Tuesday November 24th, 2015

The NBA’s traveling rules are just vague enough—and often misrepresented enough—to allow plenty of debate as to what constitutes an actual violation. That letter of the law is then applied on the fly to the blurred, full-speed movement of dynamic athletes by three human beings tasked with enforcing the full breadth of the NBA’s rules from sometimes unfavorable angles. Simply put: Officiating an NBA game is hard.

Hard enough, it seems, that amidst the countless things floating through a referee’s mind and drawing their attention in a given moment, some violations are missed. Carmelo Anthony is only the latest culprit; in Monday’s game against the Heat, Anthony transitioned into a pull-up three-pointer off the dribble by scuffling some 10 feet or so to the three-point arc. Let’s see the sequence in detail:

This, as much of the Miami crowd realized in real time, is an obvious travel. The only tricky element in defining the extent of Anthony’s travel is the determination of when he gathered the ball. Because Anthony essentially floats his way into his shot from just inside the halfcourt line, the end of his dribble and beginning of the shooting motion might seem, however messy, to be one in the same. The most sensible way to distinguish the two would be to apply the NBA’s rules for a discontinued dribble—more commonly known as a carrying violation. 

According to the NBA’s video rulebook, “dribblers may not have any part of their hand under the ball, bringing their dribble to a pause, before continuing on with their dribble.” With this application in mind, we can determine that Anthony’s dribble officially ends – and his gather begins – at the point that he brings his hand under the ball. The video above marks this point and then shows Anthony taking four subsequent steps as he settles into his shot. This interpretation could actually be generous; one could well argue that Anthony snuck in five steps before hoisting up his shot, depending on when he was deemed to have control of the ball. Sometimes you just have to admire a player’s obliviousness/audacity, refereeing oversight aside.

• MORE NBA: Why all 30 NBA teams should be thankful this Thanksgiving

For reference, the NBA’s base traveling rule is laid out in the following language:

A player who receives the ball while he is progressing or upon completion of a dribble, may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball. A player who receives the ball while he is progressing must release the ball to start his dribble before his second step.

The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after gaining control of the ball.

– Rule No. 10, Section XIII of the Official Rules of the National Basketball Association (2015-16)

See the NBA rulebook in its entirety here, or consult the NBA’s official video rulebook for specific case studies.

H/T: Tom Haberstroh.

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