When we started this three-person officiating gig some 25 years ago the original thought was that the lead official was the most important official on the crew. If the lead got ball side when it was appropriate to do so, the crew would have a good strong game. That thought is still valid today and we still think that the lead is the official who puts his/her crew in the best possible position to officiate the plays by when he/she rotates.
If the lead rotates too soon or too late or doesn’t abort a rotation when it is appropriate to do so, there is a good chance the crew will not be in the optimum position to see the play.
And, of course the lead has primary responsibility for post play. The lead’s calls involving post action are vital to the entire crew having a good game. Processing displacement action and ruling on verticality plays are vital to a successful game for the officiating crew. So, yes the lead is an important cog to the officiating engine.
Then about 10 or 12 years a philosophy emerged that stated that the Center official was the key ingredient to a an officiating crew having a good game. “If the Center has a good game, the crew would have a good game.” This was and still is a solid philosophy. If the Center officials takes good care of ‘weak side’ or “off ball’ action the crew will certainly be stronger. This includes off ball screens, making sure they are set at least half way legally and are not too rough as far as elbows are concerned.
Also, the Center must make sure that “cutters” arriving and departing from the Center’s PCA are not waylaid, rerouted, “chucked” or held. Many offenses, especially those predicated on a lot of motion rely on their players to be able to run freely when cutting, back cutting and “flashing” to the ball. A good Center official who stays focused on his/her PCA certainly is a strong asset to the entire crew.
Additionally, a Center official who will not “run away” from back court pressure and who will be in a position the help the trail in pressing situations is worth his/her weight in gold to the crew. So, yes the Center is certainly a vital cog to the officiating crew as well.
Now, the current thinking is that it is the Trail official who holds the key to a strong game for the crew. It is the trail official who is the “on ball” official a huge majority of the time. So it makes sense that the trail official is “key” to the success for the crew. The trail has primary coverage in back court, which is especially important when the ball is being contested. The trail has beginning coverage on most dribble drives to the hole and is the official who calls the lion’s share of the hand checks, fore arms, belly bumps and holds. Illegal contact lives with the trail.
Consider also that the Trail is the crew’s travel calling official. This makes sense when you consider that the Trail is the covering official on the ball most of the time. Now, the trail is even being asked to take more responsibility for travel rulings in the post. The reason for this request is that the lead is often too close to the action to rule accurately on foot movement.
The trail is also asked to take more responsibility on weak side rebounding on which the Center is so often straight lined. Then, add the fact that the Trail administers all end line and sideline throw -ins in back court and all sideline throw-ins in front count and we can see how full the trail’s plate actually is.
So, the truth is that probably all three officiating positions are equally important. But, don’t discount your importance to the crew when you are in the Trail position. Keep it in high gear, focus on illegal contact, know that you have to be on top of the traveling situations and stay engaged with the dribble drive all the way to the hole.