Three years ago, Thunder power forward Nick Collison suffered a severely sprained left ankle a week prior to training camp. He did everything imaginable to get ready for the 2009-10 season.
This included running on an “AlterG” anti-gravity treadmill, which minimizes stress by taking away up to 80 percent of the runner's body weight, but the injury was still slow to heal. When the 6-foot-10, 255-pound Collison returned to the court, he wasn't the same player physically.
“I didn't have any elevation at all,” Collison recalled. “I felt like I couldn't jump.”
One of the NBA's most savvy players and the son of a coach, Collison knew he had to make up for this deficiency by fine-tuning his game.
That's when Collison took charge by repeatedly taking charges. He is now one of the league's most proficient players when it comes to drawing offensive fouls from opponents.
Collison was one of the nation's premier recruits coming out of Iowa Falls High School and went on to become the 2003 NABC national player of the year at Kansas. Although he averaged a double-double his senior season at KU, Collison was more of a go-to guy on offense than he was a defensive specialist. He was too valuable and there was never a need for him to take a high number of charges in high school or college.
But a 29-year-old, partially immobilized Collison had to find a niche in 2009 to help his overall effectiveness and potentially lengthen his pro career.
“I wasn't quite 100 percent (physically), so I just tried to get to a spot where I could get there early and not have to come over late and make a play at the rim because I couldn't do it by jumping,” Collison said. “I was just trying to get to a spot early and cut guys off. It's like I knew I couldn't get off the floor (by jumping), so I would try to draw a charge. I think I got pretty good at it.”
Just ask the 100-plus players who have collided with Collison ever since.
In the 2009-10 season, when Collison first set out to take charge(s), he finished second in the NBA with 57 offensive fouls drawn. Only Jared Jeffries finished with more at 59 (44 with New York; 15 with Houston). In 2010-11, Collison took 51 charges. In the shortened 2011-12 season, he drew 28 offensive fouls in 63 games.
The top requirement in drawing a charge presumably is courage. However, Collison shrugs off being courageous and adds he never has been seriously hurt while standing his ground while others plow into him.
To Collison, anticipation is the top requirement.
“I try to have just a little bit quicker anticipation when the drive is coming over,” Collison said. “It's about anticipation and getting there quickly.”
Though Collison ranks among the league's elite in hustle stats, he downplays the numerical significance of taking charges. Taking a charge probably carries more significance mentally and emotionally for a player and his team.
“I draw a lot of charges, but it's only like 30-40 possessions for the entire season,” Collison said. “And how many possessions are in a game? 80?”
Reminded he took 57 charges in his “debut” season, Collison smiled and admitted, “Yeah, I guess 57 is a lot of charges, but you've got be able to do a lot of other things. That's what I've gotten better at — my positioning, seeing things happen, communicating, things like that. If you can make your whole team play better, you're going to be more valuable as a player.”
With the NBA cracking down on flopping this season, Collison's no-nonsense manner in drawing offensive fouls might become even more valuable.
Collison's signature ‘take'
Thunder forward Nick Collison was asked to pick his most memorable charging call based on its execution, timing and importance. He offered one that comes with video evidence. The YouTube moment is entitled “Darrell Arthur AMAZING dunk over Nick Collison (May 13, 2011).”
It was intended to be a highlight for Arthur. Instead, it's classic Collison.
Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals between OKC and the Memphis Grizzlies was tied at 68 and 1:42 remained in the third quarter when Arthur took a bounce pass while slashing in from the right wing and threw down a right-handed tomahawk dunk over Collison, who was positioned an inch outside the semi-circle restricted area underneath the basket.
Charging was called against Arthur in this instantaneous collision between two Kansas products, and the basket was waved off.
“It was an unbelievable highlight (for Arthur), but it was a charge,” Collison recalled. “That was a big one because it was two points off the board. If they had called a block, it would have been bad news for me.”
The Thunder lost that game in Memphis, but won the series 4-3 two nights later in OKC.