Knicks Center Tyson Chandler Is Probably Better Than You Think, No Matter What You Think

Tyson Chandler is not the most talented center in the NBA, and he’s often not the most outstanding player in the moment, but he’s a damn good NBA player. In fact, no matter how good you think he is, Tyson Chandler is probably better than you can reasonably project. When the New York Knicks acquired the 7-foot-1 big man in a sign-and-trade on a four-year, $56 million contract in December of 2011, they got quite a deal. That’s just the truth, and it goes well beyond his defensive value.

Honestly, there’s no better time to start appreciating one of the NBA’s best centers than right now. The subtlety of his impact creates an atmosphere where his game can easily be obfuscated by those old, trusty basketball tropes and idioms. He “does all the little things.” He’s “a consummate team player.” The Knicks “couldn’t survive without him.” All of that is absolutely true, by the way, but none of it can quite capture what Chandler does on the court. If every NBA GM had an opportunity to reprogram the undisciplined, ultra-athletic seven-footer hanging around on their roster, they would use Chandler as the blueprint for a successful rebirth.

It starts with defense. The Knicks haven’t jumped from 21st to 5th in defensive efficiency this season by accident. It’s almost inconceivable that Chandler could play alongside some potentially porous combination of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and Baron Davis and still transform the Knicks into an elite defensive unit, but that basketball miracle has come to fruition this season. In fact, the general trend that more good things happen with Chandler on the court has been in development for years. Here’s a rough-chop look at his defensive impact with four different teams over the past four seasons:

Chandler knows his role on the court and plays to his strengths. He’s not faster or quicker than the opposing point guard penetrating into the lane, but he often beats that man to the spot with his anticipation, awareness and length. Opposing big men struggle to break his disciplined approach and steal easy baskets under the rim. He knows defense is his calling card, and clearly stated his goals during the introductory press conference back when some guy named Mike D’Antoni used to coach the Knicks:

“I know what my job is in coming here. I know I came here to defend. I’m going to defend the rim and I’m going to rebound. I’m going to get extra shots. I know if we play on both ends, and we play as a team, the sky is definitely the limit.”

With a record hovering around .500 and an eye on the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, I’m not sure New York has to worry about the sky limiting their ascent at this point, but defense is not the problem. As noted by ESPN’s John Hollinger, Chandler is single-handedly turning the Melo-STAT pairing into some viable semblance of a core by taking care of the point prevention thing along with Iman Shumpert and Landry Fields. Even so, fans have been more likely to chant Lin’s name than Chandler’s this season. Such is life for the big man.

The Dallas Mavericks unquestionably benefitted from Chandler’s superb defensive abilities during their championship run last season, but even then he finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting, didn’t even place that high on ballot of Mavericks beat writer Eddie Sefko and received zero first-place votes. Chuck Hayes (2), Grant Hill (1), and Keith Bogans (1) received more first-place votes for 2011 DPOY, so it seems fair to say that Chandler isn’t always turning heads with his brand of basketball. But who cares if he doesn’t turn heads, because he transforms teams. Hollinger is absolutely on point with his recent endorsement of Chandler for 2012 Defensive Player of the Year (insider only).

Now what if I told you Chandler was in the midst of one of the most efficient offensive seasons in the history of the NBA?

It would be a mistake to suggest that he is some sort of offensive centerpiece, but to overlook his contribution on that end of the floor is criminal. Resident basketball sage and Hardwood Paroxysm godfather Matt Moore couldn’t have put it more perfectly when he wrote about Chandler as the perfect “clean-up man” for New York back in December of 2011:

Interesting differential in years where the Spurs killed people and where they didn’t. In years they did, Duncan had what I call the “clean-up man.” It’s someone who just waits, grabs, and lays it in. Because the double-team on Duncan was so rough, that Duncan would miss long, rebound to the other side, and there’s Fabricio Oberto. Just waiting. And watching.

Chandler causes more problems because he’s better than those clean-up men. He’s a legitimate threat. He has the hands to catch and finish, can jam back the putback over a smaller defender, and has enough offense to create a few buckets here and there. He’s like the deluxe version of the clean-up man. And that kind of role addition is a game-changer for teams.

Amen, Matt. Amen. First let’s take a look at his impact on team rebounding through the same lens applied to his defense:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chandler grabs plenty of rebounds on his own, but he’s always around the rim and contributes with innumerable box-outs and tap-outs as well. The percentage bumps in rebounding paint his value with a broad brush, but a closer look at the details just enhances the beauty of his art.

Consider the following facts regarding Tyson Chandler’s offensive game:

(1) He owns the highest True Shooting percentage of any active NBA player (60.8% TS).

(2) He is on pace to post the highest single-season True Shooting Percentage of any player in NBA history (here is the full list on Basketball-Reference).

(3) As first noted by Benjamin Hoffman of the New York Times, he is also primed to claim the third-best single-season field goal percentage in NBA history (here is the full list on Basketball-Reference).

Tyson Chandler: the ULTRA deluxe clean-up man. The title sounds slightly pejorative, but that’s not the case. It also looks like another glossy basketball trope, but it comes far too close to reality for dismissal on those grounds. Of the 610 points Chandler has scored this season, 608 of them have come from either the free throw line or within the paint. You read that correctly. He has 275 points from the free throw line, 335 points in the paint and one lone 16-foot jump shot from the third quarter of a Feb. 3 game against Boston Celtics. It’s not as if he’s missing a ton of jumpers either, as you can see from his 2011-12 shot chart (via Basketball-Reference’s Play Index+ tool and then NBA.com/Stats):

Could Chandler do more on pick-and-pops? Probably. He shot a more than respectable 21-44 (48.0 percent) from 16-23 feet last season with the Mavs, but that can’t hold a candle to his fifth-highest rate in the NBA on basket cuts (1.47 ppp) and ninth-best mark when diving to the rim as a roll man on PnR (1.23 ppp), which comes via MySynergySports.com. I like to think that he isn’t willing to sacrifice interior impact on putbacks, tap-out rebounds and drop-step finishes for a few more points and the tenuous prospect of slightly better spacing. The craft is already perfected. Practical talents and wise decisions have compounded so often that he appears to dictate the merger of the right place and right time on a regular basis. Tyson Chandler may not conform to the NBA’s marketed brand of “spectacular” but he’s probably better than you think, no matter what you think.

Seth Carstens