During the women’s Final Four and WBCA convention, I spoke to several college coaches about potential rule changes in NCAA basketball. The most prominent rule change would be a change in the shot clock to 24 seconds, which led me into more discussions of the shot clock.
I have written about the shot clock for high school basketball previously (here, here, and here). The NCAA change would be more subtle, as the clock would move from 30 seconds to 24 s to align with FIBA and the NBA.
In my interviews, coaches made good arguments against the shortening of the clock: Villanova head coach Harry Perretta said:
“A shorter shot clock does not help the game generally because the shorter shot clock does not allow for multiple styles of play.”
That is my lone objection to the shot clock, just as I worry that analytics will lead to every team playing exactly the same style in the NBA.
Another coach argued that a shorter shot clock does not guarantee a more attractive game, and pointed to the WNBA, which has a 24 s shot clock, but has not captured a large audience. I agree that higher scoring games do not transfer to higher quality games or excitement, an argument that I made with regards to the high-school shot clock.
The argument that was popular, and which I do not understand, is that a shorter shot clock leads to more bad shots and hurried decisions. This argument, which coaches seemed not to question, actually is not supported by statistics.
A study in men’s basketball examined the effect of possession duration on shooting efficiency. Offensive possessions are affected by the manner in which a team acquires the ball, but after 10 seconds, the differences disappear: A steal tends to lead to higher offensive efficiency than a possession that starts with the offense inbounding the basketball.
After eliminating the possessions that took less than 10 seconds, primarily transition possessions which are more efficient than half-court possessions, the study found:
The average effective field goal percentage on initial shots between 10 and 15 seconds is 49%, between 25 and 30 seconds is 45%, and after 30 seconds is 41%.
The same trend has been found in the NBA: Offenses are more efficient earlier in the shot clock.
Therefore, statistics suggest that shooting more quickly does not lead to poor shots or hurried decisions. Of course, a 24 s shot clock would be different than a 35 s shot clock, but there is little to suggest that a shorter clock would lead automatically to worse shooting or more turnovers (on a per possession basis).
Furthermore, several times during the weekend, coaches lamented the U.S. system and lack of fundamentals, and pointed to European players as the model. Of course, these are players who grow up with a 24 s shot clock.
In NCAA men’s basketball, especially, teams dribble around for 10-15 seconds anyway. They waste time. Is that what we need a longer shot clock for: To enable teams to dribble around the top and waste more time?
Furthermore, many teams shoot against the shot clock with a 35 s shot clock because they pass up good shots early in the clock. With a 24 s shot clock, they would be less likely to pass up these early shots. In the NBA, teams tend to shoot the first good shot because it is hard to create two good shots in one possession against a good defense. NCAA teams are more patient, but they end up playing against the shot clock, which leads to worse shots.
As I commented during one of the NCAA Tournament games, the shot selection could not be any worse with a shorter clock than it is presently. In men’s and women’s basketball, there are so many bad shots attempted.
I favor a 24 s shot clock because I have coached in Europe, and I am used to it, just as college coaches are more familiar and comfortable with the 30 or 35 second clocks. I can appreciate Perretta’s argument about styles of play, and I agree that higher scoring games are not necessarily better games.
However, I disagree that a shot clock or a shorter shot clock leads to worse decision-making and bad shots. If that is true, why do teams fastbreak? Aren’t the players more inclined to make hurried decisions and take bad shots in transition than the half-court? Shouldn’t all teams walk up the court to avoid these reckless possessions?
Of course not. In the first year, players may take some time to adjust, but they will adjust. They will learn. A shorter clock does not cause bad shots or hurried decisions any more than a longer clock ensures good shots and decisions.
Personally, I believe the men’s game needs a shorter clock, but I don’t have strong opinions on the 30 s clock vs. the 24 s clock. However, when the arguments are made, I hope the coaches reconsider the idea that a shorter clock will lead automatically to worse shots and decisions. It won’t. Actually, it may improve shooting and decision-making, as demonstrated by everyone’s favorite model of fundamentals, European basketball.