March 3, 2013
By Jeffrey Paadre
Something truly amazing happened in Madison Square Garden Wednesday Night. Obviously Stephen Curry's 54-point explosion garnered most of the attention, but Tyson Chandler's 28 rebound performance may have been the more impressive display in Wednesday's game. Chandler had 10 offensive rebounds alone; as a comparison, the Warriors as a team had 5 offensive boards. He pulled down 13 boards in just the first quarter. Also, defensively, his double team with Iman Shumpert caused Jarret Jack to travel with just over 1 minute to go in the game and played a large role in icing the game for the Knicks. Curry got the accolades but Chandler's team walked away with the win, which is probably exactly what Chandler prefers.
Chandler is no stranger to playing second-fiddle to more famous teammates but this season he has absolutely been the Knicks' Most Valuable Player. Throughout his career, Chandler has played with some of the great players of the era; Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, and Carmelo Anthony have routinely overshadowed him. He began his career as part of a failed "Baby Bulls" experiment. Fans immediately expected big things from Chandler out of high school when the Bulls traded Elton Brand to acquire Chandler in the NBA Draft. Brand was a 21 year old who had just averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game when the Bulls deal him to take Chandler second overall. The "Baby Bulls" teams centered around Chandler and Eddy Curry never lived up to their hype. Meanwhile Elton Brand was playing great basketball for the Clippers basketball and that reflected poorly on Chandler. While Chandler played solid basketball for the Bulls, Chicago was tired of paying a high salary for a good defensive player who couldn't stay out of foul trouble or consistently score. In one of basketball's great ironies, Chicago was fed up with Chandler and his low scoring total, so they signed Ben Wallace to replace him and dealt Chandler to New Orleans.
Chandler has made a career out of doing the dirty work, playing great defense, grabbing boards, and only taking high percentage shots. Few people know this but currently, he has the highest career field goal percentage in the history of professional basketball at 58.4%. To be fair, he's second all time in terms of NBA field goal percentage; Artis Gilmore outshoots him at 59.9% but when incorporating Gilmore's ABA percentages into an aggregate for a full career, Chandler comes out ahead. This year, he averages 4.8 fewer points per game than teammate JR Smith on a whopping 8 fewer shots per contest. After he joined the Knicks, more fans around the league began to take notice of his capabilities. Last season, Chandler was named Defensive Player of the Year for his body of work in transforming the Knicks into a respectable defensive team. This season he was named to his first All Star team and he currently averages 11.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
This season may be Chandler's best body of work overall. Advanced statistics are starting to illustrate just how big his impact has been for the Knicks. He leads the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage, pulling down 15.1% of available offensive rebounds for the Knicks. This means that when he's on the court, and the Knicks miss a shot, just under 1 in 6 times, he grabs the rebound. His offensive rebounding allows the Knicks to rotate the ball quickly and often nets them an open 3-point attempt. Chandler routinely will either grab offensive boards or tip the ball backwards to his guards who have learned to anticipate this and stand by the arc, ready to shoot. On the defensive glass, the Knicks give up the lowest percentage of offensive rebounds to their opponents this season. The Knicks are not a great defensive team but when they force a miss, they rarely give their opponents extra chances to score.
Chandler leads the NBA this year, as he has the past two seasons, in terms of offensive rating. Chandler is posting an offensive rating of 136, which means that per 100 offensive possessions where he's on the court for the Knicks, New York scores 136 points. His defensive rating is respectable as well; Chandler posts a 104 defensive rating. Mike Woodson's club, per 100 possessions, is 32 points better than their opponents when he's on the floor. The Knicks average roughly 90 possessions per game, and although Chandler doesn't play in all of them, it's clear his presence is a huge positive for New York.
To hammer this home, he is currently 5th in the NBA in win shares per 48 minutes, which means that per game, only four players do more on average to positively contribute to their team's ability to win. Those four players are LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker; all four of these players have dominated league wide MVP discussion, yet Chandler has not. Chandler doesn't even get the most MVP buzz amongst players in his own locker room. Carmelo Anthony has had a great season so far, but without Chandler, the Knicks have some deep flaws. Even with Chandler, the Knicks are not a great rebounding or defensive team in the aggregate but without him, these issues could exacerbate themselves and become lethal to the Knicks' playoff run hopes. Throughout this NBA season, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and DeMarcus Cousins have been the centers that have received most of the media attention, typically not for positive reasons. What the Knicks know, and what most casual NBA fans are beginning to learn, is that Chandler might be the best big man in the NBA this season.
Basketball history is full of what-ifs and here's one big one, February of 2009, Chandler was traded from the Hornets to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith but he failed a physical and the trade never went through. If the trade had happened, today's NBA landscape would be radically different. Most notably, Dallas would not have won the 2011 NBA Title without his contributions. Oklahoma City, with Chandler in his current form, very well could have knocked off the Heat last year and likely would be a dynasty in the making. It's also possible that Oklahoma City may have still been financially strapped this season but may have decided with Chandler, Serge Ibaka was more dispensable than James Harden. As with all what ifs, it's also possible Chandler may have never taken the same developmental steps in Oklahoma City. The Thunder could, and likely would, have constructed their team differently if they had Chandler but on the surface it looks like the Thunder missed out on a monumental steal.
Regardless of what could have been, it's most important to look at what actually is happening on the court. Chandler has been everything the Knicks have needed and more. It is Chandler, not Carmelo Anthony, who gives the Knicks a chance at knocking off the Miami Heat when the playoffs come around. Chandler has put the NBA on notice that he is an elite center and that his presence gives the Knicks an outside shot at an NBA title and it's time Chandler gets his overdue recognition.