Last season, there were 164 hack-a-player free throws taken in the NBA season. While the strategy drew attention in the playoffs when the Clippers and Rockets took turns hacking DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver blew off the idea of rule changes because only a couple of players were involved in nearly every case.
This season the league is nearing 300 hack-a-player free throws and likely passes that number before the All-Star Game. It’s not just a couple of players or a couple of games involved anymore.
That seems to be sparking some league action. Slowly. Eventually. Silver talked about the change in his mind on the A to Z Podcast from Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgett of the USA Today, and they wrote about the highlights.
“I’m increasingly of the view that we will be looking to make some sort of change in that rule this summer….
“Even for those who had not wanted to make the change, we’re being forced to that position just based on these sophisticated coaches understandably using every tactic available to them,” Silver said. “It’s just not the way we want to see the game played….
“Clearly that’s not a natural basketball move,” he said. “That’s something that, in my view, we need to address quickly because ultimately there’s nothing more important than the health and safety of our players. Again, I think that’s an accident waiting to happen with guys jumping on each other’s shoulders just trying to attract officials’ attention to call a foul.”
That gets to the heart of it for me. You can say “just make your free throws” but I would counter “just play basketball” — and intentionally fouling a guy 50 feet from the play is not basketball. Free throws exist as a chance for a player fouled trying to score to get his points, or as a punishment for teams that foul too much, it is not a basketball litmus test.
Still, don’t expect an outright ban.
Another person familiar with the process said he doesn’t think there is enough support to ban Hack-A-Player outright. He said initial change will be incremental, eliminating loopholes to the rule such as one player jumping on a player’s back during a free throw attempt.
There are easy fixes here, at least in my mind. I would say the fouled team should have the choice of free throws or the ball out-of-bounds — if you foul J.J. Redick off the ball the Clippers should be able to punish the other team with points, but if they foul DeAndre Jordan they just inbound the ball and the game goes on — like a real basketball game.
Other options suggested were to allow teams a limited number of off-the-ball fouls (which is a logical inconsistency to me, how is it allowed then not allowed?) or, after a certain number of intentional fouls, the aggrieved player gets one more free throw (so, slow the game down even more).
One way or another, it sounds like a rule change is finally coming. However incrementally.