Aron Baynes is huge. In a sport where basically every person is tall compared to the average person, Baynes sticks out. Standing 6’10 and weighing 260 pounds, Baynes is among the most physically imposing big men in the league.
Baynes is not much of a shot blocker despite his size. During the 2018-19 campaign, Baynes averaged a career-best 0.7 blocks per game. He doesn’t possess a ridiculous vertical leap and he’s not the quickest guy on earth, so it’s unsurprising that number was so low. But he’s still a big man, a pretty good one at that, and as such, he has to find a way to protect the paint.
To accomplish this goal, Baynes relies on his ability to read the game to get into advantageous positions, earning the title of one of the best charge drawers in the league. NBA.com’s official stats had him tied for eighth in charges drawn per game last year, with Baynes drawing 0.35 a night. Instead of playing defense on every possession — something he knows could lead to him drawing fouls — Baynes opted to get run into and hope it led to his opponent crashing into him, leading to him drawing a foul and getting possession for his team.
You know exactly why all of this is being brought up. Baynes attempted to draw a charge on Wednesday night against Warriors guard Steph Curry, and when the two hit the deck, the big man landed on Curry’s left hand. The two-time league MVP was brought into the locker room, got looked at, and eventually, it was determined that he broke his hand. There is no word on when we will see Curry play basketball again.
Curry got hurt because someone seven inches taller and 75 pounds heavier than him decided that instead of playing defense, he was going to let Curry collide with him (or, more accurately, his hip), then fall over and hope an official would blow their whistle. If you are six feet tall and 200 pounds, I would recommend you go find someone who is 5’5 and 125 pounds and see how much force would be required for them to bowl you over, but this would, in all likelihood, recommend you go ask a middle schooler to run into you at full speed, and that is weird.
Charges have always been one of basketball’s worst rules. Ostensibly a way for smaller players to stand a chance in the paint against big men, the practice of drawing a charge has been adopted by bigger players who aren’t necessarily the most devastating rim protectors. Of that list of the league’s top charge drawers last season, seven — Ersan Ilyasova, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Quincy Acy, DeMarcus Cousins, Baynes, and Marc Gasol — are frontcourt players. Outside of Cousins, who averaged an impressive 1.5 blocks per game, none of them exceeded 0.7 blocks a night. Ilyasova and Love drew charges more frequently than they blocked shots. At 0.4 blocks and charges drawn per game, the numbers were the same for Griffin and Acy (who, admittedly, played in 10 games).
This is not meant to challenge these players to try and be Myles Turner or Mitchell Robinson, who see balls get tossed at the basket and pretend they’re volleyballs, vessels that need to be spiked back to the earth with aplomb. If anything, they’re smart players who are aware of both their limitations protecting the rim and the fact that, depending on how the officials are feeling in the moment, they run the risk of getting called for a foul, even if they do exactly what they’re supposed to do and go straight up in the air and try to contest shots. And in the case of Baynes, it leads to stuff like this.
Suns center Aron Baynes asked Kerr after the game how Curry was doing. "You could tell he felt really bad."
— Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg) October 31, 2019
The rules of basketball disincentivize playing defense and reward turning your body into a crash test dummy. The problem goes beyond any one player or any one incident, even if Curry’s hand breaking is a high-profile example of the dangers at play. Because of the rules of basketball, a giant stood in front of someone much smaller than him, opted to get bowled over upon contact, and caused that smaller player to get hurt when they both tumbled to the ground. He did what the rules determined was the smart thing to do. Any rational person would process that and go “this means the rules should change.”
The NBA has to do something about drawing charges. There’s an aesthetic argument to be made, as camping out and trying to draw a charge when a guard blows by their defender instead of trying to play defense — especially when it comes via sliding under someone who is in the process of gathering or, even worse, going up for a dunk or a layup — is not something that should be rewarded. Beyond that, the necessity of falling to the ground to draw that offensive foul makes for an unnecessary danger, particularly when they’re near the basket.
Players falling to the ground so easily in an attempt to draw fouls aren’t just a danger because of the act of falling, but when they fall under the basket they are a hazard to players that need to land in that area after jumping in the air around the rim to either score, block a shot, or get a rebound. The league should at least consider ways to reduce the number of attempts made to take charges around the rim. Whether by expanding the restricted area or altering language of the charge rule, players purposefully falling to the ground makes the game worse and more dangerous.
The difficulty in this is that, in a game that constantly makes rule changes to benefit the offense, charges are the last bastion of hope for the defense in some cases. Changing charge rules would likely require other adjustments, namely allowing more contact from defenders and asking referees to be more attuned to watching for when the offensive player is the one creating that contact and either letting it go (or calling offensive fouls). None of it is perfect but it’s something that needs to be explored, because the charge isn’t just a frustrating element to the game, it’s a dangerous one.