Last Wednesday, Andre Drummond set a record that he would probably like to forget about. In a Pistons win over the Houston Rockets, Drummond shot 36 free throws and missed an NBA record 23 of them. At one point the Rockets subbed in little known bench player K.J. McDaniels to foul Drummond repeatedly, sending him to the charity stripe in an attempt to facilitate a Rockets rally. This most recent bout of “Hack-a-Whoever” has the NBA world again discussing the strategy and its merits in the game.
Back in April, Sports Illustrated ran a roundtable discussion: What should the NBA do about the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy? Suggestions included allowing the team being fouled to turn down the free throws, award the player being fouled three free throws, and having the NBA television partners improve their broadcasts to keep fans engaged during times of hacking. These suggestions could work, but at the end of the day they are unnecessary.
It goes without saying that intentionally fouling a bad free throw shooter slows down the game and allows a team trying to defend a force like Drummond to avoid having to defend him. Basketball in its simplest terms is trying to score on your opponent while on the other end trying to stop your opponent from scoring. When teams employ hacking, they are refusing to participate in one half of the game of basketball. While this points to fixing the “Hack-a-Whoever” method, other people around the NBA believe that by not allowing teams to intentionally foul players like Drummond, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan, you are eliminating those players biggest flaw and theoretically making it easier for those players and their teams to succeed. Having players who are bad at free throws not have to shoot their free throws is equivalent to saying teams aren’t allowed to double team or put full court pressure on a player who has a high turnover rate. A change in the NBA rules would never occur under the previous example, so it follows that it shouldn’t for players who struggle to shoot free throws either.
Although it isn’t necessarily good for the game, the snowball effect from changing an established rule in the game would be more harmful than the good that it would bring to the game. It isn’t beneficial for the game when the Spurs are allowed to intentionally foul a player who is out of bounds, or when Nerlens Noel jumps on Drummond’s back during a free throw. But it also isn’t good for the game to cater a rule to players who struggle at an established portion of the game. Coaches can either get together and agree to stop employing the strategy, opposing coaches can sub out players who struggle at the line, or players can get better at free throws. The strategy may even collapse on its own without any intervention from the league. Once more data is available teams could, on their own, move away from the strategy when they realize it is actually hurting their chances of winning. If a team fouled on every possession, even with a player only making 50% of his free throws, that still work outs to a high point-per-possession for the opposing team, a number that would be lower if the team fouling decided to not foul and play defense the right way, thus bettering their chances of winning.
If I go to a Pistons game, I want to see Andre Drummond on the court as much as possible, and I don’t want to see him on the bench in the fourth quarter because he struggles with making free throws. However, as Chauncey Billups said on ESPN, it is a tool in the toolbox, and if teams want to “Hack-a-Whoever” they should be allowed to.