Discover Your Inner Economist

I am still waiting on my copy of Tyler Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist to arrive. Tyler is a co-contributor to Marginal Revolution, one of my favorite blogs. I ordered the book the other day when Tyler was offering free podcasts for those who purchased the book. I asked him the following question:

What rule change would you make to the NBA?

The rule can improve the game for you or society, and I would like to know why you suggest this rule and its implications for the game.

You can hear his answers here.

I asked about the NBA because I know that Tyler likes basketball. I was afraid if I asked about baseball he’d suggest eliminating baseball to improve the NBA talent pool.

What would I change about the NBA? Let me give you some background. I grew up in Charlotte and my dad went to Duke. North Carolina is basketball crazy, and ACC and Hornets basketball were popular topics of conversation. I liked the NBA game better as I got older, and by the time I moved to DC for graduate school, I’d occasionally sit in my car to listen to the games broadcast from Charlotte. I was a big fan.

Now, I don’t even care about the NBA. I actually prefer to watch soccer. I don’t know what it is about the game that has changed—maybe it’s my preferences that have changed—but I don’t enjoy the game very much any more. I think the problem is that there are too many people on too small of a court. Sometimes I feel that I’m watching a rugby scrum, waiting for an orange ball to pop out towards the hoop and hope that there is no whistle. My solution would be to increase the size of the court, which of course won’t happen since the court is constrained by the size of arenas. I think this would open up more passing and reduce fouling. I think Tyler would disagree with me as he seems to be happy with basketball as it is. But, listen for yourself.

I’ll post a review of his book as soon as I finish it. Though I am one of his former students, I really don’t know Tyler well and I didn’t spend much time with him in graduate school. Yet, his influence on me has been immense. I’ll explain more when I review the book.

18 Responses “Discover Your Inner Economist”

  1. Ron says:

    I’d have the draft done by regular season record except for the worst 3 teams would enter a weighted lottery for the top 3 selections.

  2. pawnking says:

    I’d have 2 leagues: a 3 on 3 league for the athletes, and a 5 on 5 league for the fundamentals of the game, which would outlaw the slam dunk, strictly enforce travelling violations, and generally de-empahsize sheer skills part of the game which allows it to be dominated by a few elete players.

  3. Bill H says:

    I would eliminate rewarding a time for a rules infraction. If your team commits a foul, the other team has the option of either taking the foul shots or taking the ball out from the sidelines or baseline.

    In other words, take “fouling” out of the strategy to try and catch up.

    It would teach young folks that you cannot break the rules to your advantage.


  4. Sal Paradise says:

    Entirely change the scoring.

    Rather than ‘wins’ and ‘losses’, standing would be determined by ‘points for’ and ‘points against’ to make sure that each point in a blowout game still mattered. Secondly, I’d weight points against more than points for, increasing the need for defense. Finally, I’d gradually increase the point value of games later in the season to prevent the playoffs from being decided 3/4ths of the way through due to massive point differentials.

    I probably still wouldn’t watch it, mind you, but it’d make basketball about more than the last one minute of play. If it’s close, it’s the most exciting part. If it’s not, you can shut it off immediately and watch something more compelling, like professional bowling or the weather channel.

  5. michael says:

    Make it a 4 on 4 game. Same for the NHL. In hockey, play opens up greatly when you have offsetting penalties (or during the overtime). They should make it 4-on-4 all the time.

    In Hockey and basketball, today’s players are faster than when the game was invented. Thus they can cover more ground more quickly. As a previous commenter noted, current arena configuration rules out expanding the court or ice surface. Instead, cut the number of players in the game.

  6. Mike H says:

    Four on four? That’s way too few! Let’s combine it with soccer, play eleven on eleven, and use a court the size of a football pitch. Okay, I have no idea if that would work, but I’d love to see it tried!

