July 22, 2024

On the NBA’s opening night last season in a game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, James Harden was dribbling near the top of the key with Marcus Smart in front of him.

Harden dribbled left and Smart matched the movement, getting to the same spot at roughly the same time.

Harden, in this familiar chess game between superior ballhandler and defensive stalwart, stopped his forward momentum and stepped back. Smart, either anticipating a shove from Harden that didn’t come or trying to convince the referees that he was pushed, sent himself flailing backward.


Arms waving. Body falling. Butt scooting on the floor, as though he had been on the wrong end of a moving truck, even though Harden didn’t touch him. According to a league rule change, Smart’s theatrics, more commonly known as a “flop,” will be called as a non-unsportsmanlike technical foul during the upcoming season, Monty McCutchen, senior vice president of referee development and training, said Thursday.

In a small conference call with a few NBA reporters, McCutchen outlined two major rule changes: assessing technicals for egregious flopping and the awarding of a second coach’s challenge. The league also is tightening what can be considered a “rip through” foul against the defense.

Defining a flop

As McCutchen explained, the referees have come up with an easy-to-remember acronym to help all involved understand the way flops should be regulated: S.T.E.M.

Secondary … Theatrical … Exaggerated … Movements.

To put it more plainly, reactions to contact that are secondary/theatrical/exaggerated movements will be identified as flops.

The “secondary” aspect was highlighted with a video clip of Minnesota Timberwolves big man Rudy Gobert, who threw his body back long after absorbing contact in the paint. The Miami Heat’s Kyle Lowry was featured in a clip that qualified as “theatrical,” as he took a hit on the sideline from Smart and threw himself over the nearby scorer’s table and nearly into the stands (interestingly, this play also illustrated that there can be a flop call on a defender on plays where an offensive foul is called as well).

“If all Kyle does is go down there, then the contact and the reaction to it would be aligned,” McCutchen said.

In terms of “exaggeration,” McCutchen shared three identifiers of flops.

  • Considerable distance traveled by flopping player
  • Excessive flailing of limbs (e.g., “double arm circles”)
  • Potential to have injured another player as a result of having flopped

“The only thing that’s changed is that there’s a very small percentage of these … that we’re now going to penalize,” McCutchen said. “We’re doing a good job of non-calling these now. All we’re adding is a layer at the top (where) we really want to get rid of these overt actions.”


Here are a few more details about the flopping rules …

  • If a flopping call is missed in a game but discovered afterward, then the offending player will be fined $2,000.
  • The non-unsportsmanlike technical foul that comes from a flopping call doesn’t count toward a player’s possible ejection (it takes two unsportsmanlike technicals to be ejected).
  • If flopping is called on the same play where another player is called for an unsportsmanlike technical, then the two technicals still offset one another (despite the flopping call being non-unsportsmanlike).

Second coach’s challenge added

In the other major rule change for the upcoming season, coaches can earn a second video-replay challenge if they are successful with their first.

In this scenario, McCutchen said a coach who successfully challenges an official’s call earns another challenge and retains his timeout. If he uses that second challenge, he loses a timeout, regardless of the success of the challenge.

McCutchen also said offensive players would not be able to draw “rip through” fouls against defenders if they are not attempting to make a play toward the rim.

Required reading

(Photo of Kelly Olynyk and Jayson Tatum: Winslow Townson / Getty Images)

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