Hack-a-Shaq. We hate it. You hate it. The NBA hates it. The problem is that the hack-a-Shaq tactic can be a smart and useful strategy that sometimes helps teams win important games. “Hack-a-Shaq” is typically used by teams who are facing a player who has a low free throw shooting percentage. By fouling that player while their team is in the bonus, it forces the player to take free throws, which he would most likely miss. Fouling like this stops the clock, and often results in only one or zero points for the opposing team. The strategy was given the name Hack-a-Shaq because it was used against Shaquille O’Neal (a dominant Center, but terrible free throw shooter) for the majority of his career.
Games get boring when Hack-a-Shaq is being deployed. Only one team is having offensive possessions, while the other is just shooting free throws. It’s hard to watch a player shoot five free throws in a row, and it’s even harder to watch a player miss five free throws in a row. Not to mention that this technique adds tens of unnecessary minutes to the game, which can make the last five game minutes end up taking 30 minutes. Along with spectators, the players dislike the Hack-a-Shaq strategy as well. They just want to play the brand of basketball they grew up learning, but sometimes it’s the best option. Even though it’s not sexy and sometimes even referred to as cowardly, right now there isn’t anything substantial in place to discourage teams from using this. And if it continues to work, teams will keep using it.
The only rule in the NBA that discourages this kind of play is the one that says that if a player is fouled off the ball in the last two minutes of a game, that this player is awarded free throws and their team gets the ball back. This rule is somewhat effective, but coaches are more so using the Hack-a-Shaq strategy in the middle of games as well. There is also the long-standing rule that eliminates NBA players from a game once they record their 6th personal foul. However, nothing about this rule specifically addresses Hack-a-Shaq, and players can always spread their fouls evenly in this regard. While these are arguably steps in the right direction, the league needs to make more changes to stop or at least minimize the use of Hack-a-Shaq.
There are a few other ways that the league could approach this.
- First, the NBA could implement the late-game rule they currently have for just a longer period of time (two more minutes?). This isn’t extremely innovative, but would increase the desired effect of the rule that the NBA has in place.
- Since teams generally foul the same player due to his horrid free throw percentage, a good rule would be if a single player is fouled off ball three times then any additional fouls would result in free throws for that player, and their team would get the ball back. This would allow a few rounds of Hack-a-Shaq, but only three times, then it would stop or the team could begin to “hack” another player. If this rule is implemented, then the two minute rule should be taken away, because that way the team could still use the Hack-a-Shaq technique strategically, and they would be able to foul three times near the end of the game for a few chances to get the ball back.
- Another more extreme rule that the NBA could use would state that if any off ball foul is committed intentionally, the player fouled gets to take free throws and their team gets the ball back as well. Although this penalty may seem excessive, and might be the most unrealistic, something has to be done about Hack-a-Shaq.
However, it is unclear whether or not the NBA wants to do anything about the rule. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said that no rules will be changed because the Hack-a-Shaq tactic is mainly used against only a few teams, and only a few players. He has said that there is no point in changing the rules just a few players. Many people disagree with Silver in this regard, and the game would be much more fun and intriguing if one of the outlined rules above was implemented. Even if one of these wouldn’t stop Hack-a-Shaq, but it would be great to limit it to only a few hacks per game, making the strategy much more STRATEGIC.