This is apparently the summer of zany, experimental All-Star games. The WNBA will use its showcase Saturday afternoon to experiment with a couple rule tweaks, one of which is straight out of left field—or, well, straight out of hockey, the most dreaded sport of all.
Just as baseball’s independent Atlantic League used its All-Star Game last month to test out technology aimed at cleaning up the strike zone, the WNBA will use its All-Star Game as a trial run for two changes designed to ramp up the pace of play. The more reasonable of these changes is the lowering of the shot clock from 24 seconds to 20. There’s a direct and intuitive logic to this: in basketball, pace is measured as the number of possessions per 48 minutes; by shortening the number of seconds allowed per possession, the WNBA is directly increasing the pace of play.
Perhaps not satisfied that manipulating the shot clock will speed up the game enough, the WNBA will also experiment with live-ball substitutions. In addition to regular old, tried and true dead-ball substitutions, each team will be allowed to tag in one player per quarter during live play. Before you formulate any possible alternative justifications for experimenting with a change that exactly zero basketball fans have ever wanted, the WNBA’s website directly references pace of play as the explanation.
If you’re having a hard time imagining how offense will be improved by having an offensive player run over to the sideline and tag in a teammate, who will then have to sprint from midcourt in order to get into the action, all during a shortened 20-second possession, you are not alone. Lynx All-Star Napheesa Collier called the change “a little weird” and predicted “mass chaos.” With only one such substitution allowed per quarter, it’s a little hard to see how this experiment would cause mass chaos, but it’s even harder to envision how it would meaningfully influence pace of play, especially for the better. The likeliest effect of this will be felt by some poor player’s ankle, as she tries to crash her way into the action halfway through a possession.