Fans that tuned into last night’s Sixers-Wizards matchup expecting a high quality basketball game were instead treated to a glorified game of hide-and-seek between Washington players and Ben Simmons. After pulling within 7 points with 5 minutes left, Scott Brooks decided to ‘hack-a-Shaq’ Simmons and send him to the foul line for a record 24 attempts in the 4th quarter.
Even in the Sixers win it’s not hard to see where the strategy paid off. The game dragged out and gave Washington more possessions than they should’ve gotten. With these extra possessions, the Wizards were able to keep the game competitive and at times found themselves in position to tie it up.
The strategy was originally invented in the 60’s as a way to slow down Wilt Chamberlain while simultaneously stopping the clock. When games devolved into players running around the court chasing players like Wilt the attendance suffered. In response, the league added a rule that made so after the 2 minute mark teams can chose someone other than the player who was intentionally fouled to shoot the free throws in addition to maintaining possession.
Just last season the rule was expanded to include the end of the first three quarters as well. These were initially installed and updated with the goal of eliminating ‘hack-a-whoever’ and to keep the game pace moving.
Commissioner Adam Silver, who was ironically in attendance last night, had a front row seat to the borderline unwatchable final four minutes of the game. Roughly an hour earlier Silver was on-air with Zumoff and Ala discussing recent rule changes and how the league is always trying to speed up the game to improve its on-court product. As he watched those final moments drag out into an endless loop of Ben Simmons free throws, it’s safe to say the finish was a strong contrast to the goals Silver outlined earlier.
After spending 2 hours watching a game only to be forced to suffer through the final minutes of something that barely resembles the sport being played, I speak for Sixer fans (and NBA fans) when I say the league needs to do more to confront the ‘hack-a-Shaq’ problem. This will surely be a topic of discussion in league offices, and I’ll be surprised if they don’t at least open their mind to the idea of extending their rule to the 5 minute mark – if not the entire fourth quarter.
In addition to the league, last night’s ending should garner attention in coaching rooms across the NBA as well. Anytime a team game plans for Philly they’ll be forced to consider employing ‘hack-a-Ben’ late in games. Many teams may reconsider this strategy in general after Washington’s near success.
It’s pretty obvious that this trend is bad for the on-court product and with a commissioner so vocally conscious to that, it’s hard to imagine them being stagnant on the issue: I fully expect rule changes in the summer. In the meantime, the solution is simple – Ben Simmons needs to make his free throws. That thought is sure to be echoed across Philly sports for weeks and Simmons himself said he expects to take care of it moving forward.
“It’s not going to happen for that much longer. I’m going to knock them down.”
Some fans will surely wonder if the best solution would have been to sit Ben outright. Wisely, Brett Brown chose to let him grind through it because he’s well aware this isn’t the last time it’ll happen. More so, if he were to sit Ben last night it would send a message to the rest of the league that they can get Simmons on the bench by threatening ‘hack-a-Ben’ – and BB knows that’s a dangerous precedent to set.
The dilemma Simmons faces isn’t new for the NBA, and the remedy is equally as old as it is obvious but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be emphasized. This man need to make his damn free throws. He knows that, and Brown knows that. For a player with all the confidence in the world and a coach who instills equally as much in his players, I expect him to overcome this obstacle with ease just as he has every other. However just because Simmons fixes the issue himself doesn’t mean the league shouldn’t look into fixing it from their end. If Silver is as dedicated to the on-court product as he says he is then he needs to put his money where his mouth is and take action.