New rules interpretations this season will make it tougher for Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant to get to the free-throw line with the same frequency.
Durant has attempted 2,487 free throws his first four seasons — the third highest total in NBA history for a player age 22 or younger, trailing only LeBron James (2,611) and Dwight Howard (2,574).
More than a few of Durant's free-throw attempts came off a so-called “rip” move, where the shooter swings the ball into a defender's outstretched arm and attempts to shoot the instant contact is made.
Durant excelled at the move, much to the delight of OKC fans and to the disdain of opponents. With the rip move now a “point of emphasis” for NBA officiating crews, these sequences will now be considered non-shooting fouls if contact begins before a player starts his shooting motion.
Before everyone says “RIP to the rip,” bear in mind a foul is still a foul in basketball.
If Durant is fouled in the act of shooting, it should result in a trip to the free-throw line – whether the foul comes during a rip move or driving to the basket.
A foul is a foul, whether you're Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin, Kevin Love or Kevin Duckworth.
“You can't do away with it because in certain situations it's legit,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said of the rip move last season, “but if a player goes out of his way and it's obvious he's not really even shooting a shot, it shouldn't be called. It should be a no-call in my opinion, and I think I've seen that. I think some officials have made no-calls on players who have done that. Sometimes it's going to be called wrong, but so is a block/charge and other things. It's the nature of the beast. You can't get everything right.”
Whistling a foul on the rip move is a difficult call for an official to make. All eyes are on the player with the ball. It's one-on-one in plain sight, but the moment of truth arrives so quickly it's often not easy to see.
The shooter flailing both arms adds to the illusion, whether he's hammered or untouched.
The entire sequence of the rip move looks awkwardly clumsy and tacky, but a foul is still a foul.
Durant didn't invent the rip, but the dividends have been immediate and frequent.
Most agree the rip originated with Utah power forward Karl Malone. Ironically, San Antonio power forward Tim Duncan used the rip move to counter Malone's “strip down” tactic on defense during which he swatted down hard at the ball. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is another rip artist, as is Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups.
Former Oklahoma State standout and Thunder teammate Desmond Mason taught Durant the rip four years ago. “I saw him do it a few times, and I kind of stole it from him,” Durant admitted. “He's a great teacher.”
On the flip side, standout Thunder defenders Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison tend to rip the rip move.
“It's a good move because they call a foul,” Sefolosha said, “but I'm not sure it's the right call, actually.”
Collison said: “I hate it when they do it to me. I should love it because Kevin gets the call more than anybody gets it called on us. When it happens to you, it drives you crazy.”
Durant is the league's two-time defending scoring champion. He is the youngest and third-youngest champ in NBA history.
Make no mistake, Durant is the primary reason the rip move is under revised scrutiny this season.
A point of emphasis often is instituted to make players more aware of what's allowed and what constitutes a violation. Sometimes a point of emphasis is used to tighten up loose officiating. Other times it's an attempt to dissuade players from continuing a trend, and such appears to be the case here.
Maybe this year's point of emphasis will dissuade Durant from continuing to let it rip. Maybe not.
Durant no doubt will be asked about the rule during his interview late Friday afternoon following the Thunder's first practice at training camp.
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.