View Full Version : does the new ball bounce? Does it pass or fail?By John Hollinger

11-15-2006, 03:58 PM
does the new ball bounce? Does it pass or fail?By John Hollinger
ESPN Insider

The NBA is using a new ball this year. Oh, you've heard?

Without a blockbuster trade or stirring personal story to discuss, the controversy over the new ball was the league's biggest story in the preseason. Scores of players offered their opinions on the replacement sphere, few of them complimentary.

Shaquille O'Neal fired the first volley, saying the ball felt like "one of those cheap balls you buy at the toy store, indoor-outdoor balls."

Several others voiced similar sentiments, and this complaint isn't without merit. Maybe it's the orange color or the dimpled skin, but the new rock really does look like somebody bought it 10 minutes before game time at the local Hyphen-Mart.

What's much more important than appearance, however, is how it performs. Several players and management types offered predictions about how the ball might change things, but until the season began it was all conjecture.

But with a hundred regular-season games under our belt (OK, 99 technically) through Monday, we can analyze in much more detail how the ball is performing compared to the expectations.

How's the handle?

For instance, O'Neal opined that there'd be a sharp rise in turnovers thanks to the new ball, primarily because it can get slick when wet. The new rock is designed not to absorb water like the old leather balls did -- something which changed their weight and feel as a game went along -- but the trade-off is that the moisture stays on the surface of the ball, making it slick.

O'Neal wasn't the only one forecasting future fumbles. "It's seems like the ball is slipping out of their hands a lot," said Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, while Suns guard Steve Nash added, "I'm having a hard time holding it and making some passes."

The early numbers should quiet the criticism of the new NBA ball.
The verdict? According to data provided by 82games.com, players are losing the ball less on dribbles than they did a year ago (see "Lost balls" on chart). Through 99 games in 2005-06, teams turned the ball over 4.1 times per game on "lost ball" situations -- stolen dribbles, mis-dribbles, strips and similar plays where the ball handler was dribbling or holding the ball (but not passing, which is a separate category).

That figure is down to 3.5 per game in the first 99 games of this season, a 14.6 percent decrease. Score one for the new ball.

The chart also shows that ballhandling violations -- double dribbles, palming, traveling and the like -- are way up, going from 1.6 a game last season to 2.5 this season. However, that's almost certainly due to the officials' increased emphasis on palming and traveling violations rather than anything to do with the basketball.

Passing problems?

But are players having difficulty completing passes? Mavs owner Mark Cuban opined in his blog that the new ball was hurting point guards in particular. He said he felt sorry for Nash after watching his 10-turnover effort against Dallas last week because, according to Cuban, the new ball impacted Nash's timing just enough to throw everything off-kilter.

I would probably feel that way too if I watched Nash commit 10 turnovers and had been informed there was a new ball, but it doesn't look to be that way from his other games. Nash had 17 turnovers total in his other six contests, well below his average from last season, and even if you include the 10 against Dallas his rate hasn't changed much from the previous season.

In fact, among all players, turnovers from passes are nearly identical to a season ago -- 5.8 per game against 5.9 -- so it's tough to blame any missed connections on the ball.

Shooting the new rock

Of course, ballhandling wasn't the only complaint. Players were also very worried about how the new ball would affect shooting, particularly once it got wet.

"I just don't like the feel. It's not really an NBA basketball," said Vince Carter before the season. "When it gets wet, it's like playing with a bowling ball."

AP Photo/Nick Wass
The new ball saved the Nets from a tough loss to the Wiz.
I have a feeling Carter's opinion may have changed following his miracle bounce to tie the game in Washington on Sunday night, one of many times this year that a wayward shot has miraculously died on the rim and bounced in. These bounces have made the new ball more forgiving to outside shooters in the eyes of some.

Offsetting that, some players feel the ball tends to slip and skid when it hits the rim instead of taking a true bounce. Additionally, there's some speculation that bank shooters (and rebounders) have had to relearn the angles with the new ball because it doesn't react the same way off the glass; on the other hand, several players feel it bounces "softer" off the board and is easier to bank than the old ball.

The data from 82games.com suggest that if anything, there has been a slight benefit to shooters from the new ball overall. The percentage of 3-pointers made is exactly the same as a season earlier (34.5 percent), suggesting that if there's any "bowling ball" effect of the type that Carter hypothesized, it's been offset by the fact that the new ball bounces like a Nerf once it hits the rim.

Making the midrange jumper

Midrange jump shot percentages haven't changed much, either. Players are converting 38.3 percent compared to 37.5 percent a year ago.

There might be a reason for this other than the composition of the ball per se. This is a bit complicated but bear with me.

The long 2-point jumper is essentially the worst shot in basketball, in terms of the points it can expect to produce, and thus the lowest priority for most clubs. Since teams are having an easier time getting the shots they prefer -- at least, when they don't turn the ball over (turnovers are up, because of the large increase in palming calls and three-second violations) -- they're relying less on the long 2-pointer.

Only 34.3 percent of teams' shots are from this range, compared to 36.1 percent a season ago. Most of the "missing" 1.8 percent of attempts were likely the low-quality ones, which teams have replaced with shots more to their liking, and thus could account for a big chunk of the difference in midrange jump shot percentage just by itself.

Free throws now 1.2 percent freer

The most interesting data, however, come when the ball gets a little closer to the rim. Let's start from the foul line, where the league has improved from 73.3 percent to 74.5 percent. This is an impressive jump considering the league leader in free-throw attempts, LeBron James, has been notably inaccurate from the stripe.

(And if you're thinking this has something to do with Shaq being out of the lineup, think again -- he barely played last November before spraining his ankle.)

Complaints about the new ball much ado about nothing?

11-15-2006, 04:31 PM
just from watching the games, and never having actually handled one, the ball appears to be very shoooter friendly. By that I mean in specific the type of shooter who shoots based on feel and touch. Dirk is this type of shooter and usually those types of guys don't miss by much. And the new ball seems more forgiving of slightly "off" shots...just watching what I have thus far, it seems like far more shots that would have either bounced off the rim or rolled off are now slipping through the hoop....the ball may actually help Dirk's (and other shooters like him) distance% go slightly up this season....

anyone else noticed this?

11-15-2006, 05:01 PM
I've only watch the Chicago game with this in mind and it did seem like there was more activity right around the rim and less middle range and long rebounds.