New Orleans — At 6-foot-11, it’s difficult for Andre Drummond to run and hide. He’s become the easiest target to find on the court and teams are looking to take advantage of his terrible free-throw shooting.
In Wednesday night’s game against the Rockets, all Drummond could do was hold his arms, while the Rockets players took turns doing airport security pat-downs to draw intentional fouls.
The Rockets’ K.J. McDaniels fouled Drummond five times in the first nine seconds of the third quarter and the Pistons — specifically, Drummond, who is hitting only 36 percent this season — were shooting free throws for every foul the rest of the period. Over the next two and a half minutes, Drummond was fouled eight times and made 5-of-16 free throws.
The Pistons didn’t have any field-goal attempts during the stretch, but the Rockets managed to whittle a nine-point halftime deficit and take the lead, thanks to the fouls.
It’s an ugly basketball — and the NBA knows it.
The league can’t change the rules in midseason, but they’ll take another deep and hard look at making a change so that fans who plunked down a handsome ransom to go to an arena or lounging at home are not subjected to a parade of free throws early in games.
“It is a discussion we’re having and it’s something we’ve continued to study. Historically, my position has been that I haven’t been anxious to change the rule,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said this week in a visit to Detroit. “Having said that, we agreed in our competition committee last summer that we needed to continue to study it and look at another season of data.”
Silver doesn’t need any kind of complex research to determine that the rule needs some correction — much like Drummond’s free-throw stroke.
In his postgame comments Wednesday, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy turned the focus back to the league and the controversial rule.
“Adam Silver and the league, they’ve decided that’s the way they want to play the game and that’s what they want people to watch. As long as the fans are OK watching it, we’ll continue to play that way,” Van Gundy said. “At some point, the fans may say, ‘We’re not going to pay to watch this; we’re going to flip the channels.’
“They haven’t yet —that’s what Adam keeps saying — but when they do, then the league will have to make an adjustment. That’s not up to us; our job is just to coach the game within the rules. I don’t decide what people want to watch; that’s up to Adam and his people.”
It’s also up to the coaches to determine a valid game plan. Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he was trying to win the game and the ploy didn’t work, but it’s something that more teams are using to try to short-circuit the Pistons’ offensive rhythm and play the percentages that Drummond is going to miss free throws.
Basketball traditionalists would argue that the rule should remain, because Drummond should be a better free-throw shooter. But calling the rule into question isn’t about Drummond or the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan or even Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard, other recent targets.
For the NBA and its advertisers and fans, it’s about a watchable product. It has very little to do with sending a message to young children on playgrounds that hitting free throws is as important as a dunk or a 3-pointer.
So if they don’t keep the current rule, what’s the best alternative?
“That’s the first thing I ask when people say we should change the rule,” Silver said. “We need to decide what the best alternative would be, lock that in place and decide whether that best alternative is better than the rule we currently have.
“When we’re looking at so many options at once, it’s hard to reach any consensus.”
Some suggestions tossed around include letting the offensive team have the choice of taking the ball out of bounds or taking the free throws.
The most intriguing idea is after intentional fouls, allowing the offensive team to pick which of the five players on the court it wants to shoot the free throws — similar to the process following technical fouls.
“I’m a traditionalist when it comes to the game,” Silver said. “From a fan standpoint and it’s something we may have to look at changing.”
Silver said that input from the fans, coaches and owners will help shape the discussion in the offseason. One of the key measures is the minute-by-minute TV ratings and observing whether fans turn off their TVs during stretches of intentional fouling.
If last night’s debacle in Houston was any indication, the answer is all in the numbers — and not the number of makes from the free-throw line.