How do you know if an NBA player successfully made an impact in the league? Is it the number of people calling a player an all-time great? Does the number of rings have a say on it? Or is it his inclusion into the Naismith Hall of Fame?
All of these points are valid. However, only a few things are as impactful to the game as a rule change made due to your actions. The league saw plenty of players throughout its years of existence. Still, only some players became influential enough that they changed how the game was played from then on.
This OKBET Sports piece will look into the players who influenced the game enough to force the league to tweak its rulebook. Not all of the players in this list are considered all-time greats, but their style of play was impactful enough to be addressed by the league.
Defenders go through countless screens and dribble moves to stop their marks from scoring. Many NBA players built successful careers for themselves by devoting a lot of energy to becoming pesky defenders.
Bruce Bowen became one of the faces of proper defense during the early 2000s when he helped the San Antonio Spurs win three of their five championships. Opposing players hated his aggressive style of defending, which left them little to no space to operate.
Bowen was heavily scrutinized for his defense, with some calling him a dirty player. It didn’t take long for the league to control his tendencies after injuring Steve Francis by placing his foot on his landing spot. The league banned defenders from taking over a player’s landing spot.
The focus on aggressively poor closeouts was again brought to light when Zaza Pachulia injured Kawhi Leonard in the 2017 Western Conference Finals. More aggressive penalties were put in place after public outcry from the Spurs and the public called for stricter implementation of the closeout rule.
Fans who like irony will notice that Zaza’s act was a bit of a comeback for Gregg Popovich not reining in Bowen’s defensive tendencies.
Stephen Curry will always be the greatest shooter to dribble a basketball. However, Reggie Miller brought a venom and competitive edge that will always have him in the conversation of the game’s greatest snipers.
What made him great beside his three-point shooting was his ability to get into the line. Miller was the last person you want to get into the charity stripe as he finished eight of his 18-year career with 90% FT shooting. Combining his excellent FT shooting with a career average of 5.1 free throw attempts per game, you have a great scorer who can secure five points a night.
What got him into the free-throw line often was his shooting form. He got his leg out whenever he shot, and defenders often got caught in his trap. His shooting motion got him a lot of friendly calls from the refs.
Unlike Bowen and Pachulia’s rule-bending ways, it took a while before the league implemented this rule change. Popularly known as the Reggie Miller rule, shooters are forbidden from kicking their legs out to initiate contact with defenders.
James Harden is one of the latest NBA players who constantly push the rulebook to the limit. While he was a terrific offensive force during his physical peak, his craftiness always allowed him to get to the free-throw line like Miller.
While he’s not kicking his legs out to attract contact, he came up with creative ways to get defenders to hook up to him. He’ll then initiate contact and flail to get the favorable call, much to the frustration of basketball fans and analysts. He got an incredible ten free-throw attempts per game during his peak years with the Houston Rockets.
Due to Harden’s actions, the league implemented what is popularly known as the James Harden rule. NBA players who intend to draw fouls by committing non-basketball actions will be penalized.
This isn’t the only rule Harden brought to its limits. Many would attest to his love for traveling the ball during the peak of his powers. However, his free-throw antics placed more opposing teams at a disadvantage.
NBA fans who grew up watching the game during the 2000s know how tough teams had it when guarding Shaquille O’Neal. His massive frame and outrageous strength allowed him to do whatever he wanted inside the paint.
Fortunately for them, O’Neal had a terrible shooting stroke. He had a subpar 53% FT average throughout his Hall of Fame career. Dallas Mavericks’ Don Nelson took advantage of the opportunity and introduced the Hack-a-Shaq: they fouled O’Neal whenever he was down low and forced him to shoot from the line.
It was effective, and teams immediately followed suit. It got to the point that O’Neal made almost 11 free-throw attempts a night from 1997/98 until 2004/05. Unfortunately, it compromised the game as the overall pace slowed due to how frequently O’Neal got to the charity stripe.
The NBA had to get in the way to prevent this tactic from becoming the norm. Teams that actively implement this strategy will see their opponents awarded with a free throw attempt and possession of the ball.
The NBA rulebook has greatly changed since it was first introduced in the fifties. Plenty of other players made their marks on the book. These rules became necessary to reward us with the fast-paced, hyper-offensive game we enjoy today.
However, fans should also expect the rules to transform over time. Plenty of talented NBA players will find new ways to turn the game in their favor. These innovations will then require new rules to be made. It will be exciting to see which players will leave their mark in the NBA rulebook next.