There were 1.4 seconds left in the first half of USA Basketball’s first exhibition game of its pre-World Cup tour this summer, with the Americans taking the ball out on the far end of the floor. U.S. coach Steve Kerr signaled for a quick inbounds pass and desperation heave.
If he was coaching such a game in San Francisco, or any other NBA city, Kerr probably would never call timeout in that situation. Only this summer, he’s coaching under FIBA rules. And after getting a bit of an education on how timeouts don’t carry over into the second half under FIBA rules, Kerr realized he could have called one to set up a better play.
“All this stuff comes into play now,” said Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors. “That’s what these exhibition games are for — for players and coaches.”
The international game and the NBA game are basically the same: The rims are still 10 feet off the ground, teams still play 5-on-5 and fouls are still fouls. But there are a slew of differences — some nuanced, some not so much — that will make the World Cup seem different from the game that the Americans are used to playing in the U.S.
And the five-game exhibition slate for the Americans, which wraps up this week in Abu Dhabi, is a chance to figure out many of those changes.
“The games,” said U.S. forward Bobby Portis of the Milwaukee Bucks, “are two totally different games.”
The games are shorter at the FIBA level — 10-minute quarters as opposed to 12 in the NBA — and so is the 3-point line, from a couple of inches in the corners to about 18 inches at its deepest points. Players foul out on their fifth foul in FIBA, not their sixth like in the NBA. There’s no defensive 3-second rule in FIBA. Players can’t call timeout to avoid a jump ball or held-ball situation, and once a ball touches the rim it’s fair game for the offense and the defense; it’s not goaltending or basket interference if someone strikes the ball after it hits the rim.
“The physicality is different,” U.S. forward Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic said. “You can be physical on defense in terms of redirecting your man, the way you can guard. That’s the biggest thing that stands out. And a 40-minute game, it goes by quicker. In the NBA, you can be down 20 in the first quarter and not be worried because you’ve got time. You can ease into the game a little bit. Not here; you want to be going 100 mph from the jump.”
Jaren Jackson Jr. clearly doesn’t have any issue with NBA rules when it comes to defense; the Memphis Grizzlies center is the league’s reigning defensive player of the year. And he’s finding that FIBA’s rules allow him to play even more freely on that end of the floor.
“It’s great with the rule changes,” Jackson said. “You can be a lot more physical, guards can be physical up high, they can kind of funnel everything down to the bigs down low.”
There is still a learning curve, but the Americans seem to be picking up the differences in rules just fine. USA Basketball, as it has several other times, had FIBA referees in training camp for this team in Las Vegas earlier this month to blow the whistles in scrimmages — and the team has gone 3-0 in its exhibitions, winning all by double figures including Sunday’s road win over Spain, the world’s top-ranked team.
Games seem to be flying by, U.S. point guard Jalen Brunson of the New York Knicks said, and that’s not just because of the shorter quarters. Even the timeouts last for less time in FIBA games than they do in the NBA, when it seems like the last few minutes of a fourth quarter can take forever.
“There’s a mixture of being physical and sometimes not being able to touch,” Brunson said after practice Tuesday at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. “It’s different. The game is totally different. But it’s about how fast you can adjust. We don’t play by these rules year in and year out and the small things are different, but you just have to adjust a little bit. It’s still basketball.”
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