Flop-onomics

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).

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4 thoughts on “Flop-onomics

  1. Good thoughts on the flopping. But would giving the referees a way to control the game even more — calling a flop will be subjective — take away from the game?

    And I think that giving referees an opportunity to call a flop muddles already difficult calls — charging or blocking?

    For the most part, I think the flopping issue is driven by fans. Fans overract and a lot think they can officiate a pro game. This rule was meant to alleviate the perceived “increase” in flopping.

  2. Yeah- that’s a good point about the fans. Now that you mention it, the whole thing does smell like one of Stern’s PR moves…

    However, I do think that flopping itself is interesting, especially given that it seems to be an “International player” phenomenon, and that the league is becoming more and more International (boy, that sounds racist, or reverse-racist, or whatever).

    I think you’re absolutely right about the difficulties of putting the onus on the refs to deal with flopping. I don’t know what the solution is (the notion of giving T’s seems like one of the only possible in-game actions, but you’re right that giving refs that option doesn’t really make it any better). There may not be a good, real “solution” for flopping. I wonder if there’s a case to be made FOR flopping?

  3. I agree. The act of flopping is very interesting. The international comment is valid — at least from where I’m sitting.

    What’s even more interesting is that the influx of “international players” have brought a lot of fundamentals back to the game.

    A lot of them are great passers, can shoot the ball, hit their free throws, play enthusiastic defense. So what does that tell you about flopping? That, in itself, may be a case for flopping.

    Does it stray from the essence of the game any more than the act of posting up and subsequent post-up moves?

  4. That’s a fun conclusion. The way the rules are written (and enforced), I think it’s reasonable to think that flopping is smart and savvy- at the very least it’s a skill (if not totally a fundamental).

    I think in one sense it’s no different from the kind of stuff that Stockton or anybody else pulled (his hidden pulls and punches and prods) that stretch the limits of officiating. I haven’t thought until the past week or so about how physical players like Rip Hamilton and Reggie Miller have to play to get open. A lot of that stuff isn’t within the rules, but a lot of it gets lost or missed (or is “just part of the game”). Flopping is just a more visible form of “doing what it takes.”

    I think flopping is one of those things that makes sense when you think about it in a rational analysis kind of way, but there’s just something that feels wrong about it. Maybe that’s just because it’s counterintuitive. Like to gain an advantage you have to feign a disadvantage.

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