Hack-a-Howard rant (also, Rockets beat LA)

The Rockets seemingly got back on track with a win over the Lakers. The effort has been inconsistent against these bad teams. Against the Nuggets (or it could’ve been the Kings, these games start to blur together after awhile) they got into an early 11-2 hole that they had to climb back out of. In this game though, the Rockets were the team that got off to the hot start for once, and built a 16 point lead in the first quarter. LA made multiple runs to cut the lead down, but it never got closer than 4. And similarly in the 4th when the team was finding it hard to score and LA cut the lead down to 5, Houston responded with a 9-0 run fueled by turnovers that led to easy baskets.

The lead was pushed to double digits, and that’s when Byron Scott went to the hack-a-Howard. Howard made 8 of 14 free throws during this stretch, and the Lakers still weren’t scoring on the other end, and that was the ball game. Houston holds LA to the lowest they’ve held an opponent this season with 87 points. But other than that, nothing especially noteworthy happened.

Hack a Howard needs to go

With the talk of the game out of the way, I want to spend the rest of this blog post ranting about the Hack-a-Howard strategy. Because the way this game came out, it hits on every reason why I think it’s bad for the game. It forced a game that was virtually in the bag to be extended an extra 10-15 minutes. And for a game starting at 9:30 Central Time already, having to stay up past midnight to see Dwight Howard shoot free throws is not fun.

It’s questionable whether it is even a good strategy. This has been talked about in multiple articles on both sides of the argument, but I’ll try to sum up the points here.

Cons of Intentional fouling
– Intentionally fouling a bad free throw shooter is supposed to be good for the fouling team because if you have a guy that makes 50% of his free throws, if he misses that means less points that possession right? Not exactly. Because in the average offensive play, a team is going to score 1 point per possession. So Howard, who averages more than 50% over his career, just has to make 1 free throw to match the average offensive output. Which means, the math for intentionally fouling doesn’t exactly work unless you are in DeAndre Jordon free throw shooting territory.

– The defense of the intentionally fouled team will be set after they shoot free throws. Which means the Lakers miss out on the opportunity to get a turnover or even a long rebound and get down the floor before Houston does for the easy basket.

-It takes the ball out of the hands of a superstar. I can see the logic behind this, but I still don’t think the numbers work out. When Howard shooting free throws generates a little over 1.1 points per possession. How good are you projecting Harden to play to make it worth doing? At most we’re talking a .1-.2 difference here.

-It inturrupts the rhythm of the offense. This is a legit point. If you pepper in intentional fouls here and there on a team that likes to play at a higher pace, it’s a way to slow the game down. However, in the 4th, when the game tends to slow down anyway, the effect is moot. Also, if you are fouling on every possession this effect disappears entirely.

-It stops the clock. This is the one legit point for intentional fouling I’ll concede. And this is why you almost always see this strategy used by the team that is behind. It gives the team that is losing more possessions to catch back up.

A potential solution

The intentional fouling strategy was discussed internally by the NBA during the offseason, and they came to a conclusion that they didn’t want to reward bad free throw shooters. And I can’t blame them for having that opinion. It’s really only the Clippers and Rockets that get intentionally fouled, so this isn’t a league wide epidemic. But it got me thinking of potential solutions that would appease even the hardcore traditionalists that don’t want to reward bad free throw shooting.

All of the proposed solutions to this point had been in vein of giving the fouled team two free throws and the ball, or let them shoot three free throws to make two. Basically, giving the team points if they got fouled to discourage teams from intentionally fouling. But then I thought back to why I actually hate the “hack a” strategy. It isn’t because it actually gives the fouling team an advantage (because it typically doesn’t), it’s because it makes the game take longer.

So what if we made the rule that intentional fouls are fine, but the team that gets fouled has the option of letting the game clock tick down equal to the number of seconds that was left on the shot clock? So in last nights game, there is 6 minutes left when Howard first gets fouled, and 20 seconds left on the shot clock because they fouled as soon as they reasonably could. Have Howard shoot is free throws, but subtract the 20 points that were left on the shot clock from the game clock, bring the game clock down to 5 minutes and 40 seconds.

The traditionalists shouldn’t have a problem with this solution. They can’t make the claim that we’re rewarding bad free throw shooting, because we aren’t. And even if it doesn’t get rid of intentional fouling, at least it will make the game go faster. I would make the case that if you were to make this change, it would actually get stop intentional fouling on the scale we saw last night. Because if you are behind, the one thing you don’t want to have happen is more time to go off the clock. In that case, you might as well try to play defense, maybe force a turnover and get an easy bucket on the other end.

What do you guys think?

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