Friday, March 1, 2024

James Harden injured Lakers’ Cam Reddish with ‘landing space’ gimmick that is supposed to be illegal

The NBA’s landing-space rule is well intended. Nobody wants to see jump-shooters coming down on the feet of defenders standing directly beneath them, risking all manner of injury. If a shooter goes straight up and down, he should have a clean space to land. 

The problem is, almost no shooter actually goes straight up and down these days. Even shooters who are trying to play honestly still have a natural forward momentum on most shots. And we know too well about the gimmick shooters who kick their feet all over the place trying to game the system. 

James Harden is among the most egregious offenders. And now Cam Reddish is going to miss at least two weeks because of his latest gimmick. 

Early in the fourth quarter of the Clippers‘ win over the Lakers on Tuesday, Harden pulled up for a 3 from the top of the key. Reddish did the only thing a defender can do these days in contesting completely to the side of Harden, who had ample space to come down straight and land cleanly. Instead, Harden, in typical search of a bogus foul, kicked his leg straight out in Reddish’s space. Reddish landed on Harden’s foot. Rolled his ankle. The Lakers announced he’ll be reevaluated in two weeks. 

Again, the landing space rule is well intended. But it has become just another silly mechanic for offensive players to manipulate the NBA’s laughably gullible officials. The league theoretically addressed this issue this past offseason when it instituted a counter rule to be enforced against offensive players who deploy “unnatural shooting motions” in search of a foul. 

These are the outlines of what constitutes an unnatural shooting motion:

  • When a shooter takes shots by either leaning into or jumping into a defender in an abnormal way.

  • An offensive player either abruptly goes sideways into a defender, or simply stops in front of him, giving the defender nowhere to go but running into the offensive player.

  • Shooters kick their legs either out or to the side in an unnatural way to draw contact with a defender.

  • An offensive player uses his non-shooting arm to hook the defender.

Harden was clearly in violation of the third bullet point, kicking his leg to the side “in an unnatural way to draw contact with the defender.” He took the very rule that was instituted for his own protection against injury and twisted it into a mechanism to injure another player. 

At the very least, this is supposed to be an offensive foul on Harden. It should’ve been a flagrant. Nothing was called. The ratio of how often this should be enforced against offensive players to how often it actually is renders this “unnatural motion” rule pointless. The only way it ends up benefitting defenders is by way of no-calls. By the letter of the law the NBA wrote, these are not no-calls. These are flagrant fouls. It’s just that they only get called one way. 

You can say Harden wasn’t trying to hurt Reddish. Doesn’t matter. Ninety-nine percent of defenders who contest a shot into a shooter’s landing space aren’t trying to hurt anyone either. They’re just trying to play defense. But in doing so, they put the shooter at risk. 

Same thing here. Harden put Reddish at risk. Plain and simple. 

Personally, I would get rid of the landing-space rule altogether. If a defender clearly makes an attempt to slide under a shooter in a dangerous way, call a technical foul. But make those isolated incidents. Making this a general rule opens up too many garbage plays like this because, sadly, it works. 

Most officials are puppets. They see a shooter hit the floor, they’re blowing their whistle. It has actually become a normal thing for a shooter to end up on the ground without being touched. We have actually normalized that. Joke. 

But if a defender hits the floor with an actual injury caused by the reckless actions of a shooter? Nothing to see here. Play on. It’s like in the NFL where a defensive player is getting flagged for “hands to the face” if he so much as grazes an offensive player’s facemask, but a ball carrier can jam a stiff arm, basically a punch, straight into the face of a would-be tackler without any penalty. Yeah, OK. 

The bottom line here is that Harden, because it works in his favor so easily and often, put Reddish in a bad spot, a dangerous spot, by undercutting his landing space when Reddish, for his part, did everything in his power to avoid any contact with Harden by contesting to the side. 

It was Harden who sought contact with a blatantly unnatural shooting motion. Reddish got hurt. Harden got away with it. Sounds about right in today’s NBA, which is turning into a joke with the way it is officiated for the offense. 

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