PLAYER: Tyson Chandler
CONTRACT: 2 years, approximately $14.35 million per year
ACQUISITION DETAILS: Signed to a four-year $55 million-plus deal following the end of the lockout in December 2011.
WHAT TO EXPECT OFFENSIVELY: In short, Chander is the antithesis of a box of Forrest Gump’s chocolates: you always know what you’re gonna get. The 31-year-old center is a bone-crunching screener with solid hands who finishes well around the rim and makes his free throws. He’s a double-double machine – he’s averaged 10.8 points (on 65.5% from the field and 69.1% from the line) and 10.3 rebounds-per-game in two seasons as a Knick.
Chandler’s offensive impact isn’t captured by the numbers alone, though. When the Knicks are at their best, they’re pick-and-roll heavy, using Tyson’s rolls to the rim — and accompanying two-handed alley-oop spikes – to draw in the defense and generate open looks from the three-point line. When deploying Chandler as such last season, the strategy worked quite well for New York (they drained more threes than any other team in the league). They even scored 6.6 points more per 100 possessions with Chandler on the court last season than they did with him off of it, per 82games.com. Not bad for a player widely considered a defensive specialist.
To be fair, however, Chandler is extremely limited when left to his devices. Though he’s vowed to shoot it more, his jumper has never been anything more than a weapon of last resort. Per NBA.com, he took a whopping 95.75% of his shots at or near the rim last season, meaning that opposing defenses have little reason to pay him any mind when he’s stationed mid-range. Furthermore, Chandler’s dependence on the pick-and-roll makes him an awkward offensive fit with Amar’e Stoudemire, who likewise functions best when he’s setting screens. That on-court relationship, contrary to popular belief, has been a much greater problem for the Knicks than, say, Stoudemire’s and Carmelo Anthony’s.
Perhaps the most oft-overlooked aspect of Tyson’s offensive game, though, is his patented “slap-tapping” of his teammates’ errant shot attempts. Chandler has become so adept at the technique that the league’s official scorers often now credit him — and rightfully so — with offensive rebounds, also known as extra Knick-possessions.
WHAT TO EXPECT DEFENSIVELY: Chandler is as important to the Knick defense as Anthony is to the offense. He’s a solid one-on-one low post defender, but he really shines as a rim-protector capable of showing against guards on the opposition’s pick-and-roll. Unfortunately, other NBA teams are aware of this, and often try to draw him the pick-and-roll so that New York is forced to rotate a sub-optimal defender to cover Chandler’s vacated spot in the paint. In reality, there are few players in the league with Chandler’s size, footwork, agility and ability on the defensive end, so teams will do everything they can to exploit the fact that the Knicks have few places to hide ‘Melo, Amar’e and now Andrea Bargnani.
Last season, with Chandler plagued by injury through much the 66 games in which he played, the Knicks had the league’s 17th best defense-per-100 possessions. (A healthy Chandler helped the Knicks to rank second in that category during the 2011-12 season.) Clearly operating at less-than-100% in last year’s playoffs, Tyson was then unable to provide his usual presence in the middle against the Pacers, too. The Knicks were pushed around by big men Roy Hibbert and David West, and slashed to death by Lance Stephenson and Paul George. Chandler’s play — or lack thereof — was one of the main reasons New York why was sounded dispatched in six games, a tremendous disappointment for the club after its 54-win regular season campaign.
The Knicks’ prospects in 2013-14 will largely depend on whether Chandler’s bumps-and-bruises were an anomaly or the start of a permanent decline. Tyson is, after all, entering his thirteenth NBA season, but to put it bluntly: if New York intends to go deep in this year’s playoffs, they’ll need their defensive anchor at his best.
EXTREMELY OPTIMISTIC PREDICTION: Chandler stays healthy all year, playing in 70-plus games and again averaging a double-double (11.8 points-per-game on 62.4% shooting and 10.2 rebounds-per-game). His mid-range jumper proves to be just enough of a weapon to keep defenses honest and create driving lanes for ‘Melo, Ray Felton, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Tyson shuts down Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez in the first round of the playoffs, gets revenge on Hibbert thereafter, and the Knicks surprise everyone by making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.