Basketball fans have different reasons for liking the game. To me it’s the perfect balance of skill, strength and speed of any sport, and watching the top athletes in the world leverage those skills against each other is one of my favorite things to do. Nobody I know, however, has identified free throws as their favorite part of basketball.
When Shaquille O’Neal was tearing through the league like it was tissue paper, someone found a weakness: he couldn’t shoot free throws. They started fouling Shaq whenever he got the ball, and sometimes when he didn’t even have it, to send him to the line instead of letting him dunk over their overmatched center. This was the birth of Hack-a-Shaq.
If you listen to Shaq on TNT, whenever the topic of Hack-a-Shaq comes up, he immediately says it didn’t work, that he’d get into a rhythm and start making his shots when given the opportunity to take them over and over again. There are other arguments against intentional fouling as a viable defensive strategy. Even a 40 percent free throw shooter will score, on average, 0.8 points per possession when fouled. While this isn’t an impressive offensive clip, when a team needs a stop, they can’t always afford to slowly bleed points like this. Also, it can put your team in foul trouble, as committing a personal foul every play adds up on your players’ foul totals. It can also kill the rhythm and pace of the game. For some teams this is a good thing, but sometimes the fouling team’s offense will suffer from interrupting the pace of play and removing the fast break from the game.
Whether the tactic is effective or not, it’s still being used. Teams are intentionally fouling players who struggle from the free throw line, and this is causing many people to complain that it’s making the game less fun to watch. In an effort to increase watchability, people have proposed changing the rules to eliminate the strategy, and those rules might be on the way. But I don’t think we need to go so far as to change the rules to keep teams from exploiting a player’s weaknesses. I have a much simpler way to stop Hack-a-Shaq in its tracks: teach people to shoot free throws.
There’s not much excuse for any NBA player to make less than the league average of 75 percent of their free throws; the only thing getting in their way is pride. Rick Barry made 90 percent of his free throws shooting underhanded with two hands, colloquially known as “Granny Style.” It looks silly as hell, but it works. It guarantees perfect backspin and provides more control over the ball than a traditional jump shot. The downside is that it requires an incredibly slow release and can be blocked by a five year old, but without a defender present, it’s the perfect shot. I guarantee that I can teach any adequate basketball player, let alone a member of the NBA, how to make 80 percent of their free throws in only three hours of practice and training. The shot is that easy to learn and master. Again, it just looks silly. Swallow your pride, DeAndre and Dwight. You have my Twitter.