How does the new ball bounce? Does it pass or fail?
Updated: November 15, 2006, 4:18 PM ETBy John Hollinger | ESPN Insider
The NBA is using a new ball this year. Oh, you've heard? Without a blockbuster trade or stirring personal story to discuss, the controversy over the new ball was the league's biggest story in the preseason. Scores of players offered their opinions on the replacement sphere, few of them complimentary. Shaquille O'Neal fired the first volley, saying the ball felt like "one of those cheap balls you buy at the toy store, indoor-outdoor balls." Several others voiced similar sentiments, and this complaint isn't without merit. Maybe it's the orange color or the dimpled skin, but the new rock really does look like somebody bought it 10 minutes before game time at the local Hyphen-Mart. What's much more important than appearance, however, is how it performs. Several players and management types offered predictions about how the ball might change things, but until the season began it was all conjecture. But with a hundred regular-season games under our belt (OK, 99 technically) through Monday, we can analyze in much more detail how the ball is performing compared to the expectations. How's the handle? For instance, O'Neal opined that there'd be a sharp rise in turnovers thanks to the new ball, primarily because it can get slick when wet. The new rock is designed not to absorb water like the old leather balls did -- something which changed their weight and feel as a game went along -- but the trade-off is that the moisture stays on the surface of the ball, making it slick. O'Neal wasn't the only one forecasting future fumbles. "It's seems like the ball is slipping out of their hands a lot," said Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, while Suns guard Steve Nash added, "I'm having a hard time holding it and making some passes."
The verdict? According to data provided by 82games.com, players are losing the ball less on dribbles than they did a year ago (see "Lost balls" on chart). Through 99 games in 2005-06, teams turned the ball over 4.1 times per game on "lost ball" situations -- stolen dribbles, mis-dribbles, strips and similar plays where the ball handler was dribbling or holding the ball (but not passing, which is a separate category).
The early numbers should quiet the criticism of the new NBA ball.