What Would Basketball Be Like If Multiple Basketballs Were On The Court At The Same Time?

For nearly a decade, I have argued this idea in closed quarters, and wouldn't you know it, someone else has not only arrived at the same idea independently, but has the gumption to post it for public consumption. The idea, friends, is to play basketball with two basketballs at the same time.

The tone, as you might expect, is a joking one, but that should not deter us from imagining what playing, say, a Hawks-Magic game with multiple basketballs would actually be like. I'll project the results to the best of my ability:

With one basketball: Magic 88, Hawks 82.

With two basketballs: Magic 146, Hawks 113. The defenses, which have to deal with two threats simultaneously, are effectively divided and conquered. (NOTE: for logistical reasons, inbounding rules are done away with, and the ball is active at all times.)

With three basketballs: Magic 189, Hawks 125. As you can see, as more basketballs are put into play, the losing team's rate of scoring levels off while the winning team's rate of scoring increases.

With four basketballs: Magic 230, Hawks 138. With four balls on the floor, assists are de-emphasized and scoring is paramount. Orlando greatly benefits from being able to bring veteran scorer Gilbert Arenas off the bench. Arenas busts loose for 68 points, while Howard leads the team with 78 points and 113 rebounds.

With five basketballs: Magic 241, Hawks 147. You may notice that Orlando's rate of scoring is now beginning to level off. This is because once we place five basketballs on the court at once, we begin to encounter a simple traffic issue. On many occasions, two Orlando players shoot simultaneously, knocking one or both shots off trajectory.

With eight basketballs: Magic 409, Hawks 332. With the relatively low level of confusion presented by only five basketballs on the floor, neither team was sufficiently motivated to develop a sophisticated organizational model. With eight basketballs, however, outmoded one-ball thinking simply get the teams nowhere, requiring them to completely overhaul their strategies.

At this juncture, the point guard often doesn't even touch the ball; rather, he serves as a sort of "air traffic controller" who coordinates when his teammates shoot the ball. Players do not shoot the ball without clearance, because if they do, the time and effort spent on multiple shots may be wasted. Even a single ill-timed shot could cost a team three or four baskets.

With 10 basketballs: Hawks 960, Magic 703. This is the nexus of our thought experiment. In this scenario, there is precisely one basketball per player on the court. Sure, at first, players may scramble to grab multiple basketballs, but before long, everything normalizes.

Each player has a basketball. Teams simply remain at opposite ends of the court, heaving up shots in precisely-coordinated flurries. There is absolutely no defense; the game is now won by the team can score the most in a vacuum.

Here, we see these teams employ different strategies. The Magic simply stand in a half-circle facing the basket, take turns heaving up shots, and retrieve their own balls.

But the Hawks, for the sake of this experiment, try something different. They take the three players on their roster with the highest stamina, stand them close to the net, and have them take as many extremely high-percentage shots as possible. The two other Hawks on the floor are in charge of rebounding/retrieving the ball and handing them to the shooters. It's all about shot quantity for Atlanta, and the strategy pays off.

That final score, while rather loosely estimated, was not pulled entirely from thin air. In the Hawks' arrangement, it seems we could reasonably expect a shooter to score two points every six seconds or so (provided, of course, that players are substituted with reasonable regularity so as not to grow fatigued). 48 minutes of regulation allow for 480 shots at this pace, leading to the Hawks' total of 960 points.

With 20 basketballs: Hawks 967, Magic 712. Not much difference here. In the opening mad dash to find a basketball, there are more basketballs, so it stands to reason that a player will find himself closer in distance to a basketball, so his first shot figures to come a few seconds sooner. As such, there are a few more points added to both totals, but not many.

With 5,000 basketballs: Hawks 776, Magic 619. Efficiency begins to regress. 5,000 basketballs is far too many. The floor can still be seen, but simply moving about the court requires tiptoe movements to avoid injury.

With 11,775 basketballs: Hawks 417, Magic 355. According to my calculations (please allow a modest amount of room for error), this is the highest number of basketballs that could be on a basketball court (including bench/photographer areas), while still making room for the players themselves, without any basketballs sitting on top of one another.

The once-simple practice of getting one's person on and off the court is so unreasonably tedious that substitutions are no longer worth it. The shooters, therefore, are fatigued for much of the game, and the scoring continues to regress.

With 82,400 basketballs: Magic 88, Hawks 82. A 6'11 player such as Zaza Pachulia is approximately nine basketballs tall. The Hawks will need him now more than ever, because while some of the roster would be literally buried up to their noses in basketballs, Pachulia is merely armpit-deep, and can at least still shoot the ball.

Obviously, though, it's still an extremely laborious effort. The shooters can make some space for themselves by chucking some of the balls in front of them behind their backs, but the gradual basketball erosion will make this solution a temporary one. (NOTE: standing on top of a basketball is considered a "kicked ball" foul, so the players cannot simply stand atop a mountain of basketballs.)

Howard is the most effective close-range shooter on the court who is tall enough to shoot, and the Magic come away with the win.

With 155,000 basketballs: Magic 16, Hawks 6. The sea of basketballs is now almost at rim height. Scoring is largely an incidental consequence of the players' frenetic thrashing underneath.

With 3,532,500 basketballs: score unknown. This is a very rough estimate of how many basketballs it would take to fill up the Hawks' Philips Arena to the ceiling, as well as filling every other area of the stadium. There's absolutely no reason to believe that anyone will be able to score. Then again, none of us can see the scoreboard.

With 5,000,000 basketballs: okay, I think we're pretty much good.

With 170,486,530 basketballs: Come on, that's enough.

With 379,818,410,998 basketballs: Wh-- what are you doing?

With 44,728,944,513,101,052 basketballs: OH MY GOD I'M NOT JOKING PLEASE STOP

With 9,548,618,324,265,551,648,381 x 10^973 basketballs: END SIMULATION

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