Over two games last week, Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan attempted 54 free throws. Jordan is only averaging 4.6 free throw attempts per game on the season, so it was something of bolt from the blue that, in consecutive games, opposing coaches decided it was a winning strategy to foul constantly the poor free throw shooting Jordan.
Both the volume and ugliness of Jordan’s efforts to convert free throws last week set off a debate about changing the rules to prevent copious, deliberate fouling.
1) as was true of Shaq, Jordan’s problems from the charity stripe are overblown. He’s still a great player. Yes, a great player. I know this is still a difficult concept for many basketball pundits to grasp, but you get no extra points for degree-of-difficulty in basketball. Therefore, Jordan’s 72% field goal percentage is an extraordinary benefit to his team. He’s also a great shot blocker (“elite rim protector,” in today’s parlance). And he’s the top rebounder in the NBA. Rebounding is a funny thing – there isn’t a person in the world who denies its import to a team, but if you’re big and dominate the boards, you’re regarded as doing nothing more than anyone in your position could do (even though, essentially no one on the planet can actually rebound as well). Therefore, rebounding on an individual level is discounted.
Going 10-28 from the line in a game, as DJ did last week against the Spurs is pretty brutal. But it’s worth remembering that the Clippers actually won the game and scored 119 points in the process. And this was a game in which Pop actually played all of his guys.
2) one argument *against* changing any rules is this – that Jordan shouldn’t be “rewarded” for his failure (since, as you all know, this general indulgence of “kids today” is what is destroying America). Jordan, many have argued, is a highly paid professional and should “do his job.” As suggested above, in almost every way that counts, Jordan *is* doing his job and doing it exceedingly well. But that framing of the issue is, itself, flawed. Sports change their rules often. They do so for a variety of reasons, one of which is because they want to maintain an entertaining product.
To take perhaps the most famous example, in 1973, the American League adopted the designated hitter rule. Though for purists this was akin to Eve taking a bite from apple, the reasoning behind it was clear enough – the league wanted to boost offense to attract more fans. Like other leagues throughout modern sports history, they were making a decision to regulate the flow of the game. The DH is now the norm at almost every level of organized baseball, outside of the National League. It could surely have been argued that instituting the DH rule was “rewarding failure” by letting pitchers off the hook from hitting, something they have been, as a group, very bad at but was, up to that time, at least part of their job.
Few people would have an interest in basketball if it devolved into a (bad) free throw shooting contest. Whether it’s a problem worth acting on – on the grounds that we’re really only talking about one or two guys – is a separate question. But to argue that the very fact that Jordan is bad at free throws is reason *not* to change the rule is self-defeating.
All of this might be moot. Jordan’s only been forced to the line for a total of six attempts in the past two games. Clearly, not every team is interested in doing what the Spurs and Rockets did last week. But it seems reasonable to me to apply consistently the general thrust of the fouling rules in the NBA – that unless you’re making a legitimate play on the ball, you’ve committed an intentional foul.