Blog Home » NBA’s ol’ ‘Hack-a-Shaq’ strategy leads to split decision

NBA’s ol’ ‘Hack-a-Shaq’ strategy leads to split decision


We live in a sports era where you’re supposed to have “a take” – preferably a hot one – on every issue that arises.

Steph Curry or James Harden for MVP? Top 16 or eight teams per conference for playoffs? Cutting-edge boldness or flat-out weirdness for certain players’ fashions?

But every now and then, it’s OK to admit you’re not 100 percent one way or the other. It’s acceptable to acknowledge mixed emotions that cause an opinion to ping-pong. Saying “I don’t know” isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a confession that smart people aren’t afraid to make.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is a pretty sharp guy. And he’s as conflicted as yours truly on the controversy over “Hack-a-Shaq,” or more aptly, in honor of the Spurs-Clippers playoff series, “Hack-a-D.J.”

The Spurs employed the intentional-foul strategy to send brick-laying DeAndre Jordan to the free throw line 29 times in the first two games. He converted 38 percent and San Antonio came away with a split.

Silver once favored a rule change that would eliminate the foul-a-thons some teams employ when facing notoriously bad free-throw shooters like Jordan (.412 for his career) or Houston’s Dwight Howard (.573).

But now the commish is in the middle.

“I’ve gone back and forth,” Silver told the Associated Press recently. “I’ve sat in meetings with some of the greatest players like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird who said that players should learn to make their free throws and it’s part of the game.

“At the same time, it doesn’t make for great television. So I’m on the fence right now.”

A slew of whistles followed by tortured free throws makes for painful viewing. And whether it makes for brilliant strategy is debatable.

When the Clippers-Spurs series began, TNT flashed a graphic showing Los Angeles’ record when Jordan shoots a bunch of free throws. The team was 9-0 when it shot 15 or more (now 9-1 after he shot 17 in Game 2 loss). The Clippers also were 12-0 when he had at least 14 attempts and 15-2 when he had at least 12.

Those numbers suggest that teams are wasting their time – and definitely ours – while making a mockery of the game. It brings action to a halt, allows the Clippers’ to set their defense and takes the hackers out of rhythm offensively, virtually eliminating transition opportunities.

“It’s something we’ve talked about,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobli told reporters after Game 2. “Sometimes you have to make decisions. Doing that kind of forces us to play slower, play a lot of five-on-five, which is not that beneficial. But when we’re struggling defensively, it kind of gets them off, too.”

San Antonio blew out Los Angeles in Game 3 and Jordan had zero free-throw attempt. In Game 4 on Sunday, the Spurs committed just two intentional fouls on him (he was 0-for-4), but they went crazy on Chris Paul. San Antonio gave him six free throws in a span of 64 seconds, “fouls that were just absolutely meaningless for no reason,” coach Greg Popovich said.

That was dumb. Statistics suggest that intentionally fouling Jordan isn’t much brighter. Yet, like Silver said, the strategy can be “fascinating” in some cases.

“But in other games I watch it and I think, ‘Oh my God, I feel people changing the channels,” he told AP. “So we’re an entertainment property that’s competing against a lot of other options that people have for their discretionary time.”

He said team officials also have been guilty of changing their points of view. Not surprisingly, opinions can swing based on the roster. But the tactic will be debated in the coming months and a change is possible, perhaps allowing coaches to decline the free throws and maintain possession, or maintain possession after shooting the free throws.

Though hackathons are butt-ugly, they haven’t led me join the outcry for modified rules. We should be extremely cautious before eliminating one of the game’s fundamental acts – just because some players are terrible at it.

I’d like to hope coaches will examine the data and conclude that the strategy isn’t worthwhile, that it doesn’t increase the odds of victory enough to justify butchering the action. Yes, it’s legal to whack players who are minding their business but it’s also against the spirit of the game.

At the same time, the best way to make opponents cease and desist is to knock down the subsequent free throws, which doesn’t sound like too much to ask from professional ballers.

We’ll see what develops as NBA play continues. But at this point, on this issue, Silver and I have identical scorecards:

It’s a split-decision.

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