John Wall's Really Good At Taking Charges. He Needs To Stop. | Wizards Blog Truth About

John Wall is Really Good at Taking Charges. He Needs to Stop.

Updated: February 2, 2015
John Wall's been wrestling with migraines. Photo via USA Today/Washington Post.

John Wall’s been wrestling with migraines. Photo via USA Today/Washington Post.

On Christmas Day, on national TV, John Wall did something he does a few times every game: he turned the ball over.

But as the New York Knicks began their fast break, Wall did something that sets him apart: he hustled down the court, drew a charge, and got the ball back.

It was an exciting play. It got fans riled up.

It really needs to stop.

OK, timeout.

I wrote the above section more than a month ago, in the waning days of 2014. It was going to be a criticism of John Wall’s propensity to take charges—the man has been among the league leaders for several seasons now.

Watching him get knocked to the floor over and over again, I was legitimately worried that Wall was putting himself in harm’s way. But five weeks ago, I also worried that my post would be a proverbial hot take.

I did some research into the dangers of taking charges, and while there’s anecdotal evidence of suffering injuries, it was tough to find a direct link. (More on that in a second.)

So I shelved the piece.

In retrospect, that was a mistake.

As the Washington Post and others have reported, Wall sat out of Monday’s practice with migraines and sensitivity to light. He’s been suffering from headaches for two-plus weeks.

They aren’t getting better.

Of course, the migraines could be due to lots of different things. The cause could be something minor like an allergy or lack of sleep.

But in a young, super-healthy, otherwise asymptomatic pro athlete, sudden-onset migraines that last for weeks are sometimes an indicator of undiagnosed concussion. I say that as a guy who writes for Forbes about health care, who’s interviewed the nation’s leading concussion experts, who talked to Carlos Delfino for Truth About It in order to understand what it’s like to play through concussions in the NBA.

To be clear: Wall’s migraines don’t mean he’s been playing through a concussion. It’s just a potential diagnosis, given what we know and the way he plays.

Having explained all that—having given you a sense of my wariness over jumping to conclusions—OK, back to a post that I mostly wrote weeks ago, and which is unfortunately just as timely today.

As Wall’s offensive game has become increasingly well-rounded, he’s also gotten better and better at drawing offensive fouls, too.

Two days after the Christmas day game versus the Knicks, he took at least two more charges in a first-half blowout of the Celtics. I grimaced after every one.

Wall’s teammates, understandably, viewed it differently.

“It’s great,” Kris Humphries said in a halftime interview, with the Wizards up by 17 points. “He’s giving up his body for us.”

But not all players think Wall’s strategy is a good idea. Some of the game’s greatest players actively avoid charges—at least according to Kobe Bryant. A few years ago, the Black Mamba said that he didn’t take charges because it increased his injury risk.

“I don’t take charges,” Bryant said. “I learned from my predecessors.”

“(Scottie) Pippen had a [messed] up back taking charges. (Larry) Bird had a [messed] up back taking charges. I said, ‘I’m not taking charges.’ I figured that … out at an early age.”

There are some obvious problems with Bryant’s statement. One, Kobe acknowledged that Bird and Pippen didn’t actually tell him this directly; he claims he learned from watching. Two, both of those players—especially Bird—played with serious abandon, so it’s tough to link Bird’s bad back solely to drawing offensive fouls.

But it’s always intrigued me. It’s impossible to look at the list of players who take the most charges and not see players who quickly lost their athleticism or suffered injury-plagued careers.

Anderson Varejao, for example, has taken a beating and missed more than one-third of the potential games he could’ve played.

Or Steve Nash, who led the league in drawing offensive fouls for several years—and suffered a chronically sore back that ruined the tail end of his career.

Look, the NBA isn’t football. It’s a contact sport, not a collision sport. But when tall, athletic men fly at each other across the court, there are bound to be scary-looking, damaging crashes.

And by constantly drawing offensive fouls, John Wall is courting injuries.

I applaud his effort. It inspires teammates. It jazzes up the fans. It can make a real difference on a game.

But Wall is the Wizards’ best, most important player. His athleticism is the game-changer, not his willingness to draw an offensive foul when your team’s up 15 points in the first half of a likely blowout.

Let Garrett Temple draw offensive fouls. Let Otto Porter race back and absorb collisions under the hoop.

It’s Wall’s responsibility—his charge—to stop taking them.


Dan Diamond on EmailDan Diamond on Twitter
Dan Diamond
Contributor at TAI