A while ago I lamented that HoopIdea is kind of out of hand. I think a lot of the 'big concerns' aren't as big as they are made out to be. For instance, flopping is annoying to be sure. But technology is probably one of the reasons that it only seems like it is a bigger deal than it actually is -- high definition TVs, DVRs that super easily capture replays and platforms like YouTube that make it really easy to spread the word. Even as little as 5 years ago, notorious floppers like Battier and Ginobli rarely saw 'lowlights' of their flops broadcast to national audiences. Now, Tyson Chandler gives LeBron a hockey check in the back and all anyone can talk about is how dramatic LeBron looked when he fell down. #WasLeBronFlopping may has well have trended on Twitter, despite the fact that Chandler's foul was painfully obvious. Every flop is now painfully dragged out for us to see.
Ok, so flopping is kind of annoying. And many fans love to say that flopping would stop instantly if the refs would stop 'rewarding' it. But I believe that this is simply not true. This is because flopping is what we in both economics and poker call a "freeroll". I'll explain with a poker anology first.
Assume you are playing in a game of no-limit texas holdem and the board reads A K Q J T, with no flush possible, and you are first to act. You should always go All-In here, no matter what your cards are. In this scenario, "the nuts", or, the best possible hand, is already on the board, meaning that no player can possibly have any hand better (or worse) than the five cards in the middle.
However, the chance that your opponent (or one of your opponents) incorrectly fold is non-zero. That is, if they all call, you win the same amount that you would win if you all checked and showed your hand. But if any person makes a silly mistake and folds without thinking it through, you profit. Even if it is just .00000000001% of the time, you profit. And the best part is, and this is important, you cannot lose. If they call? Oh well, split pot. There is simply no scenario under which you lose money. Well, we need to ignore rake, but if we consider rake, then going all-in is still a profitable move -- this is because if we would lose money on the rake, this means that any player that calls us would also lose money on rake (since he/she cannot win), so the only reason to call us would be to "spite" us for going all-in.
So. That's a freeroll.
Flopping is a freeroll in a sense. There's always a chance that the ref believes you and gives you the call. And even if that chance is tiny, it's ok, because if he doesn't, you are no worse off than you would have been anyway (this isn't strictly true, as an ill-timed flop can leave your team playing 4-on-5 -- you need to be smart about it). Flopping is often the act of a defender (or far more likely, offensive player) who is just trying to eke out that 1% freeroll edge. He knows that getting a call isn't that likely, but he also knows that there's no penalty for it (again, if you aren't stupid about when/where you flop).
From a game theory perspective, just like with the Poker situation where the pot is a split (and this comes up with huge regularity if you play split-pot games like Pot Limit Omaha 8-or-better), there are some minor rewards for flopping, and few penalties. No matter how well you train your referees, it's pretty unlikely that we could eliminate that -- unless, of course, you introduce a possible penalty for flopping.
One of my biggest concerns is shared by Shane Battier -- most of the egregious flopping in the NBA, by far, is done by the offensive players. Remember Kobe kicking some guy in the face during his jump shot? What about the 50 million times per game that a point guard is running the pick-and-roll up top, and his defender tries to eek through the seem of the pick, and the point guard flails backward trying to draw a reach-in or blocking foul? How about every single damn time that Kevin Garnett shoots and yells "AND 1!!!!@1!!"? The "free roll" aspects of flopping are much, much more obvious to the attacking player, since "whiffing" on getting the foul call won't usually leave you at a 4-on-5 disadvantage.
If we start handing out Ts for flopping, or some other method of trying to stop flopping from being a freeroll, are we going to start handing out Ts for egregious acting when going up for a layup, too? Because I somehow doubt that's going to happen. And let's be clear about the dangers of unintended consequenses -- any rule change that severely punishes the defender for flopping is likely to make defenses much worse in the NBA as a whole. Because if the penalty for flopping becomes too severe, players will simply avoid contact altogether; the risk of being incorrectly called for a flop isn't worth it.
I think we all agree that we don't want to go back to the 'no blood, no foul' 90s, and watching players beat the crap out of each other, but are we OK with going back to the days of 125-115 scores every game? I think I'd actually kind of like that, but not everyone would. Would you?