Friday, May 2

"Hack" doesn't rhyme with "Ben"

Nevertheless, players and writers alike are referring to the Washington Bullets' defensive tactic of fouling Ben Wallace to exploit his historically bad free-throw shooting as "Hack-a-Ben," even though the phrase lacks the rhyming quality of its more famous predecessor, "Hack-a-Shaq.".

Some people have a real philsophical objection to this defensive strategy, thinking it's somehow not noble or contrary to the spirit of the game. I have no such qualms. This is no different from strategies like double-teaming an opponent's best player or running a zone against a poor-shooting club. On the other end of the floor, it's the same idea as posting up the other team's worst defender or setting up an iso play to take a slow opponent off the dribble. This is what good teams and coaches do - they play to their strengths and attack the other team's weaknesses. If that weakness happens to be a particularly inept foul shooter, then I say put him on the line. I'm not bothered that the Wizards are trying such a strategy on any silly purist grounds - I'm bothered because it seems like it works.

Coaches will typically disown publicly the foul-the-dude-who-can't-shoot technique, but never offer any real justification for not employing it, other than trying to project a general sense of moral superiority. But seriously, if you're trying to win, there's no good reason not to exploit this avenue. As an aside, this opinion sort of mirrors my philosophy on intentional walks in baseball. If you have first base open and the other team's top hitter at the plate, why on earth would you pitch to him? It always amazes me when fans boo this; sure, you want to see your club's big bat take his swings, but you have to be a smart enough fan to recognize sound managerial tactics and accept that a lesser player is going to have to step up. These things happen in team sports.

Getting back to Wallace and his woes at the free-throw line, there are a couple of comments from the above-linked article (not the Onion one) that I'd like to respond to. First is Lindsey Hunter, a teammate of Big Ben's in his Detroit days:

"[We figured] 'this is our brother, and you're going to try and embarrass him with something like that?' I've heard different people reference to, 'If a guy is out there and he can't shoot free throws, we're going to do that.' Hey, to each his own. But when he was a part of this, we'd punish you for that."

This is utter nonsense. The point isn't to embarrass anyone, it's to win basketball games. Are we playing some sort of gentlemen's game where it's impolite to put pressure on your opponent? Shall we apologize for scoring on the fellow trying to guard us? Please. If anything, the player in question is embarrassing himself by being a professional basketball player and only being able to hit free throws at about half the rate of a good women's college team.

Speaking of our defensive-minded big man, Wallace himself says about his career-spanning free-throw struggles, "I've heard it all from shooting underhanded to bank shots. I just tune people out now." Really, you don't even listen to experts trying to help you? Is this really the best course of action? The fact that Wallace is the NBA's worst performer of all-time at the easiest-to-improve facet of basketball, and yet is not really interested in any advice is kinda troubling to me.

Nevertheless, I look for the Cavs to close the Bullets in the nation's capital tonight just as they did in 2007. And 2006.


Ernest said...

For some reason, I just cannot seem to accept the fact that Wallace is a worse foul shooter than the immortal former Cav Chris Dudley, a career 45.8% shooter. Maybe I just perversely like the idea of a big white Yale graduate setting the benchmark for futility in this category.

Andy said...

I even provided a link: Wallace is 41.8% lifetime. That's 10% worse!