A new rule change could make Dwight Howard even more effective for the Hawks

Depending on which side you’re on, the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy can be one of the most annoying things about the NBA.

Hack-a-Shaq – named lovingly for Shaquille O’Neal, who was a prime target for the practice in its early years – is when a defense intentionally fouls a player, usually a center or power forward, who doesn’t shoot free throws well. It’s a legal way to take the ball out of an opponent’s hands and force a bad free-throw shooter to score instead.

Now, that rule is changing, and it’s pretty good timing for the Atlanta Hawks.

(Also read: Kent Bazemore commits to Atlanta in full-page ad)

On Tuesday, the NBA voted to make Hack-a-Shaq a flagrant foul not just in the final two minutes of the game, but also in the final two minutes of each quarter and each overtime session as well. Instead of getting free throws, the team that is fouled in this manner would get free throws and possession of the ball.

It’s likely to cut down on the number of intentional fouls committed on big men, and the newest Atlanta Hawk, Dwight Howard, is one of the players who will benefit most.

“In looking at the data and numerous potential solutions to combat the large increase in deliberate away-from-the-play foul situations, we believe these steps offer the most measured approach,” NBA disciplinarian Kiki VanDeWeghe said in a statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “The introduction of these new rules is designed to curb the increase in such fouls without eliminating the strategy entirely.”

The rule change also makes it an automatic flagrant foul to jump on a player’s back – or do anything else that’s deemed to be dangerous or excessive – to commit an intentional foul. Before now, referees had to review the play, and it was up to their discretion.

Since O’Neal’s retirement, Howard has been one of the most frequent targets of the Hack-a-Shaq strategy, and that’s not likely to change, despite the new rule. A year ago, Howard shot just 49 percent from the free-throw line and missed 242 shots from the charity stripe. That was third-most among all NBA players, topped only by DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond.

Despite two-thirds of the franchises voting for the rule change, some were not happy to see Hack-a-Shaq punishments expanded.

“Rewarding incompetence is never a good business strategy,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told ESPN.

Photo: AP/Carlos Osorio

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