Why Changing the “Hack-a” Rule Isn’t as Easy as it Seems (and Frankly Shouldn’t be Done)

Photo courtesy of poundingtherock.com

Photo courtesy of poundingtherock.com

After a near three hour basketball game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, all types of people were chiming in on the tactic Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale used early and often throughout the first half. Game 4 between the Rockets and Clippers would have certainly exceeded the three hour mark had it not been for a dominating second half performance by the Clippers, propelling them to a 128-95 victory.

DeAndre Jordan was the center of attention once again for something he CANNOT do. The Rockets intentionally fouled Jordan, sending him to the free throw line where he shot a dismal 40 percent in the regular season. His average is up to around 42 percent in this postseason, but that is a much smaller sample size. (Side Note: DJ’s form on free throws looks pretty damn good. I still cannot figure out how more do not go in)

The “Hack-a-(insert a player’s name here who gets paid to play basketball and can’t make FREE throws)” strategy is just that: a strategic move. Why wouldn’t you disrupt the entire flow of the other team’s offense by making them stand around and watch their worst free throw shooter slowly approach the line?

The only argument people really have against the “Hack-a-player” strategy is that it is not entertaining to the majority of fans. I find it to be the complete opposite actually. You’re telling me you don’t want to see how many FREE throws a professional athlete is going to miss before his coach has to take him out of the game? I am always so curious when the hacking is going to stop, why it’s going to stop, and how all of those fouls will impact the rest of the game.

As much as I truly am entertained I do see where people like J.A. Adande are coming from when they write a piece like this. Or tweeting things like this after I say I changed the channel TO THE GAME once I saw online that the Rockets were repeatedly intentionally fouling:

Just in case you were not sure where I stand on this strategy by now, there you go. The 7 guys I refer to is the approximate number of poor enough free throw shooters that coaches would ever consider fouling intentionally.

When the NBA changes the rules this offseason (because as much as I don’t want them to, they are going to) it will be for 1-2 guys who continually find themselves being sent to the free throw line. Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan are going to be the two reasons why a league wide rule is changed. That drives me nuts, especially when it seems like Jordan does not care that he continues to get fouled.

Why does it seem like I am the only person who found my blood boiling after watching this? Sure, I agree, it’s funny. It just seems like Jordan doesn’t even care that he cannot shoot free throws. As I said above, this entire debate over the “Hack-a-player’ goes away if DJ shoots 60 percent. That means he only has to make 6 out of every 10 free throws he takes! Let’s not forget people it is his job.

Other players have been in his situation, constantly getting fouled, and worked at getting better at shooting free throws. One player that comes to mind is Gregg Popovich’s own Tiago Splitter. Splitter was a player that was getting intentionally fouled (not to the extend of Jordan the other night, but) and over one summer brought his free throw percentage up from 54 percent in 2010-11 to 69 percent in 2011-12. This clip from the post game interview after Game 4 makes me think Jordan is waiting for the league to bail him out rather then get better himself.

What should the NBA do?

I agree with just about every former player when they say the league should do nothing this offseason and the guys should just learn to make their free throws. Since a large number of people are saying the “Hack-a-player” is not entertaining the league is going to change it.

Now the question becomes how should the league address this “issue” so that is fairly solves the problem for both teams. Instituting the final 2-minute rule throughout the entire game unfairly solves the problem and favors the team with the player who cannot shoot free throws. Giving teams 1 or 2 free throws and the ball bails out the bad free throw shooters and allows them to stay in the game.

A rule like this would also puts a lot on the referees who would have to decide what is “intentional” and what is not. Don’t think for a second Pop would come up with another way to foul DeAndre without it being considered “intentional,” and I am now very interested to see what he could come up with.

This “Hack-a-player” strategy is so interesting to me because of the situation it puts coaches in. Let’s think back to the Spurs/Clippers series when Pop went to the hacking strategy in most of the games. Before I go any further let me refresh your memory on what Pop thinks of the “Hack-a” strategy, via Dan McCarney of the San Antonio-Express News:

 “If someone can’t shoot free-throws, that’s their problem. As I’ve said before, if we’re not allowed to do something to take advantage of a team’s weakness, a trade should be made before each game. ‘We won’t foul your guy, but you promise not to block any of our shots.’ Or, ‘We won’t foul your guy, and you allow us to shoot all uncontested shots.’ So we’d have to make a trade. On an intellectual or principle basis, I think you’re on high ground. Now, visual-wise, it’s awful. It couldn’t be worse. I tend to side on the principle side where it’s basketball, and we have a guy who can’t shoot and it’s an important part of the game, I should probably get him off the court.”

Spoken as only Pop could. As much as Pop was trying to be funny here, I think the league should really consider a trade off of sorts when making the new rule to prevent hacking. DeAndre Jordan had to come off the floor at times because Pop continued to foul and DJ continued to miss. That is a huge advantage the Spurs got because DJ could not make free throws.

While DJ is shooting all of these free throws lets not forget that his Clipper teammates are not getting shots. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get neutralized and are forced to stand and watch as DJ struggles to make FREE throws. It’s thing like this that I think the league has to keep in mind when putting a rule in place.

The other debate is whether this strategy even works. Most of the time both teams score very close to the same amount of points while this strategy is being used, but for the reasons I said above I think the strategy impacts others parts of the game. I think the strategy works and should be allowed to be used as long as their are guys who struggle to make free throws. As I have said and will continue to say: If they make their free throws this all goes away.

Please do not forget this entire debate is over those shots players get 15 feet away from the basket when no one is allowed to guard them. Players can improve their free throw shooting (see Tiago Splitter among others), and it’s not like certain players’ “big hands” scientifically prevent them from improving. With enough practice I do not think it’s unreasonable for a player to shoot 60-70 percent, which would then stop the hacking. You know what they say, practice makes perfect. These player have care enough to improve, and not get bailed out by a rule change.

We do not see other leagues changing their rules because certain players (in this case, a very small number of players) are inept at a certain skill. Should baseball teams not be allowed to shift their defenses because certain players struggle to hit to a specific side of the field? Should the NBA make a rule to force defenses to leave guys who cannot shoot threes open? How about guys who cannot play defense in the NBA? Should they be allowed to stay on the floor without their weakness being exposed? Changing the rules for entertainment purposes is one thing, but nothing is ever that simple.

Game 4 between the Rockets and Clippers will be used as exhibit A when league officials sit down to discuss the “Hack-a-player” strategy. DeAndre Jordan went 10-28 from the FREE throw line in the first half of that game. I’d like to think I could shoot better than DJ from the free throw line with my eyes closed.

The NBA will probably change the rule, I just hope they do not lose sight of the real problem at hand here: guys not being able to make free throws. I just hope the league doesn’t let these few players who suck at shooting free throws off the hook.

Updated 5/13/15 

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