NEW YORK – So long, Hack-a-Shaq.
After years of debate over whether the strategy of fouling a weak free throw shooter in order to force him to take foul shots has a place in the NBA, it appears the league will find a way to eliminate the practice this summer.
“It’s not unanimous, but there’s clearly an emerging consensus that we need to address the situation,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors on Thursday afternoon at the league’s midtown Manhattan headquarters. “Exactly what the new rule should be is open for debate, and at least I’m hoping that between now and the next owner’s meeting in July we can create and form a consensus as to what the change in the rule should be.”
The practice has been the subject of nearly endless contention. On one side are people who say that terrible free throw shooters shouldn’t be essentially protected because they are unable to make them. On the other are those who say that intentionally fouling players and watching them brick one free throw after another — like Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond, who went 4 for 16 from the foul line in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night – is boring and diminishes the enjoyment of the game.
Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s vice president of basketball operations said it has been easy to note the explosion in use of the strategy this season, and that the league’s competition committee would be taking up a discussion this summer to try and find a way to fix the problem.
“It goes against the spirit of the rule book,” VanDeWeghe said. “Free throws were to compensate and deter fouls, not to encourage them. So I think we’re at the point where everyone agrees on that, not to belabor that, so what are the solutions?”
As recently as last summer, Silver was against a rule change. But after an increase in the practice this season, he’s changed his tune.
“Last year I was on the fence,” Silver said. “I said last year to this group, and over the summer, was let’s look at one more season of data. At [the all-star break in February], we were roughly at four times, in terms of that portion of the season compared to prior seasons, and by the end of the season we were up 2.5 times. By the way, last year’s playoffs were 10 times from the previous year’s playoffs as well.”
Silver acknowledged that for some teams with terrible free throw shooters — such as Drummond, Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard — there would be some level of competitive advantage. But he also pointed to the fact that over the past 50 years, free throw accuracy league-wide has remained steady at almost exactly 75 percent.
In other words, as some players get better at free throws, others get worse.
The thing that seems to have moved Silver more than anything on this issue was the impact the practice has on the length of games. Silver has been conscious of the length of games since becoming commissioner – including trying out a 44-minute game in an exhibition in Brooklyn, a proposal that fell flat – and said the practice’s impact on television has become an issue.
“One of my concerns from a business standpoint is when Hack-a-Shaq happens three or more times in a game, it adds approximately 11 minutes to the game,” Silver said. “Putting aside whether you like watching guys who can’t shoot free throws be placed in those pressurized situations and seeing if they make free throws, whether that’s good television or not, from our national broadcaster’s standpoint, it’s become a real business issue when many of our games are dramatically exceeding two-and-a-half-hour windows we have scheduled in our national broadcast window. …
“That’s one of the reasons why I feel the need to address that rule.”