Troubling news struck New York Knicks nation recently that starting center Tyson Chandler will miss the next four to six weeks because of a cracked right fibula. Let me just start off by saying this: without Tyson Chandler, the Knicks are not a contender. They could still be a playoff team, but without the seven foot veteran center the Knicks have no chance of beating teams like Chicago, Indiana, Brooklyn, or Miami. So, if those four to six weeks were all that Tyson would miss, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but in this league who knows how long an injury will hinder you, especially if you’re a big man who play tough, hard-nosed defense every game and if you have been playing since 2001.
Tyson Chandler, for most of his career, was considered a solid defensive player who could grab rebounds effectively and score in transition. He was somewhat of a journeyman for most of his career, getting drafted by the L.A. Clippers #2 overall in the 2001 draft and then being immediately traded to the Chicago Bulls. After several years there, he was traded to the New Orleans Hornets and then the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010, where he was part of the only Bobcats team to every make the playoffs. His previous three seasons is where he entered his prime. During the 2010-2011 season, Chandler started at center for the 2011 Dallas Mavericks championship team.
During that offseason (when there was a painful lockout) Tyson Chandler signed a deal with the New York Knicks for four years worth $58 million. In his first season with the Knicks, Chandler improved the Knicks’ defense substantially, all the way from 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency in 2011 to fifth in the league in 2012. Iman Shumpert and midseason hire coach Mike Woodson had a lot to do with that improvement as well, but Chandler really became the anchor of that defense, earning him both All-NBA third team honors as well as the Defensive Player of the Year award. Last season was a great season for Chandler as well; he averaged 10 points and 11 rebounds per game, was a member of the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and was selected to the All-Defensive first team.
Tyson Chandler has had a very good career, but he has never been as important to a team as he is now to the New York Knicks. Chandler is the only legitimate big man on the Knicks who plays great defense, can play for 30 minutes or more, and is unselfish enough that he does not take possessions away from high-volume scorers such as Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith. Essentially, Tyson Chandler is the perfect team player: he defends his position better than most people in the league, he sets great picks, he spaces the floor well for his teammates (who are mostly long-range shooters), and he is actually decent for a center from the free throw line (roughly 70% over the past five seasons). In addition, he can be one of the more exciting teams to watch in the NBA because most of his made baskets are from alley-oops and pick-and-roll dunks. Every time you hear “…and he passes to Chandler for the dunk!” you get excited for a powerful hammer dunk that showcases Chandler’s size, aggression, and athleticism all at once. He is honestly one of the best free agent signing the New York Knicks have had in a long time.
What people often miss out on when discussing Tyson Chandler is the enormous impact he has on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, there is no question that he has an incredible impact on the game. But offensively the fails the eye test: he has no post moves, doesn’t easily finish around the basket, has never averaged more than 11.8 points per game in any season, he has no outside shot, he has never made a three pointer, and while his free throw shooting is decent for a big man, it’s still not that great.
According to advanced metrics, however, Chandler is just as important to his team offensively as someone like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Kobe Bryant. First of all, he is incredibly efficient. In 2012, he led the league in FG% with 67.9%, meaning he made at least two out of every three shots he took. That same season, his true shooting percentage was 70.8%, the highest in NBA history. In the previous three seasons (his two with the Knicks as well as the one with the Mavericks), Chandler has led the league in true shooting percentage and offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions when X player is on the floor). His offensive ratings for the past three seasons: 131 (2011), 130 (2012), and 133 (2013). He led the league in effective field goal percentage in 2012 with 67.9% and over the last three seasons has racked up more offensive win shares than Kevin Garnett, Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard. His offensive and defensive rating differential in 2012 (offensive rating minus defensive rating) is 31, which that season was higher than that of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Durant.
Without even scoring more than ten or eleven points in a game, Tyson Chandler completely changes the offense of the New York Knicks. With him in the paint, they always have more opportunities to score at the perimeter because if Tyson has the ball and is close enough to the basket, it will likely go in. He is a great offensive rebounder, averaging just over four last year and has his signature tip out that always keeps Knicks’ possessions alive. He is big enough and strong enough to set effective screens on just about anyone, and he is smart enough to know when not to shoot.
Am I giving Tyson the last shot of the game? No. Will he ever be the leading scorer for any team? Probably not. Can somebody replace his ten points a game? Absolutely. Are the Knicks going to be a worse team offensively without him playing? Yes, and what’s even more painful for this team is the fact that nobody on this current New York team can really replace him. Amar’e Stoudemire has not been fully healthy in any season that he’s played, and things aren’t looking any better for him currently. Even if Stoudemire were healthy, he has never been a good offensive player and his obsession with playing in the post will disrupt things with Carmelo Anthony offensively. Andrea Bargnani has been a defensive liability his entire career and is one of the worst rebounding seven footers of all time. Offensively, Bargnani can make easy outside shots, but he has no inside scoring game whatsoever. Cole Aldrich barely made this year’s roster, and I won’t be surprised if he ends the season somewhere else. His minutes will increase, but his impact has yet to be determined.
Really, at this point, the best option to start in Chandler’s place is Kenyon Martin. He still plays decent defense, he is a good offensive rebounder, he doesn’t take too many low percentage shots, he doesn’t demand the ball that much, and is truly a team player with a lot of solid veteran experience. Unfortunately, Martin has looked old for the past couple of years now. He is an injury waiting to happen, he’s turning 36 in December, and hasn’t averaged over 25 minutes a game since he was in Denver in 2011. He hasn’t played 60 games or more in a season since the 2008-2009 season, and his numbers have steadily gotten worse over the years. I do truly believe he is the best option for the Knicks to start at center, but at the same time he’s not that great a choice.
The Knicks do not look good offensively this season. Their offensive rating is 24th in the league, and there are so many random pieces put together on this team that it’s hard to decide what the most effective lineup will be and managing minutes for a ton of veterans will be incredibly challenging for Mike Woodson. Without Chandler, the offense becomes much less efficient and more about mid-range jumpers, which statistically speaking is the least effective way to play basketball. Defensively, the Knicks actually look somewhat decent this season, but without Chandler the Knicks’ defensive rating of 11th in the league will not stay in that spot for too long. Tyson Chandler is a perfect example of how a player can have an enormous impact on his teammates without recording a ton of points or assists. Chandler is all about advanced metrics and intangibles, both of which are very hard to replace, especially on a team with two expensive bigs who do not play any defense. If Chandler misses a significant part of the season, the Knicks will still likely be a playoff team in a weak Eastern Conference, but don’t expect them to make any noise doing it if Chandler is out.