NBA players explain the right way to take a charge: ‘It’s not something that just happens’ – The Athletic

Tim CatoMar 19, 2024

At John Beilein’s Michigan, film sessions hurt.

Beilein, who coached the Wolverines from 2007 to 2019, had a long-held tradition of calling out players who didn’t take charges. When there were instances where a charge could have been taken but wasn’t, the coaching staff first identified it on film. The player responsible then was sent to the practice court, alongside a team staffer with pads, to recreate the exact scenario.

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That player would have to step up and get run over.

“That was the consequence,” said Dallas Mavericks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who played three seasons under Beilein.

It’s never left him. Orlando’s Moritz Wagner, who also spent three years at Michigan, said he “never knew what a charge was” until he arrived in Ann Arbor. Under Beilein, Wagner not only learned the charge, but also has carried it with him. He has taken 20 charges this season, fourth-most in the NBA — just behind third-place Hardaway.

The charge is one of basketball’s most recognizable whistles. It’s taught from an early age as purely a hustle play. Sacrifice your body for the team! is what a middle school coach might have yelled. Beilein literally made his players prove it.

In the NBA, however, the charge has evolved into a defensive action that requires far more than just hustle. The players who do it well rely on precise body control, timing and internalized film study no different from shooting or passing.

“It’s definitely a skill,” Mavericks center Dwight Powell said. “It’s not something that just happens.”

Hardaway no longer practices charges like he did at Michigan, though one teammate tried claiming otherwise. “While guys are getting extra shots up, Tim will be practicing charges,” guard Josh Green said. “He gets the younger guys to go at him in layup lines. He has to take five charges.”

Laughing, Hardaway said that’s “a complete lie,” but like Wagner, Hardaway internalized Beilein’s hard lessons and still favors the technique today. This season, he’s drawn 21 whistles.

Other top charge-takers began honing this skill at an even younger age. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Isaiah Joe, who has drawn 16 charges this season despite playing only 18 minutes per game, recalls taking part in charge-drawing drills on his high school team.

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“It’s something that if you haven’t been doing it most of your life, you probably won’t pick it up,” Joe said. “Even if I were to go into a game (not trying to take one), I’m still going to take a charge. It’s second nature at this point.”

Brandin Podziemski, a rookie guard for the Golden State Warriors, is the league’s current charge-taking king, having drawn 34 this season. That success comes from his pragmatism.

“I’m not going to jump with anybody at the rim and block them,” he said. “This is another form of rim protection.”

Wagner, who’s 6-foot-10, but has averaged fewer than one block every three games in his six-year career, has come to the same conclusion.

“It comes out of a lack of athleticism and trying to create an advantage defensively,” he said.

Golden State rookie Brandin Podziemski, seen here absorbing a blow from Utah’s Lauri Markkanen, says taking charges is “its own form of rim protection.” (Chris Nicoll / USA Today)

The first key to becoming an adept charge-taker, according to Wagner, is deciding when to actually take one. Despite his self-admitted athletic limitations, Wagner does challenge shots more traditionally when merited.

“Picking and choosing the moments when you want to warm them up and contest the layup (is) the real art of taking charges,” he said.

Once that decision is made, every prolific charge taker interviewed for this story described anticipation as the real skill behind a successful charge. For athletic dunkers, it’s best to set up several feet outside the charge circle in the paint. “You make sure you won’t be on a poster,” Hardaway said. For shiftier guards or long-limbed athletes, it’s not only about knowing where they are, but also where they will be.

“(I try to) see it from their perspective,” Podziemski said. “If I was an offensive player, what would I do?”

Podziemski has taken many of his charges in transition, where he looks for space on the court and tries to beat opponents there. “You (have to) anticipate side steps,” Hardaway said, agreeing. That requires identifying and predicting opponents’ tendencies, particularly those of star players.

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Podziemski recently used one of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ticks against him.

“When (Giannis) drives left, he likes to spin,” Podziemski said. “I was in the corner and he was driving left, so I just ran over there in case he spun right.”

It’s not foolproof: Podziemski was called for a blocking foul in this instance, but he displayed another technique on that sequence, one he believes has helped him draw so many other charges this season. Traditionally, players are taught to cross their arms across their body. Podziemski, instead, keeps his raised.

