The boy who cried "flop!"

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
12:50
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Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
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HoopIdea is on the warpath to end flopping. After reading Henry Abbott's proposal on the topic, Kevin Pelton tweeted "I call my solution to ending flopping 'The boy who cried flop.'" Here's how the Basketball Prospectus guru would discourage flopping.

Flopping is a crime. I don't mean that literally, of course; nobody wants to see a starting point guard led off the court in handcuffs for trying to take a charge. Within a basketball context, however, exaggerating contact is a way of unfairly subverting the game's rules for personal (and team) gain. So I think it's useful to consider crime theory when we talk about flopping.

Criminologist Larry J. Siegel argues that before going through with a crime, an individual subconsciously evaluates "the risk of apprehension, the seriousness of the expected punishment, the value of the criminal enterprise, and his or her immediate need for criminal gain."

When it comes to crime, most of our discussion is about the merits of making the expected punishment more severe, which is known as deterrence theory. For instance, consider Shane Battier's proposal.

Here's the thing that separates basketball from law enforcement: We have the ability to change the benefits of flopping and not just the consequences of it. Nobody flops because it's fun, or cool. They do it because it works.

So what if it didn't?

In the heat of the moment, it's difficult to distinguish legitimate contact from award-winning acting, which is why the flop exists in the first place. But as Henry Abbott described, the challenge is to use the best tools available to really identify who is flopping. Over time, we can pick out the floppers, which TrueHoop did earlier this week.

Surely, referees and the league must have this same knowledge. Let's put it to use and hold notorious floppers to a higher standard. The league office sends memos to referees to watch for certain things all the time. Why couldn't one of them be something like a top 10 list of the league's biggest floppers, to be shared with the teams themselves? These players could still draw charges, but close calls might go against them because of their very reputation.

As distasteful as this might sound to anyone who thinks referees should be blind, the whole reason we're having this conversation is because flops are incorrect calls. Accounting for reputation would improve the quality of our refereeing in the short term. Over time, I think it could reduce the incentive to flop without changing the rules whatsoever. Hold notorious floppers to a higher standard and let them know that their reputation cost them on a play that could have gone either way. In the short term, this should make for more accurate calls. Over time, I think it could reduce the incentive to flop without changing the rules whatsoever.
Beckley Mason is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com.

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