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How to eliminate the NBA's intentional foul tactic for good

There's a simple fix to end all the hacking.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Here is a modest proposal for how the league could "fix" the intentional foul scourge without causing a whole lot of new problems. Like so many problems the league faces, the intentional foul issue is pretty overblown. Only three players are subjected to the hack treatment with any regularity (Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan), though others are popped with it at times (Steven Adams, a 64 percent foul shooter, got intentionally hacked away from the ball by the Kings at the end of the first half on Tuesday. That was likely more a vote of no confidence in the Kings' defense against the Thunder, all told).

But despite limited applicably, the hack strategy is pretty annoying and destroys any shred of flow that the affected games might have. At a basic level, it's just way less fun to watch an anxious guy shoot undefended set shots than to watch NBA offenses and defenses do real-time battle. Hence this small fix.

Intentional fouling is really the exploitation of a loophole affecting teams in the bonus. Before teams are in the bonus, non-shooting fouls result in a stoppage and an inbounds play, plus one tick toward ejection for the offending player. It's totally reasonable. In the bonus, non-shooting fouls result in automatic free throws. That's usually to the benefit of the team in the bonus; it's called the bonus for a reason. You can't get more efficient on offense than a trip to the foul line for a typical player. Even a guy like Adams, who shoots 64 percent, will turn a pair of free throws into 1.2 points. You'd need to shoot an effective field goal percentage of .600 from the floor to match that.

The loophole is that some players are really, really bad at shooting free throws, so by automatically putting them on the line, you're decreasing the opponents' expected output. It's a totally legal but unfortunate leverage of rules which are supposed to discourage fouls. But the league could end the practice in one fell swoop by giving teams in the bonus the option of free throws or an inbounds play on non-shooting fouls. In other words, make the bonus optional.

There would no longer be a benefit to using an intentional foul. If the Pistons are in the bonus, and the opponent intentionally fouls Drummond off of the ball, Mo Cheeks can decide whether to give him his two free throws or inbound the ball on the side. Adding the option totally closes the loophole intentional foulers exploit. No extra shots for the intentional foul, no technicals, no extra judgment calls for the refs. Just a simple option for coaches.

The one other consequence such a move would have is to obliterate the strategy of fouling when up three late in games. Currently, some coaches, if they lead by three points and the opponent has the ball with only a few seconds left, will foul the man with the ball before he gets into the act of shooting. This wipes out the opportunity for a tying three by conceding one or two points. If free throws on non-shooting fouls in the bonus were optional, the team trailing by three points could simply reject the foul shots, inbound and try a tying three. That option would likely prevent the leading team from even bothering with the foul.

If you love watching the "foul up three" strategy in action, you have very strange tastes and probably wouldn't like this solution. Otherwise, the optional bonus kills two birds with one stone.


The most common comment on any discussion of intentional fouling is that the easiest fix is for the poor free throw shooting to just stop sucking at that part of the game. Well, yes. That's a fine solution! It does not seem to be attainable. Some players just seem to never be able to become good free throw shooters.

The question isn't whether the rules should be changed to benefit them. It's whether the rules should be changed to make the game more entertaining by removing one impediment to flow and actual action. Again, if watching a sweaty guy clank set shots is your idea of fun, Saturday mornings at the local Y just might be the spot for you.

The other comment often tossed around on this subject is that penalties need to be harsher to prevent intentionally fouling. But often the least overbearing solution is the most effective. There doesn't need to be a heavy disincentive to intentional fouling. There's already a general disincentive to fouling, the 6-foul individual max. The league simply needs to end the incentive for intentionally fouling certain players. That will take care of it without creating a new penalty for refs to interpret.


If I told you that a team discovered that its 38-year-old bench player suffered a sprained MCL before a game, and then played him 10 minutes in that game resulting in him missing 1-2 weeks to recover, your first, second and third guesses would likely be the Bulls. Congratulations, you are correct!

The player is Mike James, who no doubt insisted he could go; veterans like him don't get contracts every year by hanging out on the training table. But it's just another chip on Chicago's stack of prioritizing playing time over the health and long-term wellbeing of its players. Just as is refusing to sign another guard to take the load off of Kirk Hinrich or a wing to give Luol Deng some respite.

How long until the Bulls leak that Derrick Rose has already been medically cleared?

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