Why foul intentionally? Because 3-pointers are a dime-a-dozen

We’ve seen it a few times already in the postseason — one team intentionally fouling another team’s bad free-throw shooter. “Hack-a-Whoever” has become a legit issue in the NBA and there’s a reason it has: Because there are respected people on both sides of the argument and there are cases to be made for each.

For everyone who says it’s a disgrace to bring the most athletic game to a standstill, there’s someone out there who’ll say: “Want to fix the problem? Make your foul shots.”

“Hack-a-Shaq” was employed back in the day to try to mitigate the game’s most dominant player: Shaquille O’Neal. He wasn’t a good free throw shooter so it made sense to wrap him up or foul him hard when you sensed an impending dunk. Chances were, O’Neal would make 1 of 2 and the thinking was that you saved yourself a point.

It’s different in this day and age.


When Monty Williams intentionally fouled Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut at various times of Games 1 or 2, it wasn’t because they were dominant players. It was because the Warriors have such an ability to score in 3-point flurries that giving up “one” point doesn’t seem so bad. Williams isn’t, of course, the only coach who does this. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is notorious for doing it, and many other coaches have followed suit.

One reason intentionally fouling has become more commonplace is because the 3-point shot has become so integral and accessible. It’s really not hard to figure out. If you’re defending the Warriors would you rather see Bogut at the foul line or Steph Curry getting an average-to-pretty-good look at a 3? Gimme the big Aussie every time.

What I think is interesting is that after this strategy is employed, there always seems to be a verdict: It either worked or it didn’t work. Most of the time, if not virtually always, it seems to be that the strategy doesn’t or didn’t work. Me? I need more evidence.

To this day, I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen the “Hack-a-Player” strategy employed the way I’d love to see it employed — and that is when and if you ever find yourselves ahead in a game — against an explosive opponent, but one with a poor free throw shooter or two. There’s a big difference between a bad foul shooter going to the free throw line with a five-point lead as opposed to going to the line with a five-point deficit.

Making one out of two with a five-point lead sounds lot better than making one out of two being down by five points. I realize this situation doesn’t come up a whole lot — after all, when we’re talking about a team such as the Warriors this year, how many times have they been down 5 or 10 points in a game?

Nevertheless, I would suggest the time to foul Bogut or foul Iguodala — or any player you feel is a lousy enough foul shooter to want to do it to — would be to employ it when you have a lead, ideally a second-half lead. Let’s face it, if you ever do get the Warriors down six or eight or 10 points, chances are they’re going to use the 3-point shot to cut the lead — and probably in a hurry.

If nothing else, a couple of foul shot makes is still better than a Curry or Thompson 3.

The Warriors are the most prolific 3-point shooting team in NBA history, and the entire league and game of basketball is trending toward their style and their approach. The more you normalize the 3-pointer, the more it becomes the foundation of a team’s approach rather than an extension of it, the more it makes sense to intentionally put a poor free throw shooter on the line.

It seems apparent the NBA will address the “Hack-a-Player” strategy this offseason. But I’m still not convinced it was ever employed entirely correctly.



To hear more sports talk with Matt Steinmetz you can download the Sal and Steiny Podcast on ITunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sal-steiny-show-podcast/id949773587

Steinmetz also co-hosts the NBA Show with John Dickinson on 95.7-FM The Game on Sundays from 9-to-noon.


About Steinmetz

Matt Steinmetz is a veteran San Francisco Bay Area sports journalist. He covered the Golden State Warriors for the Bay Area News Group for more than a decade before becoming a television analyst with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Steinmetz can be heard on "Steiny & Guru" on 95.7-FM The Game in San Francisco, from 12-3.
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5 Responses to Why foul intentionally? Because 3-pointers are a dime-a-dozen

  1. Hep Yo says:

    To continue mathematically, all points scored in the game count equally. This is something lost on most basketball fans. The 3-point shot scored before you make it to your seat with your beer in the first quarter, counts exactly the same as the 3-point shot that sends the game into overtime.

    The points scored also count the same whether you have a 5 point lead or a 5 point deficit.

    So, if the Hack-A strategy works at any point, then it should be employed for 48 minutes.

    The only exception would be – as Jacob points out – the issue of whether better or poorer free throw shooters are on the court or not.


  2. LamarMatic says:

    To Jacob KreutzerJake, not it isn’t. There are a ton of variables that come in play when a player is shooting free throws. A bad free throw shooter might throw up bricks that generate long rebounds and the possibility for the team of the hacked player to get a second chance. It also slows down the pace and allows said team to set up for defensive purposes. You might be limiting Golden State’s chances to score, but you would also create the perfect scenario for its league leading defense to play like one. Then, in turn it could actually make stops and create fast-break opportunities where you just miss out on hacking the desired player.


  3. Bk says:


    Problem with your theory is the team getting “hacked” will be forced to go small and a chance of a 3 is even greater. Just something to consider.


  4. Brian says:

    I agree with you that the most sensible time to use Hack-a-Shaq is when you have the lead, and you’re trying to reduce the probability of an unlikely comeback. I worked out the probabilities of this in a paper once (http://arxiv.org/abs/1111.0693 , Sec. IV D in particular).

    Generally speaking, intentional fouling makes the game more predictable, and that only makes sense for the team that’s already favored to win.


  5. Isn’t this basically a math problem? Golden State scores 109.7 points per 100 possessions. A 55% free throw shooter who’s fouled every time down the floor will score 110 points per 100 possessions. If Golden State has somebody on the floor who’s a below 55% free throw shooter, and the ancillary issues (fouling out, racking up fouls that send better shooters to the line in other situations) aren’t important, then why shouldn’t you foul that guy every time?


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