The Phoenix Suns have not seen a lot of success with the new coach’s challenge rule this season. Based on what has been going on around the league, everyone is still getting used to it.
We are roughly 10% through the NBA season, and everyone, including the Phoenix Suns, are still to get used to the new coach’s challenge rule.
At first, I was excited for this change and even imagined Monty Williams practicing his replay arm twirl in the mirror. I felt allotting one per game was a bit limiting, but the spirit of the rule was in the right place.
After all, even though the league puts publicly criticizing referees’ performance right next to trade tampering, manslaughter, and testing positive for a diuretic among the worst crimes one could commit, ultimately league executives know refs are just humans stumbling their way through their job like anyone else.
Sometimes, refs get it wrong. They just do. It happens. The NFL has known this for a while and has granted their coaches the ability to formally voice their disagreement with calls via challenges for two decades.
Even Major League Baseball, the primary purveyor of America’s pastime, a game with more unwritten rules than written ones, has been ahead of the NBA when it comes to coach challenges.
The NBA, on the other hand, an organization that has no issue with their refs agonizing for minutes in front of the monitor on whether a foul constituted a clear-path violation or not, has been tepid to have coaches get into the mix of challenging calls.
Now that it is here, albeit in limited form, here are is what we know thus far:
NEVER USE A CHALLENGE ON A FOUL CALL!
Just a few games ago, Devin Booker jogged back down the court and innocently got his feet tangled ever so slightly with his opponent. Neither player fell down and neither player seemed upset about this inadvertent graze.
Inexplicably, this encounter drew Devin Booker’s fifth foul of the game.
In what seemed like a no-brainer move in the moment, Monty Williams challenged the call. To everyone’s surprise, the call was upheld.
If the challenge isn’t to fix mistakes like this, then it severely limits its usefulness.
Here is the thing: referees, and specifically NBA variety, are stubborn creatures.
In this case, presumably because the two players did make the slightest bit of contact, they determined the foul must stand. They took no consideration into the fact the contact was entirely incidental, had no impact on the game, and occurred while the ball was simply being dribbled up the court.
After the game, if you asked the referee who blew the whistle completely off the record, I would bet he would admit he shouldn’t have called that foul. But he did. Mistakes happen. The challenge should catch stuff like this. The fact that it didn’t sends chords of confusion about when a foul might actually get overturned.
Another blatant example of referee stubbornness came in last night’s game versus Brooklyn. Frank Kaminsky got called for a 3-point shooting foul when, well, he didn’t touch the shooter. It made the NBA Officials Twitter feed:
I’m not sure how someone can watch this and uphold this foul call. If this were soccer, it would not only get overturned, but Spencer Dinwiddie would have received a yellow card for embellishing.
These are not cherry-picked incidents to fuel rogue fan conspiracy theories about an NBA officials vendetta against the Suns.
In fact, if you scroll the trough the NBA Officials Twitter feed, the most common phrase you’ll see is, “Unsuccessful challenge, foul stands.”
While a few fouls have been overturned, it has to be over-the-top egregious. The referees are approaching the monitor with the mindset they are looking to a reason to confirm the foul, not to look at at the play from scratch to see if one was committed or not.
If the first part of the season is any indication, Monty Williams should just sit on the challenge for more objective rulings like out-of-bounds calls, shot clock violations, and other non-foul calls.
In the Suns’ very first game against the Kings, Williams won a challenge on incorrectly called an out-of-bounds situation. With only one challenge to use, it is best to save it for these type of scenarios.
That brings me to the second major point, in that players have to learn to not bark at the officials so much on these type of calls, knowing their coach can challenge them if needed.
On that same successful challenge play, Booker received a technical foul for arguing the call that would later be overturned.
Major League Baseball has seen this change quite a bit once coach challenges were introduced. Instead of getting in an umpire’s face, they simply trot to the dugout and implore their manager to challenge the call.
It has created sad times for fans who enjoy a good dirt-kicking session with umpires, but there is no need to get dramatic anymore. Let the video do the arguing for you.
Unless, of course, it is a foul call. Then have at it.