Slow basketball is not good basketball

The NBA has had a problem with intentionally fouling poor free-throw shooters since Shaquille O’Neal shot 52.7 percent from the free-throw line over his career. This strategy became known as the “Hack-A-Shaq,” which eventually garnered the Hack-A-Shaq rules that were intended to prevent teams from intentionally fouling players away from the ball in the final two minutes of the game. Instead, teams have taken to intentionally fouling poor free-throw shooters the rest of the game and making it unbearable for us to watch.

There are three players in particular that teams prefer to hack: the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond, Houston Rockets’ Dwight Howard, and LA Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan. None of these players are above 55 percent from the free throw line. To some degree it makes sense to foul one of these players and put them on the free-throw line. It’s almost a 1-in-2 chance they’ll miss and your team is likely to get the ball back without running too much time off the clock. It’s similar to baseball’s strategy of pitching around a player like the LA Angels’ Mike Trout to get to a .200 hitter.

However, what has become the Hack-A-Whomever strategy has slowed games to a snail-like crawl. The victims of this strategy are two-fold. Teams that like to run can fall victim to this strategy and lose their flow, and viewers are subject to a horrendous product. The NBA Champion Golden State Warriors built their offense around a free-flowing offense that moves at a quick pace up and down the court— currently second in pace in the NBA averaging 102.1 possessions per 48 minutes. How would this team look if they were slowed by free throws every trip down the floor?

Our own UVU men’s basketball team ran into this problem in a home game against Seattle U this season. Our Wolverines play a similar style with an offensive rating of 100.4 points per 100 possessions, according to Sports Reference, and were slowed by referees whistling a grand total of 48 fouls. The constant whistle allowed for no flow in the game and UVU played to a 73-62 loss. The game felt disjointed and choppy with the referees blowing the whistle with every breath of contact between players.

The NBA is looking into rule changes that would prevent the Hack-A-Whomever strategy from prevailing on nights where those who struggle from the free-throw line are running for their lives from guards looking to foul out. It’s bad basketball, bad TV and a bad strategy. Commissioner Adam Silver and his rules committee needs to come up with a new rule this offseason. My thought: give the intentionally fouled team the option of taking the ball out-of-bounds—even if they are in the penalty—rather than shoot free throws.

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