Eliminating Intentional Fouling – #HoopIdea

It happened again last night. With his Portland Trailblazers team trailing down by 8 points with about 4 minutes to go in regulation, head coach Terry Stotts elected to intentionally L.A. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan for the next two minutes of game time. In fact, the Blazers had to commit three consecutive fouls in order to get themselves over the limit before they could send Jordan to the free throw line. Stotts’ goal – send a notoriously bad free throw shooter in Jordan to the foul line with the hopes that he would miss and give his Blazers team a chance to come back and win the game. One could hardly blame him for employing this strategy. Chris Paul had just made 4 of his last 5 shots and the Blazers had trouble guarding him the whole game. Why not take advantage of a miswritten rule (we’ll get to that shortly)?

Jordan would miss all 6 of his free throw attempts until he was subbed out at the 2:38 mark. Portland would go on to win the game in overtime. Interestingly enough, they were still down by 8 when Jordan was taken out for Spencer Hawes. Sparked by Nicolas Batum, the Blazers went on a 10-2 run to send the game in overtime. Stotts’ strategy worked – sort of. Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers have a deal with each other. Whenever teams intentionally foul him, Rivers will leave Jordan in the game as long as he’s making at least 1 of 2. Jordan missed 6 in a row, Rivers subbed him out and the Blazers went back to playing regular basketball.

The NBA returned from this season’s All-Star break with a double-header on TNT. Jordan’s Clippers were featured in the second half the double feature in a game against the San Antonio Spurs. A game in which Jordan attempted a career high 28 free throws. Since February 9, Jordan has gone 46-116 (39.7%) from the charity stripe. A large number of those attempts are strictly due to opposing teams intentionally fouling him. Of course, this has reignited the debate around coaches using this strategy and whether or not the NBA should do something about it.

You’ve heard all of the arguments, as well as some proposed solutions by now, so we won’t rehash them here. Well, most of them at any rate. One argument against the NBA taking action on this issue goes as follows – rules don’t need to be changed simply because players are bad at something. This line of thinking is supported by Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller among others. They’re right to a certain extent. Changing the rules because a few players (Jordan, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard) are so tragically bad at shooting free throws that this weakness can be exploited would be a violation against the wishes of the Basketball Gods. Weaknesses and miswritten rules even are meant to be exploited. Thus is the nature of competition.

Here are a few reasons why the NBA should resolve this issue once and for all:

  • It isn’t entertaining to watch – All sports are a form of entertainment with basketball being the most enjoyable in my opinion.  Watching Jordan or any other player being paraded to the free throw line isn’t fun to watch. It isn’t why casual fans or even die-hard ones tune in.
  • For the sake of the game – There is precedent for new rules or rule changes being made to improve the game.  Think of the league adding the 3pt line, taking away hand checking or issuing warnings and fines for “flopping”.  All of these changes were instituted to make the game better.  For the most part they have.
  • Speeding up the game – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said that he’s would like to shorten the real time length of games.  In fact the NBA experimented with a 44 minute game during the preseason.  The 103 seconds of last night’s game when Jordan was being intentionally fouled probably last 10 times that in real time.  I was able to make egg salad during that time.

There’s a quick, easy solution to fixing this problem. Remember that miswritten rule was referred to earlier? Here it is: Section X—Away-From-The-Play Foul

a. During the last two minutes of the fourth period and last two minutes of overtime
period(s) with the offensive team in possession of the ball, all personal fouls which are
assessed against the defensive team prior to the ball being released on a throw-in and/or
away-from-the-play, shall be administered as follows:
(1) A personal foul and team foul shall be assessed and one free throw attempt shall
be awarded. The free throw may be attempted by any player in the game at the
time the personal foul was committed

It boggles the mind that this rule isn’t in play for the entire 48 minutes of an NBA game. There’s no logic behind the way the rule is currently written that I can see. Imagine the NBA allowed double dribbling except in the 4th quarter. Makes absolutely no sense. Why is the Away-From-The-Play Foul rule written in such a way that allows coaches and teams to exploit it? All the NBA would have to do is eliminate the “last two minutes of the fourth period and last two minutes of overtime” part of this existing rule. Voila. Problem solved. No more watching DeAndre Jordan getting fouled while he’s standing out of bounds. No more listening to the crowd boo when it happens. No more of people struggle to use the “Hack-a-Shaq” nickname for this play when it gets used. Most importantly, no more listening to the argument over it.

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