Last night the Detroit Pistons defeated the Houston Rockets 123-114. Pistons centre Andre Drummond contributed 17 points and 11 rebounds to the win. However with the Rockets down 9 at the half, they decided to “Hack-a-Drummond” to get them back in the game. Bringing in seldom used KJ McDaniels to intentionally foul Drummond and put the Rockets into the penalty only ten seconds into the 3rd quarter. This would allow the Rockets to repeatedly foul Drummond and put him on the foul line. As a result Drummond went 13 for 36 in the third quarter, breaking an NBA record by missing 23 free throws.
This strategy isn’t anything new and has been a popular method in recent years to use against weak free throw shooters like Los Angeles Clipper’s DeAndre Jordan, Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside and even the Houston Rockets’ own Dwight Howard. This action was originally used to try and neutralize one man by the name of Shaquille O’Neal. What was called the “Hack-a-Shaq”, where opponents would intentionally bump, push or hold Shaq after he received the ball to put him on the free throw line where he shot a career 52.7%. Shaq was such a dominant player, the averaged 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds for his career and seemed impossible to stop around the key. So much so that coaches had to employ this method to try and stop him. It was first tried by Don Nelson when he was coaching the Dallas Mavericks. Initially Nelson put Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls on the foul line who also a weak free throw shooter. But coaches like Gregg Poppovich would later use this mostly as a way to disrupt Shaq even in comedic behaviour.
In today’s NBA, many teams use similar methods on various NBA players that shoot poor free throw percentages, to slow the game down and or to get back into the game. Some fans and experts do not approve of this as it extends the game longer than it should and have looked to the commissioner Adam Silver to makes changes to this rule. Drummond’s coach Stan Van Gundy has felt the league hasn’t done much to prevent this practice and has gone to say “At some point the fans might get to the point and say, ‘We’re not going to pay to watch this. We’re going to flip the channels.’ They haven’t yet. That’s what Adam keeps saying. When they do, then the league will have to make an adjustment.” Although he has been looking for alternatives, the commissioner has been firm about not making any drastic moves to reward bad free throw shooting and has said “’You cannot change this rule. What lesson does that send? The kids who are learning the game, this is a fundamental part of the game: A guy’s got to be able to make free throws.”
For now it seems fans, experts and teams with bad free throw shooters will just have to deal with the “Hack-a-player” strategy until the NBA finds a rule that will keep the flow of the game going and not reward bad free throw shooters off the hook. Although Andre Drummond leads the league in rebounding this season (15.5), he is also the league’s worst free throw shooter at 35.5% making 117 out of the possible 330 attempts he has shot. Only in his fourth season, Drummond is looking like he’s on his way to becoming the NBA worst free throw shooter of all time, shooting in his career 38.5% in which that title in given to another former Piston, Ben Wallace who shot 41.4% from the free throw line. But even with those stats in hand, the “Hack-a-Drummond” did seem to be really effective for the Houston Rockets at the end of the day. Andre Drummond was still able to post 17 points and 11 rebounds and although it would take the him out of the game to be bench off this method, the Pistons were still able to hold on for a win where they currently sit 6th in the Eastern Conference standings.