Guess what? I think I’ve solved the hacking problem.
Ideally, the league will come up with a way to disincentivize hacking without removing the option to do it entirely. So here’s my solution:
Currently, after five fouls in a quarter, teams go into the bonus and shoot two free throws after every foul. But what if, after a certain number of fouls (let’s say eight), those two free throws became three free throws?
Consider the numbers here. DeAndre Jordan makes 43% of his free throws. That means it mathematically beneficial to make Jordan shoot as many free throws as possible. Why? Because the Clippers score around 1.06 points per possession. If you multiply the value of a free throw (one point) by the percentage Jordan hits (.43), that adds up to .86 points per possession. Teams are saving .2 points every time they hack Jordan. It’s strategically valid over a large enough sample size. The same is true for Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, and any number of other players.
But let’s apply the same math with three free throws. One point multiplied by .43 equals 1.29 points per possession. Teams are very rarely going to surrender that kind of return willingly, but the option to do so remains on the table. If they are willing to make a variance bet on a small sample size (say, fouling Jordan twice and hoping he happens to make only one or two of his shots), they can do so, but the risk is substantially higher.
Further, it satisfies all parties involved. Anyone who wants to keep regular, two shot hacking around still gets three fouls to do so. It allows teams to employ a statistically beneficial strategy without destroying the flow of an entire quarter or game by doing it indefinitely, and even after the three foul grace period, the option remains on the table.
It also creates an inherent long term risk to fouling. If you use your eight fouls to hack, then that risks sending better free throw shooters to the line for three shots later in the quarter on fouls that occur within the flow of the game. It adds another deterrent to fouling in general, increasing the viewing quality of the game.
College basketball already has a somewhat similar system. Their bonus offers a one-and-one free throw system, and the double bonus makes the second free throw guaranteed. That system has worked well there, so there’s at least a precedent for instituting a double bonus with an altered point structure in major basketball.
Ultimately, it keeps the option for hacking open to teams that want to use it while also making it harder for them to do so. It doesn’t let bad free throw shooters off of the hook as they’d still have to sink shots, but it gives them and any other fouled player more opportunities to make them. It’s the best of both worlds.