Freedom of Movement

We give a lot of lip service to officiating “freedom of movement.”  Let’s take a few moments and talk about the important aspects of this difficult officiating issue.   A synonym for freedom is “liberty.”  It is our job as basketball officials to insure that all players, both offensive and defensive players are at liberty to move anywhere on the court without being illegally hindered.

Dribble Drivers
When basketball officials think “freedom of movement’ (FOM) most of them think about the dribble driver.  Football officials have a saying that refers to defensive backs and offensive linemen.  That saying is “when they’re beat they cheat.”  Defensive basketball players often fall into that same line of thought.  When a defender is beaten by his opponent who is driving to the basket he/she will likely do illegal things to slow up, knock off balance or reroute the dribbler.  It is our job as officials to see that if illegal acts occur they are penalized.

The defenders are likely to use their hands on the defenders hips to mitigate speed and quickness.  They are not above using their forearms, hoping you will not call them for “hand checking.”  One of the newer techniques is to have both hands up in the air to show the officials that their hands and arms are legal only then to “belly bump” or “knee hook” and praying you will be fooled.

“Hard eyes” and “RSBQ” are both excellent weapons in the official’s arsenal to referee FOM plays.  “Hard eyes” is a technique used to focus on the defenders hands, forearms, belly and knees when contact is imminent.  Many officials try to referee contested dribble drives with “soft eyes” or try to look at the play as a whole rather than at the actual place of the contact itself.  Zero in your eyes on what the defenders arms and hands are actually doing on a contested dribble drive.

“RSBQ” refers to the dribble driver’s rhythm, speed, balance and quickness.  If any of these four physical tools along with loss of the ball are compromised by illegal contact by the defense a foul has been committed and should be penalized.  RSBQ is a valuable guide to help us as officials make tough decisions within an appropriate time line.

Players without the ball who are “cutting” to the basket are the heart and soul of many offensive schemes that involve a great deal of “movement.”   The freedom of this movement is essential to the success of these offenses.   Often defenders like to “send messages” to these cutters in the form of shoulder bumps and elbow pops to try to physically intimidate cutters or to reroute them.  Rerouting upsets the timing of the offensive set and changes passing lane angles.

In the three-person officiating system officiating cutters is often the responsibility of the Center official.  If the center official is a “ball hawk” and doesn’t focus on what is happening in his/her primary the offense is often put at a disadvantage and the game gets rougher and more physical.  Games should be won on the floor not in the weight room.

Not all cuts originate from the weak side, so leads and trails have to be aware of cuts from the strong side as well.  The back cut from the strong side for instance, is often defended by a grab or hold by a beaten defender.

This video is a good example of illegal contact on a cutter.

Officiating screens is a big part of making sure freedom of movement is ensured.  There are screens for a stationary ball handler and there are screens for a moving ball handler.   Refereeing a screen on a stationary ball handler is for the most part a one official play and it is usually the trail in a three-person system that covers this play.  One key to officiating this play is to have enough cushion that the screener can be seen approaching the site of the screen.  Too close and the screener comes into the covering official’s visual field too late.  Another key is to expect the screen and be looking for it. Understanding the offense is a big help in knowing when and where a screen is likely to be set.  Watching a team in the JV game will probably give you a key to the varsity’s offense as well.

Covering the screen on a moving dribbler is usually a two official play.  If the screener comes from the Center official’s area the center probably needs to help with this play.  Same holds true for the Lead.  A screen for a moving dribbler is a difficult play to officiate for the primary official.  There is just too much to look at for one official.  This is where the three-person system has a big advantage over the two-person system.  Usually this is a one official play in the two-person system.

Covering off ball screens is often the Center official’s responsibility.  Again, understanding the offense and anticipating when and where the off ball screen will occur will go along way in getting these plays right.  The off official must do an excellent job of staying in his/her primary in the two-person system.  Ball hawks never see off ball screens.

High Post Screens
Many teams are utilizing the high post to “pic” off defenders who are guarding dribbling guards.  This “hedge” play is often followed by a roll by the post to the basket.  Often times this “roll” is really designed to screen a defender who has tried to “go under” the posts screen.  This high post screen is often a two official play with the Center official playing an important role in watching the legality of the screen.

Post players are increasingly setting illegal screens on their own defender dislodging him when a dribble driver is going to the hole and effectively keeping the post defender from “helping on the drive.”  Often both or all three officials are focusing on the driver and do not see the illegal act by the offensive post.

This is a good example of an illegal pic by a high post man.

This is a good example of an illegal pic by a high post man.

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