Cool It, Jeff Van Gundy: Flopping Isn’t A Problem In The NBA

JVG went apoplectic last night over a “flop” in the Heat-Knicks game. Honestly, though? It’s just not that big an issue.

The Heat’s James Jones took an elbow from the Knicks’ Iman Shumpert yesterday and went down. He got the foul call. And Jeff Van Gundy, who was in the booth for the game, had a coronary on air.

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Here’s a transcript of JVG’s screed against flopping:

That’s a flop. This again, it just ruins the game. I can’t believe with all the brilliance we have in the NBA office, that we can’t find a way to eliminate this part of the game, or at least start to punish it. This is just a blatant flop. … I’m just sick of it, and I can’t believe the NBA office isn’t sick of it too. They’re obviously condoning this … they’re absolutely condoning flopping, because they give them the calls and they don’t punish them when they do flop. … but I have easy remedies: you fine them, or you treat them like technicals where if you flop X amount of times you’re suspended. … Technicals are subjective too. This is subjective. It’s so easy, it could be eliminated today if they wanted it to. But because they don’t want it to, it continues to go on and on with no stopping in sight.

First off: THIS ISN’T A FLOP. This is a foul. Yes, James Jones sells it, and he probably didn’t need to slide three feet across the floor based on the force applied by Iman Shumpert’s shoulder/elbow, but Iman Shumpert does, in fact, illegally put his shoulder/elbow into James Jones’ body enough to merit the foul call.

As a basketball player, part of your job is to draw fouls. Getting fouled is arguably the most efficient play in the sport: you either put yourself on the line for two high-percentage shot attempts or you position your team closer to getting those free shots. And unlike a typical field goal, drawing fouls has a negative effect on the other team, endangering the fouling player’s chances of remaining in the game. Basketball 101, right? Right. Except, Van Gundy’s criticisms seem to overlook how important it is to draw these fouls, which is exactly why the players quote-unqoute flop.

Rarely in the NBA do you see players actually flop, a frustrating and theatrical art perfected by soccer players in which you go down without the incidence of a foul. A proper flop channels the nearness and movement of another player into what would be the normal aftermath of a hard foul, timed so as to make it look like the foul actually happened, even though it didn’t. Flopping 101.

WHEN THE FOUL ACTUALLY HAPPENS, IT ISN’T A FLOP.

Instead of railing against flopping, Van Gundy is actually calling out here the tendency of players to exaggerate fouls, a minor and strategically valuable decision that draws vitriol from goofballs (smart and knowledgeable, but a goofball nonetheless) like JVG because it has intrinsic associations with “softness” and bad sportsmanship. To legislate against that would be impossible and unnecessary and also probably wouldn’t affect the practice anyway; in soccer, players still flop even with the looming threat of a yellow card. Think of it like an economic decision: the likelihood and cost of a flop call, which is hard to identify and make in the constantly churning chaos of an NBA game, will rarely outweigh the likelihood and gains of a foul call.

And referees already have a proper defense against flopping: no-calls. If there isn’t contact, don’t call a foul. It should be penalty enough for the flopper that he’s sitting on the court while play goes on around him.

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