Monday, March 09, 2015

Analyzing Hack-A-Jordan

A couple weeks ago I watched an enjoyable game between the Clippers and the Spurs. It was tightly competitive, and featured many great plays from the team's stars.

Except for two stretches -- from 5:00 to 2:00 left in the 2nd and 4th quarter, the Clippers' possessions consisted of one of the Spurs grabbing Jordan, and Jordan proceeding to the free throw line to attempt two free throws, sometimes with ghastly results. #HackAJordan was on.

What had been an athletic competition turned into a psychodrama, with a man who was achieving the peak of his proficiency in all other aspects of the game being forced to confront the one discipline that evaded his mastery.

Given my loathing of anti-competitive video game sports tactics that manipulate the rules, one would think I would hate this, and, viscerally I do.  This hits all the notes.  Imagine if in baseball, for several innings, it was feasible to intentionally walk every batter until the pitcher came up.  This is what Hack-A-Jordan does. It takes the ball out of the hands of the other four players on the court (in this case, including Chris Paul), and puts up a player doing what he does worst. Ugh.

Still, there are mitigating factors, in that there are some counter-measures teams can take.

  • Hit the damn free throws Reggie Miller was doing the color commentary for this game, and was making this point. Of course, "easy for him to say" is a bit of an understatement. I'm sure Miller worked hard on his game, but I suspect shooting came bit easier to him than it does to Jordan.

    Tim Duncan has managed to turn his free throw shooting from a liability to acceptable. But the struggles of Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Dwight Howard, and now Jordan lead me to believe that it's not just a matter of effort, and it could be something they're just not good at.
  • Team Depth This problem has been thrown into relief with the injury to Blake Griffin and Jordan's emergence as an elite player. There is a big drop-off between Jordan and whomever Doc Rivers might play in his place, so he has little choice to leave him on the court.

    And maybe that's not such a bad thing. One of the good things about basketball as opposed to other sports like baseball and football is that it defies extreme specialization. A player who is a complete liability on one end of the floor is not playable, especially today when coaches pour over film and find ways to exploit weaknesses. As a National League guy, I enjoy that NBA players must have diverse skill sets.

    On the other hand, I'm not sure driving someone like DeAndre Jordan is the type of player we should be driving to the bench.
So, at least in this case, the Clippers' possible counter-measures are not so effective.

One other counter-measure is that when the clock goes down to 2:00 and the rules change so that Hack-A-Jordan is no longer possible, Chris Paul generally plays like a wild animal let out of his cage.

There is also the 6 personal foul limit for individual players.  This doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent, since each foul is a stoppage and provides an opportunity to substitute. Teams can have "designated foulers."

So what rule changes could we make?

  • Same rules all the time It is a bit odd that the rules suddenly change with 2:00 left in the half. The rule in the last 2:00 is that the fouled team can choose the shooter for fouls away from the ball. This would make players like Jordan more playable.
  • Three For Two In the old days of the NBA, fouled players had three shots to make 2 shots. This would turn the expected number of points for a 40% free throw shooter from 0.8 to 1.14. The problem is that it would mean players like Jordan take more free throws per trip; a bad experience for all involved.
  • Only call "real" fouls Hack-a-Jordan is typically executed by a player from the opposing team alerting the ref, then walking over and putting his hands on Jordan, often apologizing afterwards. The refs could ignore these "fouls" and only call fouls that are actually physical or impact the game.This would likely result in a number of undesired consequences, people clubbing these players, smashing him on screens, and ensuing fights.
I'd probably fair the first change.  But it may not be necessary. 

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