The Art of Taking a Charge

Monday September 27, 2010 10:11 PM

Charging Ahead

Rockets defenders have turned taking a charge into an art form

Jason Friedman

AUSTIN - It’s the kind of play that rarely, if ever, makes it on SportsCenter. You probably wont see a player pose and preen after the fact – at most you might witness a weary fist pump – after all, it’s pretty tough to celebrate utilizing the full smorgasbord of histrionics when you’ve just been flattened by a giant human racing full speed ahead.

Still, surely the time has come for drawing charges to step out of the shadows of obscurity and into the spotlight. For too long has it toiled in relative anonymity behind its sexier sibling, the blocked shot. In fact, perhaps it’s helpful to think of charge-taking as one of the lesser-known Kardashian sisters: like Khloe and Kourtney, it’s not quite as hot as Kim and doesn’t bring quite the same amount of glitz, glamour and pizzazz to the table, but it’s still highly effective and capable of carrying the show from time to time.

Or better yet: don’t think of the Kardashians at all. As in, EVER. Instead just focus on the basketball value behind drawing a charge: like the block, it negates a scoring opportunity for the opposition. Better yet, it guarantees possession for your team (a block doesn’t do that) and burdens your opponent with a cumbersome personal foul (nope, blocks don’t do that, either).

In Houston, of course, taking a charge was perfected to an art form last season as the Rockets not only led the entire league in offensive fouls drawn, they also boasted a whopping five players (Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, Kyle Lowry and league-leader Jared Jeffries) who ranked in the top-15 in the NBA in the category.

To be sure, the Rockets’ ranking was due in part to the fact they had to survive via small-ball last season without Yao Ming’s monolithic presence in the middle – a reality that forced Houston to start Hayes at center, ensuring the club was an entire foot shorter at the position than it had been the previous seven seasons. Shot blocking was simply not something upon which the Rockets could rely, so instead they went into MacGyver mode and made do with what they had, transforming themselves into charge-drawing dynamos.

“It’s really just knowing your opposition and knowing how to be at the right place at the right time, and knowing your team and your defensive schemes,” says Lowry, while describing the keys to eliciting offensive fouls from opponents. “Last year our blocked shot was to take a charge… It’s just a challenge for guys to know the right spots and to know your rotations the right way to be able to be there to take a charge.”

It’s also a case study in knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses. If you’re Dwight Howard, no question, you need to be leaping tall buildings in a single bound and attempting to swat as many shots as possible (though try keeping more of them in play, please). If you’re Shane Battier, a player actually gifted in both disciplines (Battier has averaged exactly one blocked shot per game during his 9 years in the league), then you rely on your skill, savvy and split-second decision making when determining whether a block or charge is the better play. And for the ground-bound, like Luis Scola, drawing a charge can be the great equalizer.

“I’m not a good shot blocker," says Scola, "So that’s what I try to do to compensate. It’s just about trying to do what you do best and trying to do what’s productive for you.”

Of course, with Yao returning to action, the addition of Brad Miller and Patrick Patterson, and full seasons of support from Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries, the Rockets will no longer bear any resemblance to Team Mini-Me. Size, or lack thereof, along the frontcourt should no longer be an issue.

That’s not to say charges drawn will lessen in significance this season; Head Coach Rick Adelman and his players insist it will continue to play a pivotal role in the team’s defensive strategies. It simply means the Rockets should be a more versatile defensive team this time around – welcome news for a club desperate to return to its dominant defensive roots.

“I believe we can be better at defense overall,” says Scola. “It’s not about just charges. Charges are just one of the weapons. If it happens to be our best weapon, then we need to rely on it. But if we can have a lot of weapons, then we’ll be a better defensive team and that’s what it’s all about.”

And 1s: The Rockets kicked off the Austin leg of training camp Monday and though they certainly fared better than did the Longhorns’ football team this weekend, the team did experience some very minor attrition. Shane Battier came down with a bout of food poisoning, while Rick Adelman said Kyle Lowry and Jermaine Taylor “banged up” their knees. Nothing serious, but with Chase Budinger and Brad Miller already sitting out with sprained ankles and Yao Ming’s minutes being monitored as well, it did leave the Rockets’ a little thin at times during the day’s practice. Those diminished numbers, however, had seemingly no impact on the intensity level witnessed during Monday’s workout.

“It’s a very good, competitive group, there’s no doubt about it,” said Adelman. “They’re going after each drill and the way we’re trying to play is taxing – it’s taxing because we’re pushing it and trying to be aggressive.”

As for Yao, all signs continue to be positive during his return from a fractured left foot that forced him to miss all of the 2009-10 season. He’s participated in scrimmages and drills during each day of camp thus far, which in and of itself, is clearly a step in the right direction.

“I think just having him on the court and playing and participating in all the drills – that’s what you’re looking for,” said Adelman. “If anybody expects to see the same guy from two years ago you’re kidding yourselves because he’s coming off a major injury and hasn’t played 5-on-5 for 15 months. So I’ve been encouraged by just the fact he’s out there and going through the drills. He’s just going to get better.

“I think just (his teammates) seeing him out there and when he does certain things it’s encouraging to the team because they know what kind of team we can be with him. But right now it’s just limited and you have to understand that.”

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