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 3
  • Ending of overtime period exceeded the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 0

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Any overtime period, necessarily, follows a nearly-impossible-to-follow act – a 4th quarter/2ndhalf/earlier overtime period that was, by definition, as competitive as can be.

UNCONTESTED SHOTS
Leading NBA teams allowed at least 14 uncontested field goals during sampled games. Leading NCAA teams allowed at least 21 uncontested field goals during sampled games.

FOULS-TO-GIVE DISADVANTAGE
During the final three minutes of sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods, a trailing team committed a deliberate foul when its opponent was not yet in the bonus (and, consequently, did not serve deliberate fouling’s primary purpose of sending the leading team to the free throw line) in four periods, essentially punishing the trailing team for having committed too few fouls earlier in the period!

During the final four minutes of sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods, a trailing team committed a deliberate foul when its opponent was not yet in the bonus in three periods.

While the fouls-to-give phenomenon disadvantages trailing teams, leading teams can use fouls-to-give to their advantage (by forcing a trailing offense to restart a late possession after exhausting a few valuable seconds) – making late deficits more difficult still to overcome. One leading NBA team used a foul-to-give to its advantage during sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods, and one leading NCAA team also did so during sampled 2nd half/overtime periods.

FOULOUTS
During sampled games, seven NBA players committed a sixth foul deliberately and/or in overtime. 26 NCAA players committed a fifth foul deliberately and/or in overtime.

ROLLED INBOUNDS PASSES
During sampled games, trailing NCAA offenses rolled at least 65 inbounds passes in an effort to conserve time, including in the following especially bleak situations…

  • January 27: Quinnipiac, trailing by 17 points with 1:25 remaining (and the clock running!), at Monmouth
  • January 28: Temple, trailing by 13 points with 26.9 seconds remaining, at Houston – resulting in a jump ball when Houston defender dived to intercept pass
  • February 4: Oklahoma, trailing by eight points with 3.7 seconds remaining, at Texas Tech
  • February 4: LSU, trailing by 15 points with 21.6 seconds remaining, vs. Texas A&M
  • February 11: TCU, trailing by 18 points with 21.7 seconds remaining, vs. Baylor
  • February 16: SIU-Edwardsville, trailing by 13 points with 12.8 seconds remaining, vs. Murray State

VACATING THE FREE THROW LANE
During sampled games, leading NCAA offenses vacated the foul lane in 84 instances during the last free throw attempt of a trip, for fear of committing a clock-stopping foul during a rebound attempt. Three teams inexplicably vacated the foul lane while trailing!