Last week, the Houston Rockets were slowly pulling away from the New York Knicks with 3:40 left in the game when Hack-A-Howard began.
Hack-a-Howard, originally known as Hack-a-Shaq, is a coaching strategy used on players who are liabilities at the free-throw line. It is primarily used on big men and Dwight Howard is no exception, averaging 48 percent from the charity stripe this season and 58 percent over his career.
Howard badly missed his first two Hack-a-Howard related free-throw attempts then was replaced with Patrick Beverley.
The Hack-a-Howard effect goes beyond the missed free throws in two big ways:
Opens Up The Paint:
The lineup without Howard featured Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones, both 6-9, as the big men. Jones is a more than capable rebounder but struggles with post defense. Parsons is primarily a swingman who guards perimeter players instead of bangers down low, but has stated his commitment to improve on defense.
The Knicks responded by posting up Carmelo Anthony every chance they could.
With Howard playing, Anthony was catching the ball at the elbow and settling for jumpers; but with Howard on the bench, he was able to post up much closer to the basket. He didn’t have to worry about Howard coming over from the weak side to block his shot. Anthony took advantage of the opportunity by sealing off his man much deeper in the paint and finding the open teammate when the double team came.
Harder To Create:
Offensively, Hack-a-Howard lingers beyond the two minute mark rule.
Howard can’t have the ball in his hands because teams will foul him. The Rockets tend to play more isolation ball without Howard, which leads to a lack of ball movement and players standing around – Houston made a couple of late game turnovers because of shot clock violations.
Houston ran Jeremy Lin–James Harden pick-and-rolls in crunch time because they didn’t want Howard getting the ball. Howard finding the open man after a double team would never happen in a late game situation because the defender would immediately foul him. Howard’s post up play is a big part of Houston’s offense but they cannot rely on it in late game situations.
Teams can foul Howard at any time if he has the ball in his hands and not have to worry about a free throw and giving up the next possession.
That’s why he is such a liability in late game situations: he cannot have the ball in his hands, no matter what.
Plain and simple, Howard has to be able to knock down free throws if the Rockets want to contend for a championship.