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What is the Hack a Shaq rule? – How bad was it?

In the NBA we have seen a lot of tactics and strategies used by coaches to limit the opponents’ players. While some of these might seem dirty and unsportsmanlike they seem to be enjoying popularity for quite some time. And while everything is within the rules of basketball, you cannot blame coaches and players for using such methods. Hack a Shaq is one of such tactics.

What is the Hack a Shaq rule? Hack Shaq was a method of getting deliberate fouls on an opposing player who is bad at free throws. It was named after Shaquille O’Neal who was the first victim of the technique.

The tactical fouling happens at a late stage of the match when the score difference is small, but with this method, the players get fouls at the early period. In this article, we will have a look at this “incredible” strategy, its peculiarities, and the impact it had on basketball matches. We talk in the past because, after some changes, this rule is no more effective.

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Why it has such a name?

There are some subtleties. Shaquille O’Neal, perhaps the most dominant center of all time, was most often fouled when he received the ball two steps from the rim. In the more modern NBA, prior to the new rule prohibiting these tactics, a player with poor execution of free throws was fouled right after the start of the attack to force him to throw free throws over and over again. Shaq popularized this tactic, but he was not the first, on whom teams started to use it.

Although O’Neal was not the first we looked at the data at Basketball-Reference.com and it is quite easy to see how the strategic technique was named after Shaq. The first column shows the average number of free throws that Shaq took during the regular season.

YearAverage Season Free Throws Per GameAverage Season Free Throw Percentage Average Playoff Free Throws Per GameAverage Playoff Free Throw Percentage
1992-938.9.592N/AN/A
1993-9410.5.55411.3.471
1994-9510.8.53312.4.571
1995-969.5.48710.2.393
1996-979.4.48411.7.610
1997-9811.4.52712.2.503
1998-9910.2.54014.8.466
1999-0010.4.52412.9.456
2000-0113.1.51312.5.525
2001-0210.7.55510.9.649
2002-0310.8.62211.0.621
2003-0410.1.49011.5.429
2004-0510.5.4618.2.472
2005-068.0.4697.9.374
2006-077.4.4226.8.333
2007-085.5.51312.8.500
2008-096.9.595N/AN/A
2009-104.3.4964.3.660
2010-113.5.5570.000

Shaquille O’Neal played 19 seasons in the NBA and made the NBA Playoffs in 17 of those seasons. In the regular season, Shaq averaged 9 free throws a game and made an average of .523 of those free throws. However, when it came to playoffs games Shaq again averaged 9 free throws a games throughout his playoff career however, Shaq only made 0.423 of those free throws.

Shaq won the NBA with four times, a three-peat with the Lakers and one time with the Miami Heat. You may be wondering was Shaq hacked more in the seasons that he won the Championship? In the four seasons that Shaq won an NBA Championship, on average he shot fewer free throws, and his average free throw percentages increased!

YearAverage Season Free Throws Per GameAverage Season Free Throw PercentageAverage Playoff Free Throws Per GameAverage Playoff Free Throw Percentage
1999-0010.40.52412.90.456
2000-0113.10.51312.50.525
2001-0210.70.55510.90.649
2004-0510.50.4618.20.472
Total11.180.513311.130.526

A question that is always asked is, could Shaq of won more Championships if he had a better free throw percentage? It could of been a possibility and Shaq was given the opportunity to learn the granny style free throw of Rick Barry, who is the third best free throw shooter of all time in the NBA. But Shaq made his views clear on this in the below video.

When did everything start?

Wilt Chamberlain was a very dominant player and unstoppable force for the opposing sides. He was needed to be on the court in the last minutes, but his poor free-throw shooting encouraged players to take fouls on him. He was shooting almost 50% from the free throw. But that’s not how everything started.

In the 1997-1998 season, the Dallas Mavericks was losing the match to the reigning champions – the Chicago Bulls. There was little chance of winning, and coach Don Nelson, who came up with a lot of interesting things in his career, went on a cunning move. He assigned a defender Bubba Wells with a task – for whom this season was the first and the last in his career, with the intention to deliberately take fouls on Dennis Rodman in order to collect the required number of team fouls and force him to shoot free throws.

Dennis Rodman was one of the best rebounders and defenders back at that time, but shooting from the field was not his strength. He was throwing just under 40% that season, so the idea made sense. Bubba Wells got his three minutes of fame for which he managed to get 6 fouls and leave the court. He played only 39 games that season, coming out in a matter of minutes, and then, in general, left the NBA for good. The memory of his record for hitting 6 fouls (in just 3 minutes) and the first player to use a Hack a Shaq strategy will live on for centuries.

And what about Rodman’s free throws? Something went wrong and Dennis scored 9 out of 12, which made Dallas very upset. After watching the video, you can enjoy the sincere bewilderment of the commentators who do not understand why to foul on Rodman standing behind the three-point line without the ball.

Did other coaches use this tactic?

After a certain period of time and Shaq’s retirement, this tactic was not used as frequently as it was before. However, in 2012, when the San Antonio Spurs were playing against the Los Angeles Clippers, legendary Gregg Popovich turned to this method. Reggie Evans, playing for the Clippers was also poor at shooting free throws, so Gregg ordered his players to deliberately take fouls on Evans. This tactic actually worked and the Spurs were able to win that match. After some time the same strategy was used on Tiago Splitter, who, ironically, was playing for the Spurs, but the Brazilian was more effective in converting these free throws.

Players like DeAndre Jordan, Josh Smith, Dwight, Andre Drummond, Andre Roberson, and Ben Simmons were also “victims” of this strategy. Generally, this method is aimed at poor shooters from the free-throw range, but interestingly not always it proved to be an efficient way for hampering the opponents’ players.

Changes in the rule

While a lot of coaches used this tactic effectively, the rule had numerous opponents who called it dirty. Because of that, the NBA came up with the amendment. On July 12, 2016, the official website of the NBA reported that the Association’s Governing Council adopted several changes in the rules of the game. One of them was about Hack a Shaq too. These innovations took effect from the 2016/2017 season and were aimed at introducing penalties for fouls.

The most important of the accepted rules stated that the players of the defending team could not foul a player without a ball until 46 minutes have been passed. Such actions are now only allowed in the last two minutes of regular time and the last two minutes of overtime, when the losing team may use a “quick foul” tactic to get back into the game. In most of the match, an intentional foul away from the ball will be considered unsportsmanlike.

Thus, this innovation makes it impossible to use the Hack-a-Shaq tactics, which, as we have already mentioned above, have been used by the coaches of many teams in recent years. This significantly slows down the game and lowers the level of entertainment.

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