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NBA commissioner Adam Silver

NBA Implements New Better Hack-A-Shaq Rules

Every NBA player should be able to hit at least a modest free throw percentage, but some just can’t and NBA coaches have been implementing a Hack-a-Shaq strategy to change the momentum of games at a level never before seen. Something had to change and it has.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has announced a solid reasonable compromise between “it’s ruining our game” and “just learn to hit your free throws.”

“We had a discussion about so-called Hack-a-Shaq, and I know we sent a release out already,” Silver said. “We adopted a new rule there. I would say it’s not everything that some people were looking for us to do, and it was a compromise. In essence, the rule is now that the last two-minute rule that’s been in effect for almost 40 years is now in effect for the last two minutes of every quarter. In addition, we wanted to ensure that players would not be jumping on other players’ backs as we’ve seen during free throws. So we made it clear that that would be presumptively a flagrant foul if that were to happen. We also clarified the rule for fouling when the ball is not in play, that that would also fall under the so-called special last two-minute provisions, where it would be a free throw and the team would retain possession.

“So again, that release was sent out. Kiki VanDeWeghe is here, our head of basketball operations, and I’m happy to discuss it, but Kiki will be around for a while, too, and he can discuss it.”

“In looking at the data and numerous potential solutions to combat the large increase in deliberate away-from-the-play foul situations, we believe these steps offer the most measured approach,” said Kiki VanDeWeghe, NBA Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations. “The introduction of these new rules is designed to curb the increase in such fouls without eliminating the strategy entirely.

Rules Changes Relating to Deliberate Away-From-The-Play Foul Rules

  • The current rule for away-from-the-play fouls applicable to the last two minutes of the fourth period (and last two minutes of any overtime) – pursuant to which the fouled team is awarded one free throw and retains possession of the ball – will be extended to the last two minutes of each period.
  • For inbounds situations, a defensive foul at any point during the game that occurs before the ball is released by the inbounder (including a “legitimate” or “natural” basketball action such as a defender fighting through a screen) will be administered in the same fashion as an away-from-the-play foul committed during the last two minutes of any period (i.e., one free throw and possession of the ball).
  • The flagrant foul rules will be used to protect against any dangerous or excessively hard deliberate fouls. In particular, it will presumptively be considered a flagrant foul if a player jumps on an opponent’s back to commit a deliberate foul. Previously, these type of fouls were subject to being called flagrant but were not automatic.

As Silver says, this change is not cosmetic, even if it is a bit of a compromise. Everyone knows NBA games are often won or lost in the last couple of minutes at the end of games, but equally significant changes to the momentum of games happens at the end of quarters and denying teams the right to stop that momentum by fouling poor free throw shooters who aren’t in the play will improve how the game is played at those critical junctures.

“I know we wouldn’t have done it if it were only a cosmetic change,” Silver said. In fact, our projections are that with the rule changes we put in place, we’ll reduce roughly 45 percent of the incidents of the away-from-the-play fouls right now. The process was one of trying to build consensus.

“I mean, look, this is a rule that has been in effect since the beginning of the game, the last two-minute rule for the fourth quarter. It was instituted roughly 40 years ago, and there’s a dramatic change in the league, and you all know from things I’ve said, even as recently as last summer after this same meeting, I said I’m on the fence in terms of whether the issue should be — guys should make their free throws and if they can’t, they should be taken out of games at strategic points.

“I’m also a bit of an incrementalist, and I think especially when it comes time to change rules. Remember, to change a playing rule, it requires two-thirds of our teams. I will say the vote was not unanimous today, but obviously in order to make the change, we did get two-thirds of the teams. But I’m also being a realist in terms of how much we can get through.

I think there is a part of me that would have preferred to have done something that was more holistic and impacted the entire game, but I’ve also learned, I think to have made this change, again, if we can deal with roughly half the incidents and then full stop have the competition committee re-examine it and see where we are — and that answers the last part of your question. This was discussed over a year and a half with our competition committee, and then we got to the point where the competition committee, it was unanimous in terms of the NBA team representatives on the competition committee. We brought it to our Board of Governors and we said we think this is a change that should be made and it will allow us to keep — nobody suggested that we’ll never have to discuss this again, but I think I’ve also realized that there’s sometimes almost a faddish quality to how some of these techniques are used on the floor. We’ll see. But I definitely do not think this is cosmetic.”

These minor rule changes should help the NBA accomplish their goals of keeping the game from deteriorating into a free throw contest by guys that can’t shoot at the end of quarters while still giving coaches the opportunity to put pressure on the typical big man who just can’t hit a free throw, but has been killing them on the glass in the middle of quarters. A compromise to be sure, but likely the right compromise and definitely not just a cosmetic change.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.