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Are intentional ‘hack-a-player’ fouls good for NBA?

May 19,2015 - Last updated at May 19,2015

USA Today (TNS) 

Hall of fame basketball coach Don Nelson used Hack-A-Whoever. “It’s very effective,” Nelson said in one breath. “You’d be silly not to use it.”

In the next breath, Nelson said, “I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s good for basketball.”

San Antonio Spurs coach and basketball philosopher Gregg Popovich, who also employs the strategy and did so in his first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, understands the NBA’s predicament.

“On an intellectual or principle basis, I think you’re on high ground,” Popovich said of the tactic. “Now, visual-wise, it’s awful. It couldn’t be worse. I tend to side on the principle side where it’s basketball, and if we have a guy who can’t shoot and it’s an important part of the game, I should probably get him off the court.”

In Game 2 between Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets on Wednesday, the teams combined to shoot 96 free throws, including 64 by the Rockets. Houston centre Dwight Howard was 8-of-21 from the line and though Clippers centre DeAndre Jordan was 4-of-6, Clippers coach Doc Rivers removed him from the game during a stretch of the game’s final minutes.

It has become — to some critics — a blight on the product. It’s not a question of viable strategy. Teams have taken what was supposed to be disadvantage (fouling) and turned into an advantage (putting poor free throw shooters on the foul line). Now, there is some disagreement about the strategy’s effectiveness.

The question is: Should it be strategy at all? Should the league eliminate intentional backcourt and frontcourt fouls with no play on the basketball?

The NBA will grapple with the topic in the coming weeks. The league’s general manager meetings are scheduled for next week, and the competition committee generally meets during the NBA Finals.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he is undecided on the issue, and while Silver is open to ideas, he is cautious to make changes to the structure of the game.

“I don’t like it. Aesthetically, it’s not good, for a fan to watch it, even though I find the strategy fascinating,” Silver told Bleacher Report Radio. “On the other hand, the last time we discussed it at our board meeting several years ago, I remember Michael Jordan was at that meeting. Larry Bird was at that meeting, and the greats who were there, their reactions was, ‘Guys gotta make their free throws.”

Though it might ugly to watch, Silver said the data revealed that viewers are not changing the channel when Hack-A-Whoever is used.

Remember, Silver might be in charge but he alone doesn’t make changes, and it doesn’t sound like he feels strongly enough about to force change. The league’s competition committee will study the issue and make a recommendation. If the committee feels a change might be better for the game, owners must vote to approve the change. But if owners don’t mind the strategy or have coaches and general managers who like the strategy, it will be difficult for the league to eliminate it.

Popovich makes a case for keeping it.

“There will be a lot of discussion about the fouling, as there should be. But principle-wise, I feel really strongly that it’s a tactic that can be used,” Popovich said. “If someone can’t shoot free throws, that’s their problem.

“As I’ve said before, if we’re not allowed to do something to take advantage of a team’s weakness, a trade should be made before each game. ‘We won’t foul your guy, but you promise not to block any of our shots.’ Or, ‘We won’t foul your guy, and you allow us to shoot all uncontested shots.’”

Popovich gets to the heart of the game: Score as many points as possible and prevent the opponent from scoring, and if putting a poor foul shooter on the line prevents a team from scoring points, then the tactic shouldn’t be banned.

Fouls are part of the game and free throws are part of the game so fouling a player and making him shoot free throws should be part of the game. In baseball, intentional walks are part of the game, and it’s not like Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers can refuse an intentional walk.

Critics of the move says it’s not basketball, and SB Nation’s Tom Ziller is a proponent of banning Hack-A-Whoever. His solution, which has been trumpeted by others: Give the team fouled in the bonus the option of taking the ball out of bounds or shooting free throws.

TNT’s Reggie Miller believes the league will take action, eliminating the backcourt fouls where the defender grabs the poor free throw shooter away from ball. Miller also posits that if that happens, teams will also become clever and still find ways to put poor foul shooters on the line.

When asked about Hack-A-Shaq in European leagues, Blatt said the strategy doesn’t exist. “It’s considered unsportsmanlike,” he said.

“We have fouled players who are poor foul shooters, but in a legal and tactical fashion,” Blatt said. “There’s no such thing as Hack-A-Shaq. That’s one of the reasons I believe they can and should change the rule. ... You can’t foul a guy with no relation to the game whatsoever. And the referees are educated enough to understand when it’s a basketball play and when you’re grabbing a guy at the other end of the court who’s not involved in the play so as to purposely on the line. ...

“That’s one of those rules overseas that I think is better than what we have here.”

Time will tell if the NBA feels the same way.

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