    What we see in almost every sport is that the dimensions of the games were designed a century ago, and they are outdated for our best athletes. This is especially obvious in tennis. Looking at soccer, note the number of goals scored in each World Cup through the years. You will see that the number of goals continues to decline, I believe because of our increasing athleticism, and a better knowledge and implementation of defense. But what do you do? Enlarge the goals? Make the goalie area smaller? Play with fewer players? We’d have to experiement on a large scale, which the powers that be are not willing to do.

  7. Steve says:

    Michael is right. Expanding the court isn’t an attractive option because the new area wouldn’t need to be defended since it is so far from the basket.

    Maybe you could add a second hoop on each end?

  8. Brett says:

    I was planning on saying 4 on 4, michael beat me to it. It could open up the game for team more offense and less one on one. On the other hand, fewer help defenders could lead to the opposite.

    I’d also like to see the game called in a way that would encourage team offense, call more travels, shoving in the low post, etc.

    I’m not sure a bigger court would help, players are going to stick within their shooting range.

  9. Neema says:

    Do any of you actually watch the NBA? Have you played 4-on-4 basketball? That game is nothing like basketball as we know it. Dominant post players would benefit hugely from fewer double teams (Tim Duncan would average 40 and 18) and some teams would be like Phoenix on meth, three guards and a post player running, running, running. Very different.

    Oh, and as for banning the dunk, the folks who have advocated that over the years tended to have some ulterior motives (e.g. Rupp).

    As for some suggestions, I do think expanding the court by just a few feet would be possible, which would allow the three point line to be at its full radius in the corners and open up the game a little.

    Another change, similar to soccer, would be to call an obvious flop as a technical foul. That should limit the game of a certain floppy-haired Cavalier…

  10. yougman says:

    As a basketball outsider I’d say there is too much scoring in B-ball!

    Rules against charging and travel aren’t enforced. If they were scoring might decline but there would be more perimeter jump shots which are only really attractive to the purists.

  11. Jeff says:

    As someone who regularly plays pick-up basketball I can say that there is nothing I loathe more than a 4-on-4 game. Too many people for half court and too few for full. Full court always degenerates in to a game of meaningless fast breaks.

  12. Dan says:

    Raise the hoop to 12 feet (or 2 meters). The game was invented to give adolescent boys something to do in the winter, and the intent was not for 10 giant men to monotonously volley back and forth stuffing the ball in the hoop. A higher hoop means no dunking, points have more value, takes more muscular effort to shoot (players would have to pick their shots carefully). A 12-ft/2-m hoop would bring back strategy and teamwork that Naismith had in mind.
    The creation of the 3-point shot was an open admission by the NBA that it had become boring.

  13. Dan says:

    I meant 12 ft or about 4 m, sorry about that.

  14. Kid Capri says:

    Lose the three pointer! It will result in more fastbreaks, more emphasis on the post game, and more creative passing. You want the game the way itused to be, then create the same environment.

  15. Brent says:

    I’ve always thought widening the court would do wonders for the NBA game. It would be relatively easy to do as most NBA arenas can also double as Hockey arenas — which has a significantly wider playing surface. Widening the court would indeed spread out the players and pick and roll scenerios could take place from the wings and not just from the top of the key.

    This would be similar to the same reason Olympic and International Hockey is a faster paced game and less physical than the NHL version…which is played on a smaller surface.

  16. Hobbes says:

    Most of the changes suggested are fairly minor, merely refinements of what we already have.

    How about changing the game entirely?
    Four teams; a square court; goals on each side; 2 balls; 3 points for a goal, 2 for a goal at the side (relative to your goal), minus one or two points for another team scoring at your end; all teams required to have at least 2 players out of the five on court be female.

  17. Marcus says:

    ADD a 4-point play from anywhere past the half-court line. This would stretch out both the defense and offense, especially at critical times during the last minutes of the game. Actually, one might only implement a 4-point play in the final 2 minutes of each half (2nd quarter, 4th quarter).

  18. Max says:

    Very simple. Just call the rules in the book. Believe it or not, superstars occasionally commit fouls.