Ethical hoops fans rejoice. At least the NBA is trying something to stem the tide of flops that has washed over much of the league over the past several years.
Earlier this month, the league’s board of directors approved a “flopping penalty in the game” that will allow referees to assess technical fouls on players for a “flop — or a physical action that appears reasonably intended to cause the referees to score another player.”
Cynics may doubt that this rule will affect real change. After all, the NBA’s ability to fine players for flops is still in place. It never went away. But that mechanism is rarely used. And flopping is endemic throughout the league. If you tuned in to pretty much any 2022-2023 game, you’d likely see one (or a few).
So yes, there’s definitely a chance this won’t change much, but it’s worth a try.
And now that the rule is in place, many players must be at least mildly concerned about its potential impact.
Notorious floppers like LeBron James, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Chris Paul could shoot one or two fewer free throws per game. game, but they won’t necessarily lead the league in flop technique.
Whether subconsciously or otherwise, referees will be hesitant to hammer superstars with these in-game penalties. And that means second-rate floppers like Austin Reaves could be in line for the most whistles.
But of course he is not likely to walk away with that non-honor. Nobody is.
Who will lead the way in flopping technologies next season? Scroll through the crystal ball below to find out.
One of the newer playmakers in the league, Trae Young, has picked up the old stop-and-jump-backwards-into-the-defensive move in half a decade, but he hasn’t found as much favor with the officials as some of the other veterans mentioned in the intro.
As it relates to the incoming flop technique, it’s a pretty dangerous combination.
If Trae continues to embellish contact or deviate from the course in a manner “that would reasonably appear to be intended to cause the refs to call another player a foul” the way he has up to this point in his career, he will likely be whistled for a few violations under the new rule.
What may save him (at least a few whistles) is that many of Trae’s moves seem to be aimed more at fooling his opponent than the referees, which doesn’t fit the definition as neatly as some of the up-and-coming players’ antics.
Yes, I said the big name floppers might not lead the league, but if they continue to play the way they have, they will give themselves a chance.
Embiid is one of the most skilled foul-baiters in basketball history. He is of all time leader in free throw attempts per 100 possessions, and runner-up Shaquille O’Neal really isn’t close.
You won’t find your way to that place as a face-up 5 without at least sprucing up some contact.
Of course, many (maybe even most) of those trips to the line have been the result of legitimate fouls, but Embiid’s career flop wheel will be generational when he’s done.
The reason he isn’t higher is again largely based on his reputation. Embiid is the reigning MVP. And while plenty of fans may have labeled him a flopper, the league tacitly doing the same by slapping him with a bunch of flopping techs feels highly unlikely.
Like Embiid, LeBron will have his reputation save him from a handful of flop calls, but he’s productive enough to find his way into the top 10 anyway.
From Cleveland to Miami to Los Angeles, LeBron has built a flop compilation (or flop compilation, if you will) that can go hand in hand with almost any of his contemporaries.
And while LeBron’s production in year 20 suggests he might be a basketball immortal, there’s no question he’s lost at least some of the explosiveness he had in his prime.
Without all that, there’s a chance he can rely on the antics a little more to get an extra trip to the line here or there.
Another legacy inclusion, CP3 has authored some of the game’s most hilarious flops.
And he has been doing it now for almost 20 years.
Of course, in theory, Paul’s stardom could help in the same way that it could save Embiid and LeBron a few techs. but he is famous had a number of run-ins with officials in the past.
He may have a little less leeway to work with, and the impending end of his career (Paul just turned 38 in May) could lead to desperation flops.
Harden is another all-timer. Ask almost any NBA fan, casual or otherwise, to name the most prolific floppers the game has ever seen, and it won’t be long before you hear Harden’s name.
And as his explosiveness wanes, it’s hard to imagine he’ll suddenly start to fumble less.
At his peak, even with all the theatrics, Harden was a dynamic athlete and slasher who could go with almost anyone with a lightning-quick first step.
In recent years, it has largely been replaced by a new strategy for getting to the rim: stick the ball in front of you and challenge anyone in your path.
When it doesn’t work, Harden still resorts to highlighting contact (or conjuring it out of thin air) as shamelessly as anyone.
It’s just that now those flops often end drives where Harden is clearly the one initiating the contact, so it might be a little easier for officials to correctly identify them.
Now we get into the players whose star power won’t outweigh the obvious of the flaying. And we’ll start with second-year big man Jaylin Williams.
Last season, despite appearing in just 49 games, Williams led the league in charges 42. And the gap between the overall and runner-up Kevin Love’s 33 was significant.
Essentially, every single one of these games is a flop. Even if the majority were rightly called prosecutors by the letter of the law, an entire defensive philosophy of “run into the driver’s path, get in front of him, and throw yourself backwards on contact” has to be called the other way from time to time.
If Williams plays closer to a full season (say, 65-plus games), tries to draw charges at the same rate he did last season (and in college) and refs call even 5-10 percent of those plays flops, he’ll find his way up the leaderboard.
Austin Reaves had one hell of a breakout campaign in 2022-23, but all non-Los Angeles Lakers fans had to note that it coincided with some absurd misdraft practice.
Reaves has a good feel for the pick-and-roll and gets to the rim fairly regularly, but when in doubt, he often resorts to decoration.
And his penchant for flopping isn’t limited to the offensive end either. Reaves often marks a busy play on defense or the boards with a not-so-subtle head toss to entice the referees to blow the whistle.
Much of the above worked in his favor in 2022-23 (among the 178 players in 2022-23 with 200-plus three-point attempts, Reaves towed only Embiid in free-throw attempt rate), but officials will be more concerned with the flops this season.
Now that they have a tool at their disposal to buck the years-long trend, some of the antics of someone like Reaves will no longer be rewarded.
We’re back to the veterans with Kyle Lowry, a 37-year-old point guard who’s never been afraid to look silly, embellish contact, or otherwise fake something to gain some semblance of an advantage.
And while Lowry is entering his 18th season, has six All-Star nods and won a title in 2019, he doesn’t have the same kind of star power as Embiid, LeBron or some of the others mentioned so far.
Expect lots of incitingflops and other hijinks from Lowry in 2023-24, but don’t expect the same kind of latitude from officials.
Few players throughout NBA history have seemed as indifferent to the physical consequences of crashing to the ground as Marcus Smart.
In nine years with the Boston Celtics, Smart morphed, slid, dove, and yes, flopped his way into the hearts of fans.
And there’s no reason to think he’ll suddenly quit during his first season with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Smart is no longer with one of the league’s legacy franchises. He is aging towards the end of his prime and coming out of a down year.
He’s making plenty of flops, and enough of them will be called as such to put him on the leaderboard.
We’ve seen few (if any) NBA players embrace heel persona much like Dillon Brooks did last season, especially in the playoffs.
Heck, we haven’t seen many professional wrestlers turn heel quite as aggressively as Brooks has.
Flopping is only one ingredient in that recipe, but it’s a key one. And we should have known it would continue throughout his career the moment it happened.
Brooks has yet to have a moment quite so bad in the NBA, but it’s almost symbolic of the way he’s played for years.
Brooks’ game is desperate, and that desperation has led to an awful lot of good defense, tons of prompting, and some ridiculous flops.
That will keep pace with the Houston Rockets, and Brooks will earn more flopping techs than anyone else in the league in 2023-24.