You see this in every basketball game, whether you’re a casual observer or a true lover of the sport. Contact under the basket. A foul that earns a shooter two free throws at the line. Or maybe even a foul in the act of shooting from beyond the arc, which would involve three shots at the line. Now it’s the final seconds and your team is down one, with your best free throw shooter ready to take the ball. If he makes both shots, your team wins. Uh-oh, the first one clangs of the back of the iron. Now the clock could run out and you might end up in a tie, going into overtime …
Or better yet, you know that the other team’s main star can hit from all over the court, but his free throws are turds. You can control the pace of the game by jabbing at him, poking at him, hacking him while he shoots – and a guaranteed two points might dribble down to one – or a complete O-for – at the line. You know, the classic “Hack-a-Shaq” defense.
In basketball, a free throw is just as strategic as every other play. I’ve seen games turn in the final seconds based on the accuracy – or lack thereof – of a free throw shooter’s attempts. And those shots become part of the player’s legacy, for good or bad. “Ice in his veins” as he makes that clutch basket. “Bricks all day” as he misses them in tight moments. And you really can’t call them “free” throws, you have to earn them – running up and down a 94-foot basketball court for 48 minutes, then in a foul you have to slow down your heartbeat, control your breathing, and hit a free throw with both teams alongside of you, hoping to snag that errant bounce.
This year, the NBA’s developmental league – the Gatorade League – will institute a new rule regarding free throws.
Here’s the old rule – if you get fouled while in the act of shooting and the ball does not already go through the hoop (the “and one”), you can make two free throw attempts, with each successful basket counting as one point towards the team’s score.
Now in the G-League, if you get fouled while in the act of shooting, you get ONE free throw – and if it’s successful, your team earns those two points that could have been previously earned with two free throws.
And if you’re fouled while in the act of shooting a three-point basket … well, you get one free throw, and that free throw would count for three points if you made the shot.
I’m looking at this and thinking to myself … why do this at all?
First off, let’s look at the options here. If you’re one of the best free throw shooters in the league, you get fouled and you’re on the line knocking down the free throws – nobody’s going to dare foul you. It’s an automatic guaranteed score. But if you hit bricks on the line like you’re a union masonry worker … everybody’s going to hack at you the second your fingers touch the ball. It changes the aesthetic of the game. That’s all I need to see – Markelle Fultz and Draymond Green to the line every game.
And in those moments when you physically take two free throws after you’ve been mugged under the basket, and you hit one of the two, you could say, “Well, we got something out of that drive,” while the other team is going, “Well, we held them to one made free throw and one miss.” Today in the G-League, however, that would equate to, “Well, we kept the offense from scoring by hacking on their worst player, and he couldn’t get the points that would have equated to that attempt he made at a layup.”
Listen, I get that basketball – like all professional sports – evolves over time. The sport didn’t start with a three-point arc or a 24-second shot clock, those grew out of necessity and the improvement of the game. And I’m not ready to go back to a two-handed set shot and 28-22 final scores.
But this rule is dumb. It changes the idea that points scored are equivalent to the degree of difficulty in making them. You should earn two points for a basket made in the flow of competition. You should earn three points for a basket made from beyond 22 feet 9 inches. And if you’re standing at the line, with everyone standing still, every shot you take should be worth one point. You don’t need variable “one shot for all the points” free throw shots.
It’s about as dumb as that “3D” rule that the ragtag American Basketball Association uses today – by the way, I’m talking about the current iteration of that league, not the classic league from the 1960’s. They had a goony rule in that if you stole the ball in your opponent’s back court and scored on that ensuing possession, you earned an extra “3D” point. So you could force a turnover, hit a 3-pointer – and earn four points on the score board. Pinball basketball. Yeesh.
And don’t even get me started on the argument that there should be a “four-point” shot for any baskets made from halfcourt. Why not just give six points for any baskets made from the concession stand?
Yeah, this “one free throw equals two points” rule is dumb. It ruins the flow of the game, it ruins the strategy of the game, it penalizes good free throw shooters and showcases the crappy ones. It’s a dumb rule and I hope that it dies a “one and done” death in the Gatorade League.