Up until this season, the NBA had implemented a rule in the mid 1900’s with the goal of preventing off-the-ball fouls in the last two minutes of a game. The rule stated that if the defensive team commits an off-the-ball foul within the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, not only would the offensive team be allowed to keep possession of the ball, but they were sent to the charity stripe on top of that. Unfortunately, this did not have as big of an impact as the league was hoping for when it came to discouraging the use of what is now known as the “Hack-A-Shaq” strategy. Now, keep in mind that free throws were implemented into the game of basketball to deter players from committing fouls, not encourage them. However, we have learned over the years that it doesn’t take a Harvard graduate to come to the conclusion that it might be beneficial to send someone to the line who shoots foul shots at a lower rate than the 76ers win percentage.
This so called “strategy” came about in the late 1990s when Dallas Maverick’s coach, Don Nelson, implemented the infamous tactic on Dennis Rodman and the Chicago Bulls. Initially, the idea appeared to be a bust when Rodman proceeded to shoot 9-12 from the line in that game and the Bulls went on to win. The use of this game plan has sadly developed to the point where two years ago in the NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals, Deandre Jordan shot an NBA record 28 free throws in ONE HALF during Game 4 against the Houston Rockets. How long did this half last, you might ask? 84 minutes. Do you have any idea how many Nathan’s hot dogs Charles Barkley could eat in 84 minutes?
To the despair of the league and all basketball fans who look forward to tight games with close finishes, this style of play has done absolutely nothing but slow down the most enticing part of the game. These late-game, off the ball fouls have only continued to increase over the years. Having only occurred 26 times throughout the ENTIRETY of the 2010-2011 NBA season, these Hack-A-Shaq fouls were committed 420 times in the 2015-2016 season, which was a huge step up from the 179 in the season previous to that. Oh but no need to worry Commissioner Silver, that’s only a 1500% increase over 5 years… This is slowing down the game of basketball. Just look at the numbers. In the 2015-2016 season, on average, games that featured 3 or more off the ball fouls took an extra 11 minutes to play.
This has not become progressively boring for just me to watch. In fact, if you take a look at the average ratings per regular season games on NATIONAL broadcasting networks, the TV ratings for nationally televised games have dropped about 25% between 2010-2011 and last season. No, this has absolutely nothing to do with people regaining interest in the NHL. At the All-Star Break of last season, players were fouling off-the-ball four times as much as they were at the break in the 2014-2015 season. Also, as if the NBA playoffs didn’t last long enough before, the league experienced TEN times as many Hack-A-Shaq fouls in the 2016 playoffs as they did in 2015. “Playoffs?!” Yes, Jim Mora. The playoffs.
Since 2011, the average real-time length of NBA playoff games increased from 153 minutes to slightly over 160 minutes. Yes, regular timeouts happen to play a part in this increase, but while the amount of full timeouts only took a 1% jump since 2011, there was a 5% increase in the number of free throws shot in an NBA playoff game. (Note: Joey Crawford did NOT officiate every single one of these games.) From the perspective of an NBA fan, the last thing this league needs are the playoffs lasting any longer than they are right now. You could conceive a child on the eve of the NBA playoffs and almost be in your third trimester by Game 7 of the finals.
In an attempt to put a halt to the type of foul that occurred at a rate of 16 times greater last season than in 2011, the NBA announced three new rules that were going to be imposed this season.
- Any off-the-ball foul that occurs in the last two minutes of any period will result in one free throw and possession of the ball for the team that was fouled.
- Any foul that occurs before the ball is inbounded will also result in the same compensation in the above rule.
- Any excessively hard or deliberate foul will result in a flagrant. (Something tells me that this rule was put in place due to how stupid it looked to watch a 200-pound male jump on a 300-pound male’s back in order to get a foul called.)
Could this be beneficial? Yes. Will it make that much of an impact? No. As much as it will help speed up the last two minutes of every quarter, coaches have made us well aware that they have no problem using this tactic in the first 10 minutes of any quarter. I have come up with three different ways for the NBA to prevent fans from having to watch grown men play a hybrid of tag and hide-and-go-seek as the poor free throw shooters avoid getting fouled by the coach’s scrub of choice.
- Add on to one of the new rules created to state that any off-the-ball foul in the last FIVE minutes of the fourth quarter (keeping the same rules and regulations for the other quarters) will result in a free throw and possession for the team that was fouled. The last five minutes of the fourth quarter are long enough as they are. Don’t make fans sit and suffer through minutes and minutes of repeated intentional fouls and trips to the free throw line.
- The third off the ball foul throughout the ENTIRETY of the game committed by one team will result in a Technical Foul (in which the team chooses who takes the free throw). It seems that the only thing that is stopping professional athletes nowadays from breaking the rules is possibly missing time and costing their team points. Okay…maybe not in the NFL, but you get the point.
- Treat free throws that result from off-the-ball fouls like a free kick in soccer. No, this does not mean put on disturbingly short shorts to take the free throw. This would allow the team being fouled to decide which player on the court will shoot the free throw. My final suggestion is probably a long-shot, but since NBA players are starting to flop like soccer players, they might as well steal a couple of other ideas. My point being that there would be no point in fouling Deandre Jordan if Jamaal Crawford got to shoot the free throws.
At the end of the day, is it disappointing that some guys who are getting paid millions of dollars and have been playing basketball their whole lives can’t make a free throw? Beyond. However, I firmly believe that this is nothing more than a loophole to the defense that teams need to be playing in close game situations. You shouldn’t need Dwight Howard to go 1/12 from the line in order to make up a 10-point deficit in the last 6 minutes of a game. Play defense. Hit shots. No fan deserves to suffer through watching guys like Andre Drummond and Omer Asik brick fifteen free throws in a matter of three minutes. Sorry Commish, but its going to take a little more than the rules instituted this offseason to eliminate this strategy from the game of basketball.