Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

NBA Monday: The SG’s NBA Guide to the Basics

Posted on 28 December 2020 by Lukas Flottmeyer

Every Monday, our eyes wander over the Atlantic Ocean to our American friends who celebrate the beautiful game of basketball. We’re one week into the new NBA season and the attraction to Mr Naismith’s game is stronger than ever.

The Los Angeles Lakers dominate the rebounds, Buddy Hield and the Sacramento Kings escape from the Joker with a win in Denver, and Klay Thompson misses his Achilles, while the Golden State Warriors miss him.

Though, reading about the NBA can be quite confusing. What is a salary cap? What is a trade? And who’s this Mr. Flagrant who’s fouling all the time? The Sports Gazette compiled a guide for everyone who wants to follow and understand the NBA.

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NBA: The National Basketball Association is the professional American basketball league. It was founded on 6 June 1946. 30 teams – 29 American and one Canadian – compete in 82 regular season games and, subsequently, in playoff games to lift the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy at the end of the season.

NBPA: The National Basketball Players Association was founded in 1954 and represents the players’ interests. Chris Paul, point guard – arguably point god – for the Phoenix Suns, is the current president. Whenever important decisions concerning rules or money are pending, Paul and the NBPA get involved.

Conferences and Divisions: 30 teams are divided in two conferences: The Western and Eastern Conference. 15 teams participate in each conference. The conferences are divided into three groups, called divisions. In the West, five teams each play in the Northwest, Pacific, and Southwest Division. The Atlantic, Central, and Southeast divisions represent the East.

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Regular season: The regular season determines the eight playoff teams of each conference. In 82 games, each club plays half of the games at home and half away. A team plays his division opponents four times a season. Additionally, a franchise plays four games against six teams from the other divisions in its conference. Three games are played against the remaining four sides. Finally, every western team meets every eastern team twice a season. In this year’s COVID-shortened season, the NBA got rid of ten games for a total of 72 games.

Playoffs: The eight best teams of each conference – determined by win percentage – play in the playoffs. The first seed plays the eighth seed, the second-best team plays the seventh, and so on. A best-of-seven series decides the winner of each matchup, meaning a club must win four games to advance the playoff round. After three elimination rounds, the best team of the West fights against the best team of the East for the NBA crown.

NBA Draft: Before every season starts, the teams pick 60 promising players for their squads. College basketball players and a growing number of international players – such as All-Star and British international Luol Deng – are eligible for the draft. It’s the NBA’s way to give the worst teams the chance to pick the best players of the year. The draft shall provide a fair chance for every club to reinvent and amend its squad.

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NBA Draft Lottery: To distribute the draft picks, the NBA holds a draft lottery before the official NBA draft. The 14 non-playoff teams have the chance to get one of the four highest draft picks: these are known as lottery picks. After the selection of the four lottery picks, the remaining ten franchises receive their pick in order of the previous season’s win percentages. Then, the three worst teams have a 14.0% chance of winning the first pick, the best non-playoff franchise owns a 0.5% chance of winning. To this day, the Orlando Magic are the luckiest team by winning the lottery with just a 1.5% chance of winning in 1993.

Salary Cap: Many things make the NBA’s salary cap one of the most confusing parts of the league. To cut a long story short, it caps the amount of money a franchise can spend on their players. It provides financial equality amongst the 30 NBA franchises. In the 2020-21 season, the salary cap is set at $109.14 million.

Trade: While Premier League clubs pay huge transfer fees for players, NBA franchises swap their players like traders swapped their goods in the Middle Ages. Always looking for the best fit for their squad, general managers arrange deals including players and/or draft picks. It can happen to everyone; just ask Luol Deng. He once fell asleep in Chicago and woke up in Cleveland.

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The NBA categorises misconduct as a personal foul. If a player’s foul is particularly unnecessary or violent, the referee can classify the offence as a flagrant foul. A non-physical foul, such as disrespectful language towards a referee, is a technical foul.

Each player can foul five times a game. The sixth foul is the equivalent of a red card in football and results in an ejection.

When one team fouls five times in a quarter, they are past the limit and the opposing side receives foul shots. These are known as free throws and the location of the foul determines whether the player shoots two or three shots. However, an offensive player gains free throws every time an opponent fouls him in a shooting motion.

Personal Foul: The most common foul is the personal foul. It’s the result of an illegal contact between two opposing players, such as a blocking foul. The three different types of personal fouls are an offensive, a defensive and a loose-ball foul. The latter occurs in a situation where neither team clearly possesses the ball. If a team hasn’t reached the team foul limit, offensive fouls don’t result into free throws but in a loss of possession.

Flagrant Foul: The referee blows the whistle for a flagrant foul if the contact was unnecessary or excessively violent. Unnecessary fouls result in a flagrant one, excessively violent fouls result in a flagrant two. A player gets ejected after two Flagrant 1 or one Flagrant 2 Foul. After every flagrant foul, the offensive side gets two free throws and the possession of the ball.

Technical Foul: A technical foul is the penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, such as a delay of game or an excessive discussion with a referee. One free throw will be awarded to the fouled team. A player can get a one game suspension after 16 technical fouls. In a game, the referee ejects a player after two technical fouls or one flagrant one and one technical foul.


You want to know what our authors Mitchell Marshall and Lukas Flottmeyer think about the NBA start? Just have a look at their last week’s discussion.