Thanks not only to our friends at www.TheSportsRush.com, but also to a Reddit handle by the name of u/IshSmithsonian for the info in this post. It’s all about some legendary NBA history and the technique that came to be known as “Hack-a-Shaq.”
Speaking of legends, Shaq is certainly in the all-time great list for the Lakers. He was so crazy-powerful in the paint, virtually jamming the rock at will any time he got close. What could defenders do about it? Well, someone somewhere came up with the crazy idea (at the time) to foul O’Neal before he had the chance to get to the rim, and see if Shaq could make the foul shots.
NBA history buffs remember that if Shaq was “challenged” by any particular aspect of the game, it was at the free throw line. So hack-a-Shaq was born. Put the big man at the line and take your chances. Now years later, stats show that idea kinda, sorta worked. It didn’t stop the Lakers from winning multiple NBA Championships of course, but maybe it helped other teams feel better about their chances of winning (and yes, there is a sarcastic smile that comes with that).
If you never saw Shaq on the court in uniform for the Lakers (and before that, Orlando), he was a total beast. No doubt one of the most – if not THE most – dominant players at the position.
In top playing form, it made sense to other teams that the only way they were doing to stop the 7’1″, 330 pound Shaq was to foul him. Stats nerds, digest this: Through a total of 15 NBA Finals games played over 3 series, Shaq averaged an ungodly 36 points and 15 rebounds. Averaged!
Yet – again, the stats nerds already know this – during the 2000-01 season, the Lakers were the worst free throw shooting team in the league. As a team, they were sent to the line for an average of 28.5 free throws per game. Collectively, they only 68.3% of them (19.4 points).
However – and here’s the interesting bit – when you subtract Shaq’s oversized stat of 13.1 free throw attempts per game…and his making an average per game of 6.7 of those tosses, you get a team that’s doing great from the line. Without Shaq’s numbers, the Lakers made 13.7 of their 15.4 attempts – an average of 88.9%. That would have been enough to lead the league by a margin of over 9%.
Putting Shaq on the line for just about half of all free throws taken by the Lakers was totally the plan. Any time the Lakers got started on a big run of scoring, teams would crank up the Shaq-hacking. NBA historians give credit to San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich for the origination of the idea.
In fact, as the idea gained league-wide acceptance, it even changed the way squads recruited. Teams went out looking for really big men – stocking up, so to speak – to have guys they could burn fouls on … all for the purpose of fouling Shaq and getting him to the line.
So in the end, Hack-a-Shaq did (kinda) work… but only in a very limited way. O’Neal and the Lakers continued to win, no matter who went to the line. Greatness shines through, no matter what.