The Coach’s Challenge Rule: Is It Actually Helping The Raptors?

By: Melanie P
Posted: March 7, 2020

Nick Nurse was the very first to use the newly initiated coach’s challenge in the NBA, during the season’s first game against the Pelicans.

The challenge involved an offensive foul laid on Normal Powell when he elbowed Josh Hart in the face on his way to the basket. The refs reviewed the situation but ultimately upheld the original call. Nobody was surprised.

You might expect that since they only get to use it once per game, most coaches would save the challenge until late in the game, waiting to see if something really big and important comes up. But in the beginning, at least, Nurse was pulling it out pretty early on. And since he didn’t actually win a challenge for quite a while, it could be said that these were wasted opportunities.

And when the coach DOES use a challenge, he also uses up one of the six timeouts given to their team. They ONLY have six! And if they don’t win the challenge, the timeout is completely wasted. Now, if they do win, the timeout is given back to them, so there’s that incentive. This means that all those times that Nurse used his challenge early on in the game and the call was upheld, he essentially wasted a timeout. And wasting a timeout is kind of a big deal.

Oh, and there’s more! Most people don’t realize this, but when a coach’s challenge is won, the result is often a jump ball. A win doesn’t even mean your team gets possession of the ball. It’s a jump ball! You’ve probably noticed that when a team calls a timeout during the last few minutes of a game, they get to move the ball up to half court. And they have possession of the ball (usually). Therefore, if you lose a coach’s challenge you lose a timeout that could possibly have been used to help your team move up the ball during the last crucial minutes of a game. Is it worth it?


When Nurse finally won his first coach’s challenge during a game against the Lakers on November 10 (a foul on Pascal), the whole team celebrated! Kyle fist pumped, Matt Thomas jumped off his seat… and Nurse did a lot of hugging. The joy was real! It wasn’t until November 26 that Nurse won his second challenge. Since then there haven’t been any instances that really stand out, so perhaps he’s learned his lessons.

Forbes reported in January that 84% of the 378 challenges issued (at that time) were made to reverse a given foul. These were overturned only 39% of the time. 12% of the total challenges were out-of-bounds related, and 76% of these were overturned. Only 4% of the total were related to goaltending, and 64% were overturned.

Forbes also stated that the league’s coaches have been using this new rule less frequently as the season has progressed; this is likely because they’re becoming more comfortable with the option and have learned when to use this tool and when to save it. Because of this decrease in frequency, the success rates have actually improved to 39% overall.

Nurse himself said that he doesn’t really like the new challenge rule. His reasons? Simple. Essentially, it’s the refs who make the original call and the refs who ultimately decide whether or not to overturn it. Is this fair? Yes, they consult with the replay guy in New Jersey, but it’s still the same person who called the shot calling the shots. Read that sentence again because it does make sense, I promise.

Other coaches have voiced their dislike of the new rule too, including Doc Rivers of the Clippers and Kenny Atkinson of the Brooklyn Nets  – who, by the way, actually won all five of his first challenges. If a guy who’s winning his challenges doesn’t like the rule? I feel like that says something.

Personally, I don’t think this rule has helped the Raps much at all so far. At first, when Nurse wasn’t really comfortable with this newfound opportunity and was using it too early in the game, it was causing the team to lose timeouts and was dragging the game out longer than necessary. Things are different now that he seems to be a bit more used to it, but the game still does drag on when a challenge is made.

The bottom line? The fact that Nurse was using his single challenge so early in the game was a bad way to start the season. But in my opinion, even now that he’s apparently got the hang of it, it doesn’t seem to be making a significant difference.

What do you think?

For more thoughts and opinions from Melanie, check out her author page.

Image Source: AP Images

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