Yesterday, the NBA announced that next year they’re going to start fining players for flopping. Huzzah- let me say that I hate flopping. That said, it’s too bad the new policy won’t have any real effect on the game. What’s the real cost to players? A little bit of scratch? Whoop-dee-do. The players (e.g. Ginobili, Varejao) who are the most likely to get fined for flopping (because they do it more than other players) also benefit the most from flopping (being good at flopping increases the flopper’s defensive value to a team, which in turn increases the flopper’s paycheck). I’m guessing that for a player like Varejao, the amount he’s being paid for his defense (even if you assume that his defense accounts for some fraction of his total salary) will be greater than the amount he’s going to be fined by the league.
Also, the fine structure is worthless because flopping has immediate benefits (getting the call against the opponent and/or generally pissing them off/getting in their heads), and no cost during the game. Because the only costs are going to be financial, I would even imagine floppers who decide to flop less could lose the respect of their teammates and coaches, because their flopping is a good (and smart) play for the team. If the league were serious about flopping, they’d have to add some in-game penalty for flopping (i.e. a technical foul), similar to how floppers can get carded in soccer.
The real problem with flopping is simply that it’s just too hard to call. The split-second block/charge call that the ref has to make is difficult enough, and there it seems like the only decision is about who’s moving or set and who has gained the advantage. Flopping brings the notion of the defender’s intent into the mix. With the block/charge call, the ref assumes that the defender is just trying to play tough, hard defense. When flopping, the defender is taking advantage of this assumption by the ref; the flop is really a psychological trick. The reason the flop works is that the ref can’t read the defender’s mind (especially not on the time scale in which he needs to make the call). He can only go off what he sees, and what he sees looks a lot like a charge.
To the fan at home, with the benefit of slo-mo replay and 20 different camera angles, it seems obvious when somebody flopped (we all have an instant opinion). But even then, it’s not really always obvious (see the debate about the Okur/Gasol push from the Lakers-Jazz series on TrueHoop and FanHouse):
Fans don’t have any more insight into the flopper’s intent than the refs do. They don’t know if something was a flop or not any better than the ref. So getting back to the league’s fines, I have no idea how they’ll be any better at determining what’s a flop and what’s not a flop. It seems like the only times a fine would be defensible are instances like this one (which actually isn’t a real flop, but a parody of a flop, and is so hilariously awesome there’s no way you could fine Baron Davis for it):
So given the likely lack of effectiveness of the punishment for flopping, paired with the inherent difficulties in identifying what is and is not a flop, I say bravo to the league for yet another worthless policy announcement. What do I think the league should really do? Appoint ‘Sheed the Vice-Commissioner of Anti-Flopping (TrueHoop).