Free Throw Netting

A rule to speed up the game: free throws earned through the first three quarters are netted and a designated shooter from the team with the net  lead shoots them all in a row to start the fourth quarter. Scores for the first three quarters would be reported as e.g. LAL 55 - NYK 50 (8) to designate New York's eight net free throw lead.


There's nothing worse than watching teams trade free throws at the beginning of a game. You've gotten to the stadium, you've got your hotdog and sauerkraut in your hand (the second one, after the first one fell in your neighbor's lap and you went to get a replacement, missing part of the shootaround), and what are you watching? A bunch of millionaires standing around?

I don't mind watching that exact same scene late in the game when the score is close and there is real drama in every action. Suspense builds with every rub of the hands or stance of the rebounders or glint in the eye of one of the guards hoping to rush in from behind the three-point arc for a sensational putback. Every point counts as the fate of the entire evening is on the line.

But in the first half? The first quarter? It's a waste of my time.

I've long been playing with various ideas on how to eliminate this problem. I've considered increasing the penalty for shooting fouls from say two shots to three, or a variation some minor leagues use such as three shots to make two points (if you hit your first two, the third attempt is waived), but I don't like the idea of potentially waiting 50% longer. I've considered postponing the shooting of the free throws until the end of the quarter, or the game, when the drama is at its most exciting, but I don't like the idea that virtually all games would end in a sudden-death-style shootout with no possibilities for offensive rebounds or flashy putbacks. Plus, I don't like the idea of having to count how many free throws are owed to who and by whom, as it could potentially be mistaken and forgotten if not implemented in the flow of the game.

Here's an idea that I think solves all the problems. It speeds up the game. It doesn't increase the punishment for a foul. It allows for offensive rebounds when they are at their most important. And it doesn't devolve every game into a simple free throw shootout contest.

It's called netting, and here are the rules I would propose: all free throws earned in the first three quarters are netted, which is to say, only the net difference is kept. If the home team has earned 12 free throws in the first three quarters while the visiting team has earned 10, then the net free throws are 2 to the home team. If the visitors earn three more trips to the charity line, then the net free throws are at just 1 to the visitors.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the team with the lead in net free throws gets to send one player to shoot the net amount of shots, usually the captain, but it can be anyone who will be starting the fourth quarter of play. All but the last such shot are taken in technical-style, with no other players in the lane.

The final free throw is a regular free throw. A missed shot and a rebound starts the clock and the fourth quarter. After a made shot, the opponents inbound the ball and the clock starts for the fourth quarter.

Netting free throws has many advantages. The officials need only keep track of the net difference in free throws, and not two separate tallies. It's a very simple calculation to do in one's head or allow the scorekeeper to easily keep track with both coaches checking. It is certainly easier than keeping track of the separate fouls that each player has committed.

Netting allows play to continue as normal, with fouls being assessed as needed but not interrupting play for more than the usual inbounding time. (The opponents always get the ball, except for specific technical infractions and flagrant fouls where possession is retained by the team fouled, as per current rules.)

Netting in only the first three quarters means the fourth quarter is played as normal. Offensive rebounds count. Fouls stop play while the shooter shoots free throws.

Why does this make sense? Because in the fourth quarter, the game is either close or it's a blowout. If it's close, the free throws add drama, because the end is near, unlike meaningless free throws in the first half. If it's a blowout, then people have already started to leave the stadium anyway, or will soon, so the fouls are being committed by the second unit, if at all. It's garbage time.

Scores through the first three quarters would be reported with a parenthetical for the team with the net free throw advantage. Suppose at halftime, the Knicks trail the Lakers by five, 55-50, but have eight net free throws. The score would be reported thus: LAL 55 - NYK 50 (8). If instead the Lakers had a four net free throw advantage, it would be reported thus: LAL 55 (4) - NYK 50. In your mind's eye, it is easy to add the number with the parenthetical and immediately see what the score would be if the net free throws don't change and the designated shooter hits all of his free throws to start the fourth quarter.

Because only the net free throws are shot, the difference between two teams' free-throw percentages are less important than otherwise. Shaq's poor free throw shooting does not matter in the early part of the game. Towards the end, he can still be sent to the line, if it is the fourth quarter. But in the first three quarters, play does not slow down, and only equity is built up for the team that is fouled, equity that can as quickly be wiped away if they commit fouls of their own.

Plus, imagine the drama. Paul Pierce steps to the line to shoot a whopping 15 net free throws that he and his teammates have earned against the foul-prone but not foul-generating Sonics, with the C's down 9. He misses his first shot -- he shrugs. He misses his second -- he sighs. He misses his third shot -- he despairs. But he can't stop shooting and he can't replace himself with someone else. He knows if he walks away then all of those remaining free throw attempts zero out. All eyes are on him. There is no one else in the lane to distract him or give him a high-five or offer words of encouragement. It's just him against the world. A man, a basket, and a ball. The epitome of basketball. It's something anyone can practice, and something he's practiced thousands of times. He takes a deep breath and shoots. He makes his remaining 12 shots and suddenly the Celtics are up 3 heading into the fourth quarter. He's a hero! The crowd roars. Unless it was an away game for the Celtics, in which case they cry.

Perhaps the league should start this in the NBDL first: that has been the testing ground for new rules, even for such obviously flaky ones such as the ban on three-pointers for all but the last few minutes of play. Given especially the desire to speed up those games of lesser or rawer talents and keep their fans glued to their seats except for refreshment breaks, it would likely work quite well in any experiment.

The league has only to try and the world will quickly see if it is a good idea or not.