The 2015 NBA Playoffs just wrapped up, with the Golden State Warriors taking home the championship. Their run to the title, powered by Stephen Curry’s exceptional shooting stroke and Andre Iguodala’s veteran play, made for great television but was hardly the biggest story of the playoffs.
If you only tuned in for the Finals, you would have heard all about the talent and will of LeBron James, who somehow led the Cavaliers to two Finals wins despite key injuries to his teammates. But one of the underrated storylines, for the first three rounds at least, was free throw shooting. Basketball players, who are paid millions of dollars to practice their craft, were missing huge amounts of free throws, and some fans felt the need to ask for a rule change.
To clarify, the current NBA rules allow teams to foul players away from the ball. If there are more than 2 minutes left in the half, and the foul is at least the fifth team foul of the quarter, then the player who is fouled away from the ball would then get the opportunity to shoot two free throws. The rule is designed to prevent off the ball fouls, as players are expected to convert their foul shots.
Prior to this year, the rule hasn’t been the subject of any controversy, but we can thank Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan for putting the rule into question. Jordan, who shot an incredibly poor 39.7 percent from the line this year, was intentionally fouled away from the ball at an astounding rate. Both the Spurs and Rockets found success in giving the star big men a chance at two free points because, to be blunt, he was awful. In the playoffs, he shot 42.7 percent from the line on a remarkable 11.3 free throws-per-contest.
Statistically, this strategy was ingenious. Suppose Jordan was to be fouled on 100 straight possessions and shoot 200 free throws. His team, in the playoffs, would score roughly 85 points on those 100 possessions. If he shot his free throws at his regular season percentage, his team would have scored roughly 80 points in those 100 possessions. In comparison, the Philadelphia 76ers, the NBA’s worst offensive team, scored 93 points per 100 possessions, so it’s impossible to fault the Spurs or Rockets in consistently hacking away at Jordan.
So yes, teams can exploit this rule to their benefit, but the true question here is whether the NBA should eliminate the rule. I hate to ruin it for all the die-hard Clipper fans, but I’m here to say that they absolutely should not. Let’s refer back to the statistics. Among qualified players (players who made at least 125 free throws) only two players, DeAndre Jordan and Pistons center Andre Drummond, were bad enough free throw shooters to be more inefficient than the 76ers offense.
Furthermore, only 5 players were bad enough at the line to be more inefficient than the Clippers offense, which registered a league-leading 110 points per 100 possessions. Quite frankly, unless you are playing against one of a select group of five NBA players, you are better off playing straight up defense.
The idea of changing the rules for a group as small as five players is absolutely ludicrous. Baseball doesn’t ban curveballs because a group of players cannot hit them. At the end of the day, it’s up to the players to learn to perform better to avoid jeopardizing their job security. Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan aren’t losing their jobs any time soon, but they are going to have to improve from the line if their teams are going to succeed. These athletes are getting paid astronomical amounts of money. Asking them to work a little harder shouldn’t be the end of the world and the last time I checked, “practicing basketball” is somewhere in the job description of a professional basketball player.
Jake Foote is a rising sophomore in the College. The Hot Stove appears every Thursday.