Kewho Min weighs in on the prevalence of intentional fouls in the NBA.

Kewho Min weighs in on the prevalence of intentional fouls in the NBA.

As the NBA playoffs toil on, the Detroit Pistons are the latest team to be ousted in the early rounds. It was a close contest, but the Cleveland Cavaliers ultimately bested the Pistons with its young players whose boundless energy on the court is described as pesky. The hunger of the Pistons was no match, though, for one of the most underhanded tactics in basketball: The Hack-a-Shaq.

For those of you who don’t know, Hack-a-Shaq is a tactic where one or more players target a player on the opposing team who is a historically bad free-throw shooter. The opponent, the one who seemingly never makes a free-throw shot, is then fouled intentionally. Not once or twice, but repeatedly over the the course of a game.  

Look, I am not here to discuss the how and why a basketball player who is paid millions of dollars to practice the sport professionally can’t make an uncontested shot 15 feet away from the basket.  In fact, it will never make sense that there are players who expertly make layups and three-point shot sunder all the pressure and duress that a 6’10” forward can provide. Yet some of those same players repeatedly fail to make a foul shot, a basic shot, without anyone in their way. It’s befuddling, to say the least.

In basketball, free-throw shooting is an art. Not only is it an art, but it’s a make or break for wins and losses. Even science doesn’t seem to have a straight answer for why some players succeed at the shot and why others fail. In a 2012 analysis that appeared in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, researches concluded that each player misses in his own way. Translation: There’s no one thing that every bad free thrower is doing. 

So why does the NBA add insult to injury by turning a blind eye and allowing the “Hack – a – Shaq” tactic to force otherwise great players out of the game.  

Just this weekend, in the Cavs vs. Pistons face-off, star player Andre Drummond was benched in the game’s final moments, just when the Pistons needed him most. Coach Stan Van Gundy pulled him from the court after Drummond missed two more free throws following intentional fouls.  Quoted by ESPN.go, Gundy said: 

“Yeah, because you can’t do anything with him. He can’t run to set a screen, he can’t do anything. You’ve just got opportunities to foul him. Now would they have [worked]? I don’t know.”

To some the Hack-a-Shaq is viewed as a strategic advantage.  Yet many of the viewers on TV as well as in the stands see it as an unfair loophole. Reportedly, the fans aren’t the only ones calling foul play. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told CBS Sports that the NBA plans to address the prevalence of intentional fouling and to hopefully have a new rule in place at the start of the 2016-2017 season. 

Hearing that was music to my ears. In my opinion, this type of foul should be considered an unsportsmanlike play.  You can’t possibly compare it to other fouls, like blocking or reaching, that aim to prevent the opposing team of scoring.  Basketball has their flagrant fouls and their “clear path” fouls they call on the teams, but that does not seem to deter this concept of “Hack – a – Shaq”.  

In other sports, there are distinct penalties used to dissuade this type of play.  In hockey, if an opposing player has a clear path to the goal and the team trips them, a penalty shot is rewarded.  In international football, if a player commits a hard foul or a hand ball within the goal box, a penalty shot is rewarded.  We should keep in mind that 1 goal could be the difference between a team winning or losing the match or game.  In American football, an unsportsmanlike conduct foul will result in a 15 yard penalty and an automatic first down.  This could continue a drive to the end zone or a game winning field goal. 

If Silver is looking for recommendations about how to handle the issue, then I propose that when a “Hack-a-Shaq” foul is called, the individual who is fouled gets their 2 free throws as usual.  However, the free throw should come with consequences.  Say, each free throw will be worth 2 points a shot.  Sure, this does not penalize the team that fouled the player. And if the player were to miss, they wouldn’t be penalized in any way. But it adds an additional level of deterrence to the fouling team.  Now, they have to determine whether gambling away 4 points (if the player makes the shot) is worth the risk of committing the foul in the first place.

The bottom line is that these types of fouls are easy to spot. They are exposed for all to see and boo. So, why not make it more interesting for the fans and the game if those shots were worth more points?