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Appreciating the Hack-A-Whoever, a fascinating strategy that should be outlawed

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There's no good reason the Hack-A-Player should be a legal strategy. But until the NBA gets rid of it, we'd like to point out that it's kinda incredible to watch super-talented athletes try to do something they know they can't.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

DeAndre Jordan shot 17 free throws on Wednesday night, many of them due to the Hack-A-Whoever strategy employed by the Spurs. He hit six. The Clippers lost in overtime.

The Hack-A-Whoever will be on display in the NBA Playoffs as long as one team has an abysmal shooter on their roster. It probably should be outlawed. It turns a fast-paced game featuring the world's best athletes into a static skills competition, but the skill being displayed isn't impressive and the person displaying it isn't very skilled at it.

It could easily be eliminated. If a team got to shoot and keep possession after an intentional off-ball foul, nobody would employ the tactic ever again. Or you could just give teams the option to decline free throws. There. Two easy fixes to an obvious problem. Go! Use one!

But for now, the Hack-A-Whoever exists, and coaches will employ it, even ones on record saying they wish it didn't exist. So if we're going to have to watch it, we should appreciate how strange and intriguing it is.

The Hack-A-Whoever asks incredibly talented athletes to perform a relatively simple task on an important stage. Sometimes they succeed. More often, they flail. These players tend to have some combination of poor form, large hands, enormous muscles built for power rather than precision, nerves and a style of play that never requires them to shoot the ball from 15 feet away from the hoop.

This simple task breaks them. And we get to watch them as it happens.

Professional athletes are, by nature, incredibly confident in their abilities. The Hack-A-Whoever is the rare moment where an athlete is asked to display a skill they're fully aware they can't do well. They've spent hours and hours and hours and hours practicing, and they're still just hurling a ball and hoping for the best.

If they could, they would fast-forward. But they can't. They can't pass or sub out. They are required to do this thing they know they cannot.

All good free throw shooters are alike. Each broken free throw shooter is broken in his own way.

Jordan's form isn't horrible, but he seems to have no control over how hard he shoots the ball. Sometimes he airballs it short. Sometimes, he banks it in off the glass on shots that would've been four or five feet long were it not for the existence of a backboard:

Joey Dorsey, perhaps the most muscular player in the NBA, had perhaps the worst free throw shooting season in NBA history this year, shooting 28 percent. He appears to rest the ball on his palm instead of using his fingers. Here, he airballs a free throw short and to the right.

In this game, Andre Drummond completely dominated the Sixers. Then, they asked him to shoot FT's and he airballed and clanged them:

Tiago Splitter shoots line drives that peak at around 11 feet in the air when they have to pass through a rim 10 feet in the air. Here, the ball barely reaches the front of the rim.

Dwight Howard just kinda walks up to the line and flicks his wrist, which leads to wild inconsistencies.

And then there's the king, Chuck Hayes.

I have watched those videos of Chuck Hayes shooting free throws dozens, if not hundreds of times. It never gets old. He's totally helpless. He knows that every person ever to watch him shoot free throws has laughed. Every coach he's ever had has told him to change. His shots are wildly inconsistent -- a cardinal flaw of a shot that's literally the same every time -- and none of the many motions he makes looks like something that would lead to a successful shot. He knows what he's doing is wrong. But he has to try.

Good free throw shooters develop a form that puts the ball in the hoop 70-90 percent of the time. The guys getting hacked are all hovering around the 50 percent line or lower. After hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of practice, they have developed a shot that's as likely to miss as hit. They can try their best, but they know there's little they can do to be more or less successful in this moment. They just have to throw the ball up and hope for the best.

The Hack-A-Whoever isn't the only scenario where an athlete has to perform a task they aren't suited to perform. We love to watch NL pitchers hit, or position players pitch, or when an NFL kicker gets injured and some guy who hasn't kicked since high school has to try extra points or kick punts.

But those are different for a few reasons. For starters, those people are doing difficult things. Few of us can hit MLB pitchers or get outs on MLB batters or kick field goals. Almost all recreational basketball players can hit half their free throws. And then you get an NBA guy who can't. Their shot is no harder.

And there are no expectations on those other fish out of water. You pinch hit for a pitcher if he's actually batting in a serious situation. Position players only pitch in blowouts. Nobody will judge the random kicker for missing.

The Hack-A-Whoever isn't random and it's important for the players to perform. It's a strategy that takes the worst players in a sport at a specific thing and makes them do that thing. It forces them to display their weakness. Their teams can win or lose based on the performance of these fish out of water. And the only person who can cause them to succeed or fail is themselves.

The Hack-A-Whoever might be terrible for basketball. But I propose an alternate NBA playoffs where the champion is decided by having the worst player on each team shoot 25 free throws. Winner moves on. We can't ruin basketball with this, but we can enjoy the spectacle of athletes at their most hopeless, helpless and hapless.

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