Zaza Pachulia’s controversial close out of Kahwi Leonard in last year’s Western Conference Finals has led the NBA to institute new policies for the upcoming season, and stricter penalties for reckless closeouts on jump shooters. Announced by the league on Thursday, referees will have the opportunity to consult the replay monitor after closeouts where shooters are not able to comfortably land, to determine if the play warrants a flagrant or technical foul. A technical will be given if there is an attempt to injure even if there is no contact. A flagrant can be issued if there is contact, even if intent cannot be determined.
While defenders sliding under shooters as been a league wide issue for years, the high-profile nature of the Pachulia-Leonard incident from last year’s playoffs certainly played a part in the league re-evaluating how they will police similar plays in the future. Leonard landed on Pachulia in the third quarter of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, spraining his ankle and essentially ending any hopes the Spurs had of winning the series.
Institution of these rules may be hard to enforce, as determining a players intent is often not possible. There is a case to be made, as Spurs head coach Gregg Popovic famously did last year, that intent is irrelevant, and that the play is reckless and should be punished regardless of if the player in question meant to do it or not. The NBA can probably live with a few questionable flagrants and/or technicals to ensure player safety.
As Joe Borgia, the NBA’s senior VP of replay and referee operations, said Thursday: “It’s 100 percent for the safety of the players.”