One of the most contentious issues in the NBA over the past five years has been the re-emergence of the “hack-a-Shaq” rule.
For the uninformed, hack-a-shaq was a tactic designed to try and nullify the effect of superstar Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers centre Shaquille O’Neil had on the game. Teams would deliberately foul Shaq off the ball to send him to the free throw line as he made only 53% of the 11,252 free throws he took over his career.
The objective of the tactic was to make Shaq a liability for the team to keep on the court as often his team would end up scoring no points on their offensive position due to his free throw shooting. The idea was that this would hopefully result in the coach benching him to make the free throws stop.
Recently dominant big men such as Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond have experienced this tactic to even a greater extreme than Shaq.
These three players have proved themselves to be in the discussion to be the best centres currently in the NBA and excel in a number of areas, but are also historically bad free throw shooters. Over their respective careers Howard is shooting 57%, Jordan is shooting 42% and Drummond is shooting a historically awful 38% from the free throw line.
The tipping point for the hacking strategy came in the Detroit Pistons’ game against the Houston Rockets earlier this year where bench player KJ McDaniels fouled Drummond five times in just nine seconds and over the course of the game Drummond shot 36 free throws (only making 13 of them). The tactic succeeded in getting Drummond benched and brought the Rockets back into the game, but backfired when the Pistons actually started playing better with their star player off the court.
This incident divided the NBA community; many people wanted to abolish the hacking loophole in the rules while others believed that it was just a part of the game.
However, if the NBA wants it’s brand to keep growing it has to completely stamp out the hacking before next season.
While free throws are an integral part of the game, deliberately fouling players who are nowhere near the ball is not.
The NBA already half admitted this when they removed the ability to foul players off the ball in the last two minutes of the game a while back. Instead of the fouled player shooting free throws and the other team most likely getting the ball, the fouled team get free throws and possession.
If this isn’t an acceptable tactic for the last two minutes of the game then why is it acceptable for the rest of the game?
Additionally, the whole concept of a foul is supposed to be a punishment for the team that committed the offence. Having the player shoot free throws if a defended accidentally gets a little too physical while defending a shot makes sense as a punishment, but how is a foul supposed to be a punishment when a team can send on a bench player who wouldn’t get any minutes otherwise just to foul a bad free throw shooter? It makes as much sense as allowing a team that committed a shooting foul to pick which players are allowed to line up at the key to rebound a free throw.
I challenge you to find another sport where deliberately or accidentally breaking the rules, resulting in a foul or penalty, actually benefits the offending team.
It’s far more logical to eliminate this tactic completely. If you want to send an awful free throw shooter to the line actually foul them while they’re shooting or have the ball in their hands. The defending team still accomplishes what they want in sending them to the free throw line, but they also run the risk of giving up a three-point play if they make the shot.
What’s even more baffling is that the NBA is the only major basketball league in the entire world that uses these rules.
The next most highly regarded basketball competitions, the Euroleague and the NCAA both have rules in place to stop hacking, and even our very own NBL which has borrowed quite a bit from the NBA over its’ history does not allow this.
Many of those who are in support of the existing rules usually trot out the same argument that if these players don’t like the tactic they should simply get better at free throws. This is generally followed up by insinuating that these players who’s jobs are to play and practice basketball skills somehow don’t practice free throws, as if their coaches would allow them to neglect such a poor part of their game.
The fact is, most of these awful free throw shooters cant simply “get better”. Many awful free throw shooters throughout the NBA’s history have had pretty good shooting mechanics, but have been unable to overcome the mental battle that shooting free throws provides.
We saw evidence of this during Dwight Howard’s tenure at the Lakers where a photo of free throw shooting practice was shared, showing Howard had made 82% of free throws at practice, while he was only shooting at 49.5% during games that season.
Most importantly however, is the plain and simple fact that watching free throws is mind-numbingly boring. There are already a lot of complaints about how long the last two minutes of an NBA game takes to play, however the excitement of a close game often takes that away. But when you’re at the beginning of the third quarter and you’re watching the same player shoot free throws over and over again watching the game becomes tedious.
First you have the foul committed, the players slowly walk to their line ups and then the player will go through their routine and shoot the first free throw. Next you’ll often see substitutions or if you’re really unlucky, a timeout. By the time the free throw shooter shoots his second free throw almost a minute has gone by. A minute where everybody would much rather be watching actual basketball being played.
It’s not even about it just being boring to watch awful free throw shooters, as there have been extensive complaints from fans about the amount of times James Harden gets to the free throw line over the past couple of years and he’s an 86% free throw shooter across his career.
Surprisingly, television ratings during games featuring excessive hacking haven’t seen their numbers drop off significantly, but frustrations are definitely starting to build with fans and in an age where such vast amounts of entertainment are available the NBA should be making sure that it doesn’t progress to a point where television numbers suffer.
Moments like huge DeAndre Jordan dunks, Steph Curry pull up threes and Kyrie Irving crossovers are what the fans tune into see, so the less time spent standing around performing the most boring aspect of basketball should be a priority for Commissioner Adam Silver if he wants to continue to see the game grow.