Several weeks ago, a colleague turned me on to David Freedman’s 20 Second Time Out blog about the NBA. I don’t really agree with all the themes Freedman develops, but one very solid point he’s been making is that despite Greg Popovich’s sterling reputation and solid track-record of success, his love of hack-a-X plays — whether “X” is Shaw or Tyson Chandler or whomever — doesn’t make a great deal of sense.
To get it down to cold, hard math the NBA’s top team in terms of offensive efficiency this year, Phoenix, scored 1.11 points per possession. Even if you assume no chance of offensive rebound that’s equivalent to giving up two shots to a 55 percent free throw shooter. And that’s the average for the best offense in the league. San Antonio only gives up 0.95 points on its average possession which is equivalent (again, wrongly ignoring the possibility of an offensive rebound) to giving up two free throws to a 48 percent free throw shooter. In general, bad as guys like Shaq and Chandler are at shooting free throws, for either of them two free shots is still a more-efficient-than-average offensive possession.
As I say, Popovich’s love of this tactic is unusually odd since the Spurs are a very good defensive team. The Wizards, by contrast, are a not-so-hot defense that was at times facing off against Ben Wallace who’s even worse than Shaq or Chandler, creating a situation where hack-a-Ben really might have been a good idea.