It’s Time for a Kinder, Gentler Hack-a-Shaq

Although there are many arguments on both sides of the “should Hack-a-Shaq be allowed in the NBA?” question, currently it is the law of the land. Regardless of which side of that argument you’re on, all of us (okay, most of us) don’t want to see a player get injured because someone tried to put him on the free throw line.  Shaquille O’Neal, the inspiration for the term “Hack-a-Shaq”, had his thumb broken when he was intentionally fouled while playing for the Orlando Magic.  So the idea that a bad free throw shooter can get injured and miss games being intentionally fouled is based on history.

A simple rule change in one situation can help to avoid injury to a player being targeted because of being FT%-challenged (how’s that for PC?). It could actually be implemented immediately.  And if the NBA doesn’t do it now, they’ll end up doing it after a player gets seriously injured and his insurance company comes calling to the Association asking why they should pay for the injured player’s salary when the injury was caused by a bad rule and could easily have been prevented with some common sense.  Maybe the insurance company will try to recover money by suing the player who caused the injury.  Maybe they’ll sue his team.  If you don’t think that could happen at some point, you need to read more about insurance companies.

On Christmas Day, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova was instructed to intentionally foul Golden State’s Andre Iguodala as the Cavs tried to make a last minute run to come from behind at the end of regulation.  The way Dellavedova fouled Iguodala, jumping on his back as soon as LeBron James released his free throw, was legal according to the current rules.  As you can see in the video, it was also very dangerous.

AI is listed at 6’6” and 207 pounds while Dellavedova is listed at 6’4” and 198 pounds.  We’re lucky that Iguodala isn’t being treated for a separated shoulder or a back injury.  AI had almost 200 pounds of shorter player land on his back and shoulder while he was jumping up and both gravity and Dellavedova were pulling him down.  If, instead, the Cavs tried to do that to Andrew Bogut, who has a history of injuries and was recently dealing with back spasms, we’d be very lucky if this very legal tactic didn’t cause a significant injury to the Warriors’ center.

And it’s not all fun and games for the guy doing the fouling. Dellavedova could have fallen off AI (or been thrown off) and gotten hurt after landing on the hardwood floor after more than a 6-foot drop.  The potential for injury to both players on this type of play is significant.

This isn’t the only time this type of mugging has occurred in 2015. As Jeff Van Gundy said in the video, J.J. Redick did it earlier this season.  And in last year’s playoffs, Chris Paul tried to mount Dwight Howard after a missed Clipper free throw in what I thought was the launch of “NBA After Dark”.

Intentionally fouling off a free throw is currently dangerous. Since big men tend to be the favorite targets for Hack-a-Shaq, you’ve got a player close to the backboard looking to rebound from a standstill, he’s going to be jumping, and he’s looking at the rim, not the person who intends to foul him.  Unlike the Hack-a-Shaq tactics of fouling away from the ball with the clock running (where the defender tends to just wrap his arms around the designated Shaq) or when the bad free throw shooter is trying to score a field goal (where he knows he’s a target, can prepare for it, and is protected by flagrant foul rules), intentionally fouling after a missed free throw puts the player being fouled at a greater risk for injury.

What can be done? Since Hack-a-Shaq is a strategy or a tactic (depending on your definitions) and coaches are responsible for coming up with strategies and tactics, let’s have the coach who wants to have the player fouled tell the referee that he intends to have designated fouler so-and-so foul designated Hack-a-Shaqee so-and-so if the free throw is missed.  Then, the following happens:

  1. The shooter hits the free throw and play resumes as normal. If the coach wants to employ Hack-a-Shaq, the much safer “wrap your arms around him” tactic can be used once the ball has been inbounded.
  2. The shooter misses the free throw and the defensive team comes down with the rebound. At that point, the ref blows the whistle and calls a foul on the designated fouler, who should have been lined up right next to the designated Hack-a-Shaqee prior to the free throw being released. The designated fouler would not have actually fouled the designated Hack-a-Shaqee but, since the coach had already told the ref who would be doing the fouling, the foul would be assessed appropriately.
  3. The shooter misses the free throw and the offensive team retains possession. At that point, the game continues and no Hack-a-Shaq foul is called.

We see coaches tell refs their strategies and tactics in other sports and other situations. Many times, a coach will tell a ref that if thus-and-such happens, he plans to call time out.  This eliminates the potential for the clock to wind down because the ref doesn’t hear the coach screaming for a timeout at the end of a play.

Making this minor rule change will help to protect the NBA’s players from injury while they keep trying to become better free throw shooters. And since this type of dangerous fouling only happens when the clock is stopped and a team is lining up for a free throw, it’s entirely in the ref’s control.  That means that the NBA can make the rule change now.

Let’s make this a kinder, gentler Hack-a-Shaq, before someone gets seriously hurt.

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