“I make initial contact, and when I do fall, it looks more fluid with the contact,” he said. “I’ve learned that over time, it makes sense.”

Body control is another crucial element to the charge. Players use it to properly stop, to anticipate the contact, to absorb it in a manner that looks like a charge, making it likelier for the referee to side with them. Then, they need to fall in a manner that avoids injury.

Podziemski and Joe say charge-taking shouldn’t hurt if done correctly. “Every once in a while, you catch a good one,” Joe said. Podziemski recalled a charge he drew when Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis struck his face with an elbow, but he described it as an isolated event.

Other top charge-takers disagree. Hardaway still remembers the pain of taking three charges in a game against the Lakers in December after missing the prior game with back spasms. “It didn’t help (my back) at all,” Hardaway said after that game. “But I have to lay my body on the line for my team.”

“You know it’s going to hurt,” Powell added. “You see it coming, and you just have to stand there and know what’s about to happen.”

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Knicks guard Josh Hart claims it hurts his ego. “I don’t take charges,” Hart said, “because I don’t want the offensive player to feel like he’s stronger than me.” When told his teammate, close friend and college teammate Jalen Brunson has drawn 28 this season, the second-most in the league, Hart said, “Well, if you get f—ing cooked one-on-one, you at least gotta do something.”

Green, teammates with Brunson during his time in Dallas, piled on in a separate interview. “There’s a difference between taking a charge and flopping,” he said. Brunson has taken the majority of his charges as an on-ball defender, rather than when helping off ball. Those aren’t easier, Wagner said, but they require the same anticipation. It helps that league rules say that the charge circle — a dotted line near the basket inside of which defenders cannot legally take a charge — doesn’t apply to primary defenders.

“The primary defender (charges), it’s easier to flop on those ones,” Wagner said.

Orlando’s Moritz Wagner, shown here against Brooklyn’s Mikal Bridges, said the first key to a becoming a good charge-taker is “picking and choosing the moments when you want to warm them up and contest the layup.” (Elsa / Getty Images)

But even if there is some embellishment, the collisions can hurt. As nearly every player interviewed noted, knowing how to properly fall backwards is another necessary skill. “It’s learning how to fall on your back without breaking your wrist or hitting somebody else,” Wagner said. The pain caused to the charge taker sometimes pales to the danger to the airborne attacker — especially one attempting to dunk — who has lost control upon colliding with the floor-bound defender. On last postseason’s opening weekend, Antetokounmpo and Memphis’ Ja Morant both were injured on such plays. This season, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards also missed three games with a hip injury after crashing down hard on a defender’s attempted charge.

While there’s no indication that the league has considered changing the rule, the topic has emerged periodically as a hot button issue, one recently tackled by two writers at The Athletic. Zach Harper proposed banning the charge because it “isn’t really a basketball play,” while John Hollinger argued the other side.

Podziemski sees it as the charge-taker’s responsibility to avoid these collisions, not the offensive player. “It can be a dangerous play, obviously, if you don’t know how to take them,” he said. But he hopes the charge stays in the game, both for his own sake “because I’m good at them,” and because he believes taking one can make an impact that lasts throughout a game.

“From a mental perspective (for them), they know I went in there once and got (one),” he said. “Now, when I’m in there, it’s not just going to be a free roam to the rim.”

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Wagner, a known on-court provocateur, likes the charge for a related reason.

“It triggers the frustrations of (the) player,” he said. “You’re trying to always achieve that when you can without actively doing it. But it’s all love, obviously.”

Most of these prolific charge-drawers offered support for the rule. “How you gonna take something away that’s part of the game?” Hardaway asked. But Wagner has a more stoic perspective.

“Every time someone falls down, it’s dangerous,” he said. “But players adjust to the rules. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t a rule. I don’t really have an opinion on (whether it should be legal).”

For now, he’ll keep taking them, as many others do, because the charge is a skill — one players have honed over time to create momentum plays on the court.

As Powell said, “We get to get a guy up off the ground in a good way.”

(Top photo of Tim Hardaway Jr. taking a charge: Jerome Miron / USA Today

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Tim Cato is a staff writer at The Athletic covering the Dallas Mavericks. Previously, he wrote for SB Nation. Follow Tim on Twitter @tim_cato

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