Tyson Chandler joined the New York Knicks in 2011 after Mark Cuban unexpectedly decided not to keep his Dallas Mavericks’ championship core together for one more run. With the Chandler signing, he was set to be the final piece to the Knicks’ frontcourt of the future, alongside Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. They had the look of one of the league’s dominant trios and the Knicks vaulted towards the top of some experts’ Eastern Conference favorites.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, their backcourt was a disaster and Melo and Amar’e never really meshed as a scoring duo. The Knicks would finish with just the NBA’s 17th-best offense that year, but there was a silver lining – Tyson Chandler was an absolute beast, somehow transforming a team that gave both Anthony and Stoudemire heavy minutes into the league’s fifth-best defense while winning Defensive Player of the Year (while bizarrely not being selected to the All-Defense First Team).
Chandler has the rare ability to be an elite defensive big man without being an elite shot blocker (he averaged 1.6 per 36 minutes in 2011-12 and 1.4 last season). He’s an excellent communicator who does a phenomenal job of organizing the defense and holding teammates accountable, and he’s also very skilled at jumping straight up in the air to contest shots without fouling. The former second overall pick also has very quick feet, allowing him to both corral opposing pick-and-rolls and even challenge perimeter players in isolation after a defensive switch. He’s also great at maintaining a strong base and forcing difficult shots out of post ups (he gave up just .64 points per possession in the post last year, the 16th-best mark in the league).
Last season, both the Knicks and Chandler saw some slippage on the defensive end. This is partly because playing small ball almost constantly left Chandler as the only player capable of protecting the rim, and partly because he played through a multiple nagging injuries last season. The Knicks finished just 18th in defense last year, but that mark surely would have been much worse without Chandler keeping them afloat.
The Knicks’ improvement last season was mostly due to their revamped offense (third in the league) and Chandler was every bit as important on that end as he was on defense. With Chandler on the floor, the Knicks scored a whopping 112.9 points per 100 possessions, even better than the Oklahoma City Thunder’s league-best rate. His ability to set solid, physical screens opens things up for the Knicks’ perimeter players, and he has great timing on his rolls to the rim, where he’s one of the league’s best finishers (he led the league in field goal percentage in 2011-12).
The threat of him catching a lob pass at the rim sucks in opposing defenders, giving the Knicks more spacing for their three-point assault. He also shoots free throws well enough that intentional fouls aren’t a viable method of stopping him. He’s also very strong on the offensive glass, posting 4.5 offensive boards per 36 minutes, which is huge for a Knicks team that rarely generates second-chance points.
But perhaps the biggest positive in Chandler’s game is that he doesn’t hurt the offense by trying things he’s not good at. He doesn’t chuck off-balance jumpers or shoot wild hook shots; he plays exclusively to his strengths, throwing down dunks with great tenacity.
He received passes at the rim less frequently towards the end of the year, partly because of his health and partly because of opponents adjusting their gameplans. Despite his struggles guarding Roy Hibbert one-on-one, the Knicks were still much better with him on the floor in the playoffs, only giving up an excellent 95.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the court as opposed to 103.6 with him resting.
Chandler might not be the biggest name on the Knicks roster, but he may very well be their most important player. He’s the team’s anchor on offense and defense, and the glue that holds the Knicks together.