NBA Hoops

The worst jump ball you’ll ever see and why the NBA needs to eliminate it altogether

The worst jump ball you’ll ever see and why the NBA needs to eliminate it altogether

During Friday night’s CelticsKnicks game, something really grotesque happened. And, quite frankly, I feel bad for anyone and everyone who had to witness the foolishness that occurred on that court.

The toss isn’t good, the timing of the jumps from both Isaiah Hartenstein and Payton Pritchard are egregiously bad, and the way in which the play resolves itself – with Kristaps Porzingis coming in and retrieving the ball despite neither of the expected players touching it first – is about as unideal as it gets. Just terrible all around.

And unfortunately, poorly executed jump balls are quite common in today’s NBA.

The overarching problem with jump balls is that there is no consistency in how the referee throws the ball. Different officials have different throwing patterns, and thus no two jump balls can be the exact same. Some officials bounce the ball multiple times before tossing it up, while others just get right into it. Some throw the ball higher and faster than others, and certain refs simply have unpredictable cadences when they release the ball.

The result? Plays like the one above, where neither player in the circle has any clue when they should jump, and the timing of the entire play is completely thrown off.

It is possible that refs have gotten worse at the jump ball merely as a consequence of doing it less. Before 1975, refs used to do a jump ball at the beginning of every quarter. And before 1938 (hold your breath), officials would do a jump ball after every possession! So yeah, perhaps more practice meant better execution. Regardless, that’s not the case right now, and I’m certainly not suggesting we should increase the number of jump balls to fix this problem.

If there were any sort of way for a machine to throw the ball up in the same exact way every time, I think that would greatly improve players’ ability to time their jump and get the ball at its apex (and thus make the jump ball more fun to watch), but I don’t see that being implemented.

That leaves us with a clear and obvious solution: shoot for it. In parks and gyms across the country, that’s what happens. Adam Silver could even spice things up by allowing the away team to pick any player from the home team to shoot a three. This would mean that benchwarmers would have to be ready to potentially decide the first possession of the game – isn’t that fun!? Or, the league could keep it more typical and allow the home team to just pick a player on their…

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