Who’s in Charge? The Answer is Cody Martin

by Sam Perley

It’s a four-point Hornets lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the team’s third outing of the season on a Sunday evening in Brooklyn. PJ Washington is guarding the Nets’ James Harden just above the three-point arc. As the lane clears out, Harden drives to the right looking to cut the deficit down to one possession. Keeping a watchful eye on his own man near the left post, Cody Martin quickly sets his feet just in front of the restricted circle a second or two before the former MVP comes barreling into him for an offensive foul.

Following a jumper by Ish Smith at the other end, Harden starts from the same spot, trying to get past Washington again. He drives straight towards the basket, eyeing teammate Bruce Brown underneath the goal for a dump-off pass. Just after Harden makes the dish, he rams into the stationary Martin again. The jolt sends the Charlotte wing tumbling backwards, as the referee signals yet another charge.

Harden then heads to the bench with his fourth and fifth infractions. Moments later, Smith finds Martin on a perfect cut to the basket for a two-handed dunk to stretch the visitors’ advantage to eight, helping set in motion an eventual 111-95 victory.

“Those are momentum killers for other teams,” says Martin, when asked about taking charges. “I understand my job when I’m out there on the floor and that there’s other ways to gain possessions. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as it gets done. It gives us a break without having to take a timeout. It allows us to walk back and catch our breath. I try to look for opportunities to do that anytime throughout the game, regardless if we’re up or down. Those are winning plays that I’ve always done throughout my career.”

A charge occurs when an offensive player makes significant contact with a defensive player that has an established position, provided the latter is outside of the restricted circle. If the defensive player is not in the proper position – his feet or torso are moving – it’s a blocking foul. Through Sunday’s action, Martin is tied for second in the NBA in charges drawn this season with seven, a number already halfway to his career high of 14 set as a rookie.

Last year, Terry Rozier and Caleb Martin led the Hornets with 12 charges drawn; Blake Griffin, Montrezl Harrell and Kemba Walker were tops in the league with 22 apiece. And since the NBA began tracking hustle stats six years ago, Walker also owns the highest single-season charge total in franchise history with 28 set during the 2016-17 campaign.

“Those must have been on the ball. I don’t take charges like that,” says a surprised Rozier, when informed of his team-high total last season. “I don’t know where you got that number from. I’m going to talk some stuff to Cody now because he’s the charge master. When we’re competing in practice, it’s game point, he takes a charge and we all get angry at him like, ‘How do you do that?’ But when you get out there on the court, he’s hunting charges and does that at a high level. It’s always helpful for our team. It turns us in the right direction.”

Martin’s charge-taking mastery really started gaining steam at North Carolina State University, where the now 26-year-old watched defenders like Cat Barber utilize this tactic. “As a defender, I took pride in defending and getting stops, so to me, it didn’t matter how I got them,” he says. “Honestly, I started learning different ways to get stops other than just stopping the person from making the shot. That’s when I started incorporating taking charges.”

He adds, “A lot of it is mental – the timing of it, when to do it. The physical stuff is a lot of technique, being able to take the hit and fall because some people fall back on their wrists and can really hurt their hands. I think when I was younger, playing football taught me how to fall. It’s definitely a skill for sure because I’ve played with a lot of people that just don’t know how to take charges. Some of that stuff is people being afraid to get hurt. If you know how to adjust, take the hit and fall backwards safely, it’s really not bad.”

“He was taught that long before we got him here,” says Head Coach James Borrego. “Somewhere early in his career, it could have been a middle school coach, high school coach or maybe his college coach, he’s willing to sacrifice his body to step in there and take a charge. It’s a very unselfish and sacrificial play that leads to momentum for our team.”

As for the most painful charge Martin’s ever taken? “Probably Giannis [Antetokounmpo] for sure. He has to be at the top of the list,” he recalls, referencing a game last season when the running-at-full-speed Greek Freak and his chiseled left forearm plowed straight through Martin’s left shoulder, knocking him straight back to the baseline.

Knowing how to draw charges isn’t always about getting the call every single time either, Martin says. There’s also an element of deception mixed with, at times, gamesmanship. “Sometimes, I try to do it, but know I can’t [get there],” he explains. “So, I’ll try and fake it to make the offensive player adjust his momentum to the rim. Whether it’s off-ball charges or on-ball charges, you can still get hit enough for it to be a charge, but you learn how to sell it.”

Few plays in basketball have the capability of swinging momentum like that of taking a charge, and there’s much more to it than just running into a ball-handler’s path hoping to get trampled. Cody Martin sums it up best when he says, “It’s about understanding that getting stops is getting stops, no matter how you do it.”

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