Get all of DeAntae Prince’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
NEW YORK — NBA commissioner Adam Silver sat down in a midtown Manhattan conference room on Thursday to field questions from media members, but he took the lead on one issue: Hack-a-Shaq.
Unprompted, Silver funneled the topic into a discussion about keeping NBA games shorter and staying within two-and-a-half hours. Silver had a stat cued up on the subject, stating that it takes only three or more Hack-a-Shaq fouls to add 11 minutes to an NBA game. The NBA plans to combat this issue as soon as possible, and have a new rule in place before the start of the 2016–17 season.
“It's not unanimous, but there is clearly an emerging consensus, both among the members of the competition committee and the owners, who we made a presentation to at last week's meetings, that we need to address the situation,” Silver said. “I think, as Kiki [VanDeWeghe] said, exactly what the new rule should be is still open for debate. At least I'm hoping that between now and when the owners next meet in July we can create and form a consensus as to what a change in the rule should be.”
The NBA has the data on its side, and has clearly given plenty of consideration to the rule change. Silver still needs to sell NBA owners, however, and a rule change requires two-thirds of teams to vote in favor of whatever alternative is presented.
“It's not something that we can just walk into an owners' room and say here's our idea,” Silver said. “I think we'd really have to build support for it.”
Silver admitted that he was once on the fence about creating a rule that would hinder teams from intentionally fouling bad free-throw shooters. He once subscribed to an ethos shared by some former players, who were quick to state that current players need to simply make shots.
But the numbers swayed Silver to the other side. At this year's All-Star break, Hack-a-Shaq fouls were being committed at four times the rate the NBA saw in 2014–15. That number ironed out to a two-and-a-half increase at season's end. That pales in comparison to the jump during last season's NBA playoffs, which experienced 10 times more Hack-a-Shaq fouls than the postseason before it.
VanDeWeghe, who was in the room when the Mavericks' Don Nelson created the Hack-a-Shaq strategy, is now the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations. So, in essence, he will see the full effect of the approach from start to finish.
As VanDeWeghe noted, the original Hack-a-Shaq plan was to foul Shaq every time he touched the ball. And while the approach started with Shaq alone, off-ball deliberate fouls, as VanDeWeghe calls them, were committed more than 420 times during this year's regular season.
We've seen this with players like Detroit's Andre Drummond. Teams no longer discriminate about when to employ Hack-a-Shaq. Where a rule was put in place to cover the final two minutes of games back in 1978, teams are now using 50% of intentional fouls within the first three-quarters of the game, according to VanDeWeghe.
While the numbers make sense, the advantage for teams committing the foul is minimal. And, for Silver and VanDeWeghe, the cost to the NBA and its fans far outweighs what teams stand to gain.
“It's more than the last two years combined, the number," VanDeWeghe said. “I think very few people like the idea of this, it's non-basketball play, it sort of goes against the spirit of the rule book. Free throws are to compensate and deter fouls, not to encourage them. And so I think we're at the point where everyone agrees on that.”