The NBA will probably do something about the intentional fouling rules. Should they?

"How do you solve a problem like Maria? Yes, I call the ball 'Maria.' What do you call it?" (Getty Images)

Following Tuesday night’s slate of NBA action, it’s probably fair to assume that we might be in the final throes of the NBA’s “Hack-a-[Whomever]” era. It was slow while it lasted, from about 2000 until 2015 (with a brief and hilarious blip in 1997), and nobody will miss it when it’s gone.

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That doesn’t particularly mean the era should go done get gone, y’all, but it’s hard to see NBA commissioner Adam Silver not pushing for some sort of change when he meets with team owners in the early stages of summer. Even though Silver, as recently as last weekend, said he remains unconvinced that he should fully back a change to the current setup.

From Brian Mahoney at the Associated Press:

''I've gone back and forth,'' Silver said during a meeting with a group of Associated Press Sports Editors.

''I've sat in meetings with some of the greatest players like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird who said that players should learn to make their free throws and it's part of the game. At the same time, it doesn't make for great television, so I'm on the fence right now.''

Silver said he finds it to be a ''fascinating'' strategy in some cases.

''But in other games I watch it and I think, 'Oh my god, I feel people changing the channels,''' he said. ''So we're also an entertainment property that's competing against a lot of other options that people have for their discretionary time.''

Our commitment to making discretionary time for the NBA was tested on Tuesday.

The Dallas Mavericks repeatedly fouled poor Rocket free throw shooters Dwight Howard and Josh Smith in a desperate bid to extend their season. Dallas eventually fell to Houston, but not before the former AAU teammates (no shooting guru on that coaching staff, apparently) combined to miss 10 of 18 freebies. And also not before NBA TV had to carry the first minute of the highly anticipated San Antonio Spurs/Los Angeles Clippers pairing because the Houston win ran over. And that was after the league decided to start the “10:30, Eastern” game 17 minutes past the half-hour.

That Game 5 contest lived up to its billing, but only in moments that weren’t wasted away as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich understandably used Matt Bonner and several guards to intentionally foul Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. Jordan shot 7-16 overall and 4-10 on the intentional looks. It slowed the game down so badly that the 48-minute regulation game went nearly three hours.

The heavy majority of sport-watchin’ Americans live East of the Mississippi River, and fans were already grousing over what to them was a 10:30 start to their favorite series well before the 10:47 tip (on another channel). This isn’t a dig at Angelinos, hoop fans that are less than thrilled at having the Eastern Conference playoffs tip-off while they’re still at work, but it’s not always great to have the NBA’s best contests addled on top of the Pacific time starting point with nearly a half-hour’s worth of intentional fouls.

To that end, how great is it for the fouling teams in question?

Far be it for us to question Gregg Popovich, mainly because we’re scared of Gregg Popovich. Let’s let Five Thirty Eight’s John Ezekowitz do the dirty work for us:

The basic math of the “Hack-A-DJ” strategy goes like this: If DeAndre Jordan shoots 43 percent from the free-throw line, fouling him yields two shots and 0.86 expected points. Compare that to the Clippers’ average points per possession this season — 1.12 — and it becomes clear that an intentional foul strategy is, on its face, a savvy one.


Hack-A-DJ is rendered inefficient because the Clippers are so good at rebounding Jordan’s missed free throws. Over the last two seasons, Jordan has missed 165 free throws with possible rebounds, and the Clippers have grabbed 34 of those rebounds, or 21 percent. That is nearly double the NBA rate of roughly 12 percent and four times the Clippers’ 4.8 percent offensive rebound rate on misses by players other than Jordan.


These rebounds are important because the Clippers are brutally efficient after corralling missed free throws. In 70 such attempts over the past two seasons, LA has scored 1.36 points per possession. It makes sense that teams would be efficient after missed free throws: The ball is already close to the rim, and the defense is likely in scramble mode, leaving perimeter shooters open.

Ezekowitz also goes on to point out that the Clippers are able to set their defense against the Spurs’ killer offense, which is a clear advantage to Los Angeles.

For someone that scored over 11 points per game and hauled in nearly five offensive rebounds a game, the tiny amount of time that the ball spent in Jordan’s hands is remarkable – in ways that go well beyond his fear of being fouled immediately. For all his seemingly orthodox hallmarks – big man that rebounds and defends – he remains unique and engaging.

The Clippers didn’t win on Tuesday and they may have blown their best chance at taking over what could have been a Western Conference finals pairing at home, but Jordan’s free throw line missteps were not as critical as Jordan’s err in judgment on a goaltending call, scads of missed open shots, and Blake Griffin’s 2-15 shooting mark in the second half (including two deadening free throw misses of his own). Every possession is crucial in a game like this, but DeAndre Jordan may have shot those 16 free throws anyway even without any intentional grabs, as he is a massive force on the glass and a fantastic target on a screen and roll.

So, does the NBA need to stop teams from these sorts of intentional grabs?

Listen, Tuesday night wasn’t fun. Scratch that – about ten percent of Tuesday night wasn’t fun. Tuesday night also featured three significant players that act as potential mitigating factors at the free throw line amongst the 41 that played. Wednesday’s two games won’t feature any, and neither did Monday’s lineup despite Joakim Noah’s rather underreported run of poor shooting (since Mar. 5, he’s shot 11-33 from the line). There have been games in the past and will be games in the future that could feature Tiago Splitter, Steven Adams, or Andrew Bogut getting the same treatment, but this is a small class.

What change should the NBA make?

Should it allow teams to decline free throws? That’s a weird one that wouldn’t put a ban on intentional fouling that could have all manner of unintended consequences as coaching staffs get smarter and smarter while learning how to take advantage. On top of that, allowing DeAndre Jordan to decline the chance to shoot free throws all season is not the same as not forcing pitchers to bat in Major League Baseball because he has his moments. If DeAndre Jordan’s free throws were a batting average, it would be Rogers Hornsby’s (ask your grandfather. Then ask him to ask his grandfather). And what do we do with and-ones?

Award three free throws? Coaches like Gregg Popovich would still probably like his odds. What about closing the window for the legality of the move (currently teams can do it up to the final two minutes of a game), like only allowing for it in the second quarter or between the ten and eight-minute mark of each quarter? Great, then we have Designated Hack-a-Shaq times where fans are guaranteed not to see players of a certain weakness on the floor.

This is part of the game, this is a unique and versatile game, and some players’ games include a weakness. Jamal Crawford can’t rebound, Manu Ginobili can’t go right, and DeAndre Jordan can’t hit free throws. We’re aware that there have been dozens if not hundreds of fantastic 7-foot free throw shooters in the league’s history, but asking for someone with DeAndre Jordan’s skill set to also be adequate at hitting a 15-foot set shot is akin to telling Rory McIlroy that on the 3rd, 9th, and 12th holes of each course he has to jump off of two feet while hitting his tee shot.

Tuesday stunk, for small chunks, but the only reason I remember the intentional foul parts of it is because I told my editor that I’d write a column about it. Otherwise, I’m marveling at the better parts of Blake Griffin’s up and down night, I’m worrying about the Mavericks, and I’m wondering what it would take for Tim Duncan not to be amazing at basketball.

The NBA is probably going to try to amend its intentional foul rules this summer, but it’s not entirely clear if they should.

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Kelly Dwyer

is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!