Just hours after the Atlanta Hawks officially signed Dwight Howard yesterday, the NBA announced a change to its rules regarding intentional fouling with the intent of limiting the "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been promising to combat this strategy for some time now, hoping to eliminate a tactic that many see as cheap and boring. The new rules do not appear to be enough to completely eliminate the "Hack-a-Player" strategy across the league, but they do promise to limit its effectiveness for the 2016-17 season.
The Hawks seem poised to take advantage of these new rules immediately, as Dwight Howard's poor free throw shooting will be less of a disadvantage than it would have been under last year's rules. While Atlanta has used the hacking strategy in the past against other poor free throw shooters (such as the Pistons' Andre Drummond), it is safe to say that the new rules should help the Hawks more than they will hurt the team.
The "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy has been part of the NBA for some time now, and is the generally effective strategy of intentionally fouling an opposing team's worst free throw shooter to take away offensive possessions. Typically, the team employing this strategy would foul a poor shooter away from the ball, ensuring that the offense could never get close to the basket before a foul was committed.
The league is now attempting to combat this strategy in three ways. First of all, any foul away from the ball with under two minutes left in a period (instead of just the fourth period) will result in one free throw and possession of the ball. The same penalty will apply to all fouls away from the ball before an inbounded pass. Finally, intentional fouls committed by jumping on another player's back will now be far more likely to be assessed as flagrant fouls. While these rules will not eliminate the "Hack-a-Player" strategy completely, they should significantly limit its effectiveness.
In terms of how these new rules will affect the Hawks, the short answer is that it should be a net positive for Atlanta. Several teams have employed the "Hack-A-Player" strategy against Dwight Howard in the past, and Howard's ranking as the third-worst free throw shooter in the league in 2015-16 becomes slightly less of a concern now.
While new rules should affect the Hawks positively, it is not clear how pronounced these effects will be. Teams that want to intentionally foul Howard still can, albeit not as effectively. The rule changes are essentially an experiment for the upcoming season, so it is difficult to speculate on how much this strategy will be used for 2016-17.
Ultimately, the rules should help the Hawks, though. Any rule that lessens the importance of a key player's biggest weakness will be beneficial, although it will take a full season of play to accurately assess the extent of the new rules' effectiveness. The best antidote to poor free throw shooting though, is practice, something that Howard seems to be taking into account in recent weeks.
(Editor's Note): We are pleased to welcome Thomas Jenkins as the newest member of our writing staff. Thomas will be contributing in a number of areas so please give him a warm welcome.