National Basketball Association
Kyle Lowry, Miami Heat drawing charges at record rate
National Basketball Association

Kyle Lowry, Miami Heat drawing charges at record rate

Updated Jan. 11, 2022 5:00 p.m. ET

By Yaron Weitzman
FOX Sports NBA Writer

There were dozens of moments Erik Spoelstra could have chosen to highlight, but for him, one stood above the rest.

"My favorite play, by far, without a doubt, of the season and of the game and of everything is the double charge with Kyle and UD," the Heat coach said following a late December victory over the Detroit Pistons.

It happened with a little less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. That’s when Pistons wing Saddiq Bey attacked the rim, only to have Kyle Lowry and Udonis Haslem step into the paint and cut him off. Both defenders absorbed the contact. Both collapsed to the ground. The referees whistled Bey for an offensive foul, one of six the Heat drew that night, the highest total any NBA team has recorded in three seasons.


"It was just Miami Heat basketball encapsulated in one play," Spoelstra said during his postgame media conference.

It was also the answer to an NBA riddle: How does a team that’s last in shots blocked and one of the worst in preventing looks at the rim lead the league in limiting opponent points in the paint and defend at an elite rate? 

By having multiple players both willing to take a charge and smart enough to know how.

The Heat have drawn 71 charges so far this season. Not only is that more than double the total of the No. 2 team, the Houston Rockets, but it’s also on pace to shatter the current record of 107. That mark, according to data provided to FOX Sports by NBA Advanced Stats, was set by the Phoenix Suns in 2010-11, the first season the league began tracking these plays. 

The 2010-11 Suns averaged 1.3 charges drawn per game. This year’s Heat average 1.8.

"We don’t have shot-blockers, so we’ve got to find ways to protect the paint," Lowry said. "That’s why I take charges. I think it’s a contagious-type thing, helping and being in the right spots and sacrificing your body."

Kyle Lowry is so serious about taking charges that he took this one during the 2020 NBA All-Star Game. (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

In a way, the Heat have been building to this point since Pat Riley arrived in Miami more than 25 years ago. "This is something that we've always emphasized since the first day that I started working for Pat," Spoelstra said.

Back then, he said, Heat practices featured a charge drill about once every week. The setup was simple: One player parked in the paint, three lines of players dotting the perimeter. A player from one line would drive down the lane and barrel into the defender as fast and hard as he could. The defender would take the hit. Then he’d pop up and do it again with a driver from the second line and then again with a driver from the third.

"That was the ‘90s," Spoelstra said. "You could never do that now. But it is something that’s still important to us, and anyone who comes into this building knows that."

Spoelstra credited Haslem, now in his 19th season with the Heat, with helping instill that belief. "He demands it of everyone, is always barking about it, and guys don’t want to let him down," Spoelstra said. 

But the Heat, who are third in the Eastern Conference with a 25-15 record, have also put together a roster full of charge-takers, mixing nature and nurture. Of the 28 NBA players who have drawn at least four this season, seven play for the Heat. They range from veteran big men P.J. Tucker (six charges drawn) and Dewayne Dedmon (seven) to young reserve guards Gabe Vincent (six) and Max Strus (eight) to highly paid starters Bam Adebayo (three in just 18 games) and Duncan Robinson (five).

But it all starts with Lowry, whom Miami signed away from the Toronto Raptors in the offseason. Lowry might be the only guard in the league whose rim defense scares opponents. He leads the NBA with 22 charges drawn, giving him 152 since 2010, second only to DeMarcus Cousins’ 184 — all despite Lowry's being 6 feet and 196 pounds.

"He's one of the few guys from that position that can affect the game defensively," Suns coach Monty Williams said.

Williams experienced Lowry’s impact most when working as an assistant for the Sixers during the 2018-19 season. Philadelphia faced the Raptors 11 times that year, including a seven-game playoff series. Williams said the team often devoted film time to Lowry’s penchant for camping under the basket.

"As his guy cuts through the paint, Kyle will slowly empty out to anticipate the charge," Williams said. "He used to drive Joel Embiid crazy."

In Miami, Lowry is both surrounded by teammates who know how to do the same and playing in an ecosystem in which protecting the paint and taking away easy baskets is prioritized. 

Strus said his appetite for drawing charges was born as a high schooler, thanks to a coach who rewarded players with Snickers bars and Gatorade.

Vincent said his drive comes from "never being the tallest guy on my team, so it was the best way for me to impact the game defensively and help my team get more possessions."

Strus and Vincent have spent years working to perfect the art. For Strus, that has meant learning how to sell the contact. "You just gotta yell sometimes, make some sort of noise," he said. Vincent, on the other hand, has focused on falling properly — "like skateboarders or snowboarders" — to avoid landing hard on his wrists.

But mostly, Vincent said, the key is to rotate on time. "And if you don’t, guys like Kyle, UD and P.J. will get on you," he said. "But it’s always framed as you missed an opportunity to sacrifice your body for your teammates."

In late November against the Timberwolves, Vincent was gifted a chance to do just that. Minnesota wing Anthony Edwards beat his defender backdoor, forcing Vincent to abandon his station and slide over to help. Edwards launched himself into the air, as if propelling off a trampoline, and threw down a violent slam over Vincent’s head, knocking him to the ground.

It was an electric play, and within minutes it went viral, but no points were awarded. The officials, seeing Vincent standing underneath Edwards and falling to the floor, called an offensive foul.

Both Edwards and Minnesota fans complained about the call after the game. Vincent was unfazed.

"I didn’t even think twice about it. It was just habit," he said. "You make the rotation, get your feet set and take the hit."

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of "Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports." Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.


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