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Mark's Mailbag: NBA Refereeing, Rules of the Game and Paul George's Recent Performances

by Mark Montieth |

March 24, 2014

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Q. I have an interesting question, and I don't believe this is an article that I have ever seen written in all my years of sports writing and sports reading. That said, you are much more intimate and experienced, so I am quite sure you have heard every question there is ...

I heard commentators on a game a few weeks ago say that referees go into halftime, and critique themselves and watch tape. If that is true, is this first-half game tape just on controversial calls, or do they use it to make adjustments to how they are refereeing that game?

My contention is that when players and coaches make bad plays and bad decisions, many times they hold themselves accountable after the game. However, I guess by nature of the game, referees do not. Of course, the league might admit a mistake, but you never hear an official say, "Ya, I really blew that call."

Do you have any knowledge of watching game film before, during halftime or after a game in reference to how they officiate the game, make adjustments, or see if they indeed missed calls? - Ron

A. The referees watch a lot of video, probably about as much as the players (although not as much as the coaches, who are nearly obsessed with it). They do watch at halftime of games, but also after games and at other times to review portions of play. Obviously, there isn't time for a thorough review at halftime, and of course the most controversial calls are often reviewed during the game to see if a call needs to be changed.

They review “close calls” to see if they made mistakes, as well as developing trends. If two players have been arguing, for example, they'll want a closer look at which party was most guilty. They often look at action around the basket, where most contact occurs. Here's a link to a feature that includes a look at referees at halftime. It starts at around the 2:20 mark.

Referees are constantly reviewed by the league office, and junior referees are reviewed by the veterans with whom they work. They're well-informed about mistakes, and sometimes they are fined for major errors or poor conduct during a game. They are not available to reporters after games unless there has been a particularly controversial call that influenced the outcome. In that case, a pool reporter can ask a few questions afterward. Generally, though, referees are not available to the media other than for small talk.

They generally watch more video after games than at halftime. I once waited for Haywoode Workman after a game at the Fieldhouse to ask him about recording my radio show, but had to give up because it was taking so long.

Fans love to hate 'em, and some think they're corrupt, but they're far more competent and professional than many realize. They don't make that many mistakes, and when they do they'll generally admit. Such as when Jess Kersey admitted (a year later) that he had made a mistake when he whistled Antonio Davis for a foul that led to Larry Johnson's infamous four-point play in the 1999 Eastern Conference finals. A lot of good that did the Pacers, though.

Q. I agree with you about the second-worst trade (George McGinnis for Alex English in 1980, as discussed in the previous mailbag) and was planning to e-mail you about it before I saw you already had it in your last paragraph.

Here's an interesting side story on that trade. It was at the end of the Leonard's general managership and when the trade went wrongbecause it destroyed our chemistry, I've always thought it caused Slick to be let go. I once told that story to Donnie who simply replied that he had been the Denver GM who engineered that trade from the other side. So the rest of the story is that while it was one of the Pacers worst trades, it was also another of Donnie's best deals.

While Tom Wolfe wrote you "can't go home again," Frost wrote "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." (The Death of the Hired Man.)

A. Yes, Walsh did work that deal from the other end. He wasn't Denver's general manager, but rather its head coach. He was familiar with English because he had been an assistant coach for several years at South Carolina, where English played.

Leonard made the deal from the Pacers end, acting on emotion and the desire to bring in a player who could draw fans. But, that didn't lead to his dismissal. McGinnis only played 28 games for the Pacers that season, averaging 13.2 points. By the end of that season, it wasn't yet clear that McGinnis was near the end of his career and English was on his way to becoming a Hall of Famer. The Pacers were owned by Sam Nassi at the time, who had neither the money nor wherewithal to operate an NBA franchise. He had brought in “outsiders” to help run the franchise, who didn't mix well with Leonard, and Leonard was more than willing to leave when Nassi wanted to make a change.

Q. If a player shoots an air ball or any shot that doesn't touch the rim, they are not allowed to grab the rebound. So, why is it OK for a player to throw the ball off the backboard to himself for a dunk? The ball doesn't touch the rim, so why is this OK? Just curious. - J.A.

A. The rulebook gives the backboard the same “status” as the rim. So, just as a player can rebound his own shot off the rim, he also can grab it off the backboard. Nice deal, huh? In fact, a player who is double-teamed, has lost his dribble and is in danger of losing the ball can simply throw the ball off the board, go get it and resume his dribble.

Q. Paul George is a rising superstar in the NBA. He has great defense and his offense is coming along. What more does he need to do to become a top five player in the league? - Toby

A. Become more consistent, and a better shooter. His percentages this season – 43 percent from the field and 36 percent from the three-point line – are not at “superstar” levels. But he's 23, and seems to have the desire to max out his potential.

Q. How come some games Paul George plays like the star that he is, but other games he plays like garbage? - Toby

A. Well, now, Toby. Seems you had a change of heart. Both of your questions were sent on March 19, when the Pacers played the Knicks in New York, and lost. George hit just 4-of-17 shots in that game, so I'm guessing you sent one before the game and the other after?

Again, he needs to be more consistent. It's difficult to know what all goes on inside a player's head, but George is struggling with his growth spurt. He truly wants to be great and doesn't strike me as a selfish person by nature, so when he forces shots I take it as a misguided effort to carry the team rather than pad his stats. He's already got his contract for the next five years, so that's not a motivation, either.

You probably liked Friday's game against Chicago better. He still didn't shoot well, but didn't force the action and finished with his first triple-double of the season. If you saw my story after that game, he talked about his need to share the ball more often, and was angry with himself for not coming to that realization earlier. But Saturday's game at Memphis didn't go as well. He hit 2-of-10 shots and had one assist and four turnovers. So, we just don't know what to expect from him now.

It will be interesting to see how he plays the rest of the season. The Pacers are much better when the offense is more balanced. That's not to say George or anyone else can't have a game in which they get up a lot of shots if they're dominating their defender, but they need to share the ball. The Pacers are unique in that they don't have a traditional role player – a Dale Davis type – who can't score well. They need to rotate their “role” players from game to game, depending on the matchups or the flow of the game.

Some nights, that might even be George. And that's fine, as long as he's defending well.

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