Shoot for It: With Alex Lee '16 and John Beneville '16

by John Beneville and Alex Lee | 2/2/16 6:30pm

The “Hack-a-Shaq” has become a widely employed strategy in basketball. It involves identifying a member of the opposing team with a weak free throw percentage and purposefully fouling that player to send them to the free throw line. The ultimate hope is that the fouled player will miss the free throw and possession will go to the team that originally committed the foul.

Except for the last two minutes of a game, teams are able to do this at their discretion. However, some teams are taking the “Hack-a-Shaq” to more extreme lengths as the strategy becomes more accepted. The San Antonio Spurs recently fouled an inbounder before the ball was put into play. Matthew Dellavedova notoriously piggy-backed onto Andre Iguodala during a Golden State Warriors free throw.

Many coaches, players and analysts have complained that the “Hack-a-Shaq” goes against the spirit of basketball and have called for league commissioner Adam Silver to change the rules this off-season.

Today, we discuss what the NBA should do about the “Hack-a-Shaq.”

Alex’s Take:

Making free throws is part of the game. No player who’s getting paid millions a year should shoot below 50 percent from the stripe. Honestly, it’s embarrassing that some of the kids in West Gym have a better free throw percentage than DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard.

While some claim that the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy takes away from the spirit of the game, I think NBA players not having the dedication to work on their free throws to get above a coin flip threshold takes away from the spirit of the game. I’m not asking for anyone to become Ray Allen automatic, but a basic free throw competence should be met. Your weakness as a team shouldn’t be the other team sending one of your own players for a chance at free points.

It’s embarrassing — the sight of Howard stepping up to the line with his knees shivering like a little boy walking into the dentist’s office. (John tells me that he’s never been afraid of the dentist and has recommended I see Dr. Schinto. I’ve promised him that I’ll consider it.)

However, these forced free throws add a psychological perspective to the game that keeps me watching. It’s a fascinating aspect of the game when the most dominant player on your team becomes its biggest liability. Whether we like it or not, this mind-play has become a part of basketball.

Don’t change the rules — just make your free throws!

John’s Take:

I understand where Alex is coming from. “Free” throws should not be particularly challenging for professional basketball players.

Imagine that you’re Howard. Your entire life your main activity has involved putting a ball in a basket. During the second half of your life, in fact, you’ve been paid to put the ball in the basket. Every time you get to the free throw line, you stand in exactly the same spot, exactly the same distance from the basket, with exactly zero defenders in front of you.

Now picture this — you are so bad at your job, so bad at putting said ball in said hoop, that the other people in your profession have begun to give you two free shots, every 24 seconds, for entire quarters. You would think that by this point in your life and your career, with millions of dollars being paid to you every year, that more than 50 percent of these free throws would go in the basket. And so you can understand our frustration when this is not the case.

All of this aside, the question is whether or not the strategy of forcing poor free throw shooters to the foul line should be allowed. There’s no easy answer.

It’s absolutely true that this strategy slows the game down and makes for a much more boring sport to watch. When the final 10 minutes of gameplay take over 60 minutes of real time it becomes an ugly, slow game. The fact that we’re discussing this is especially crazy because players have every incentive in the world to improve their free throw shooting.

Players like Howard have their faults emphasized night after night, their teams suffer and so on. Surprisingly, Howard’s poor free throw shooting has been exploited for years, and it still hasn’t improved. It seems that some players, for unfathomable reasons, will never improve their free throw shooting.

Although I agree with Alex’s general sentiment, I disagree that the rules should continue to allow the “Hack-a-Dwight” strategy. The strategy has slowed the game down, made it less interesting and has actually given players like Howard more attention. How many close ups of him have we seen, standing at the line, grinning at the prospect of shooting two more free throws?

These players have never been serious enough to improve the holes in their game, and extra time in the spotlight may actually disincentivize improvement. An alternative strategy: Make intentionally fouling players without the ball a technical foul so that we can play basketball again.