This week, the NBA announced what Spurs fans are calling the “Zaza Pachulia Rule.” It’s named for the dirty player that injured Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals and single-handedly changed the court of that series.
The rule states that NBA referees will be able to call flagrant or technical fouls on defenders who “dangerously close on jump shooters” without allowing space to land.
That sounds good and all but there are two major problems with this rule:
1. Referees could already do this. All technical fouls are already at the discretion of referees. Any time a player tries to injure another, the referee can look at a replay and issue a tech or flagrant regardless of the offending player’s intent.
2. This rule does nothing to dissuade players like Zaza from taking out the competition for the team’s benefit.
Let’s just say that this rule was in place last year. Zaza still has all the motivation to do what he did. He’d get a technical or flagrant foul, maybe he’d even be tossed from the game. He’d pay a small fine, maybe miss the next game and that’s it.
Kawhi Leonard is still out for the rest of the playoffs.
What this rule needs is teeth, where the first offense brings a heavy punishment and gets worse each time, like Major League Baseball’s PED rules. In my proposal, the first offense nets a 10-game suspension, followed by 30 games for the second offense, and 60 for a third.
With 10 games-worth of pay hanging over you if you get caught, suddenly there’s a financial incentive not to be a dirty player like Zaza Pachulia. Also in my proposal, unlike technical fouls, the count doesn’t reset every year.
If you injure a player in 2017 and then do it again in 2020, then there’s your 30-game suspension. The number doesn’t reset until five years after the first incident.
This type of rule would also discourage teams from signing a reckless player like Zaza after one offense. With a possible 30-game suspension looming over that player, a team might not want to take the risk of signing a guy who could miss half the season, and possibly the playoffs, by doing something stupid.
But the NBA is unlikely to take this logical step to protect their players. The only recourse is for teams to embrace the old ways, like the Bad Boy Pistons or Knicks and Pacers of the 90's. The hockey model! Let goons act as enforcers.
So if this year, Zaza tries to undercut Kawhi again, Davis Bertans can check in and punch out Zaza or try to take out Steph Curry or Kevin Durant.
My guess is that the NBA probably doesn’t want to return to the days of enforcers and fights happening on the court regularly. So I would suggest that they take a serious look at making the Zaza rule a lot harsher.