Good afternoon, all! As promised, this post is on the magnificence of the Knicks' starting center. Tyson Chandler is a fantastic player, and well-liked by pretty much every Knick fan on earth. He is a fantastic leader and a vocal and mobile defender. He is also the most efficient qualified offensive player in the NBA, bar none. Not a typo. Chandler is a great rebounder and a transformative defender. He's a very good, but not inhuman, shotblocker. He, unfortunately, turns the ball over a bit too much for someone with such a small role in directing the offense (hat tip to Jeremy's Harvard Professor). Despite all these facts I believe Tyson Chandler is the most underrated player in the NBA, with all due respect to Love, Harden, Iguodala, and Faried. Chandler is phenomenal at what he does, and it's unfortunate that most conventional stats struggle to confirm Tyson's impact on the team. Tyson's story, like most NBA players, is an interesting one. Let's take a look back at a lanky forward out of the Fresh Coast.
Tyson Chandler was born in Hanford, California, and was raised in a single-parent household. He was raised on a farm, and spent his youth shooting baskets into a hoop affixed to a tree and doing farmhand things. Tyson was tall from a young age, and by age 9 he was already near 6' tall. He was teased by the other schoolchildren about his height, and has mentioned it in interviews, but quickly realized the advantages it presented when he hit the court. He generated significant buzz when he entered Dominguez High School at 6'11". He didn't have the opportunity to be an immediate star on the court; that role was already held by a forward named Tayshaun Prince. However, upon Prince's graduation, Tyson became the face of the team and he dominated in that role. After averaging 26, 15, and 8 his senior season and leading Dominguez to its third consecutive D2 championship, Chandler decided to skip college and declare for the NBA draft.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the long center from Cali. He had grown into a true 7 footer, but still maintained uncommon mobility and athleticism for his size. He had a decent jump shot and form considering his size, prompting Skip Bayless to write a memorable piece declaring Tyson to be a future star small forward in the NBA. Bayless believed that Chandler's length and agility would make him a terror on the perimeter and stated that he and Oak Hill product DeSagana Diop would be the biggest stars to come out of this draft. No response I can pen would do that piece justice. In any case, GMs and scouts shared Bayless' appreciation of Chandler's potential, and he was selected 2nd overall by the LA Clippers behind Kwame Brown. Of course. Chandler didn't get to appreciate playing near home for long, as he was immediately traded to the Bulls for Elton Brand.
Bulls' GM Jerry Krause envisioned teaming Chandler up with the 4th overall pick from the same draft, a hometown scoring center named Eddy Curry. It was to be the beginning of a new Twin Towers pairing in the NBA. With Chandler at the 4 and Curry providing a scoring punch in the pivot, Chicago had hoped to have discovered its frontcourt of the future. It seemed smart on paper. Curry was one of the strongest centers in the NBA even at a young age, and had a patient and effective back to the basket game. He was also incredibly athletic and agile, despite the colored memories of Knick fans, due to his years training as a gymnast. Unfortunately, he was below average or worse at just about everything not involved in the post. Under Head Coach Tim Floyd, Curry and Chandler became the scapegoats behind the disappointing season the Bulls experienced that year. He refused to play them significant minutes or understand the learning curve the two high school products were experiencing, and resigned a quarter of the way through the season. Coach Bill Cartwright understood their position a little better, but insisted that the answer to the Bulls' woes on offense was to apply the triangle offense that he had experienced so much success with alongside Michael Jordan. Curry and Chandler wanted to run on offense, but found themselves constrained by the complex schemes Cartwright shoehorned them into. After Coach Scott Skiles took over, the team finally began to experience some success, but found themselves sidetracked when Curry was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and subsequently traded to the New York Knicks (...). Chandler found himself traded to the Hornets a year later, and immediately found his calling in the NBA.
In New Orleans/Oklahoma City, Chandler was given a more defined role alongside superstar Chris Paul and laid the grounds for his excellence today. He got a few touches in the post, but found his offense cutting and scoring off of the talents of Chris Paul and his efficiency immediately skyrocketed. He stopped attempting jumpshots at the request of the coaching staff and played like a more traditional center. While CP3 was the star of the team, Chandler was its backbone and was praised by players and front office alike. The Hornets seemed poised for success, but couldn't find a way out of the West, and following an embarrassing series loss to Carmelo Anthony's Nuggets Chandler was traded to Charlotte for Emeka Okafor. Tyson played well for the Bobcats, but didn't convince the front office that he and his contract should be part of their future plans despite leading the 'Cats to their first playoff appearance. He was traded to Dallas for his final year, and made an immediate impact. Tyson was the inside presence the Mavs needed alongside Dirk Nowitzki, and he led the league in TS% en route to the first NBA Championship in Mavs history. A lot had to come together for the Mavs to upset the Heat: They combined great defensive schemes with the luck of their shooters getting hot at just the right time and LeBron James struggling to carry the load at just the wrong time. Dirk was excellent, and Tyson Chandler anchored the zone defense Dallas used to frustrate LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Chandler led the team in rebounding percentage and offensive efficiency and made a mighty contribution to the title that went a bit unrecognized behind the greatness of Dirk Nowitzki. Chandler was set to help defend the title after the season ended, but after finally being recognized by the national media as a valuable player, Chandler was sign-and-traded to the Knicks in a multi-team deal.
Whew. After all that history, Chandler found himself under the bright lights of the Knicks and he immediately set about helping to transform the Knicks into an elite defense in the NBA. The Knicks were immediately a top 10 defense, and as the season wore on the Knicks peaked as the 4th best defense in the NBA before settling in at 5th. This was far cry from their bottom third ranking during the previous season. Chandler was the biggest reason for the change. Within the "switching" defense espoused by then-Assistant Coach Woodson, the Knicks capitalized on the versatility and mobility of Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler. The constant switching suffered from the lethargic rotations of Fields, Shump, and Melo, but contained the paint well. Chandler led the NBA in TS% for the second year in a row, this time posting a mark that leads NBA history among qualified players. Somehow this isn't a big deal among most fans, though I suspect I already know the reason why. Regardless, the Knicks' offense was terrible and Amar'e Stoudemire seemed completely out of place on the floor, resulting in a disappointing season and a first round loss to the Miami Heat.
Still with me? Let's look at what Tyson Chandler is today. I'll return to my assertion that he is the most underrated player in the league. The underlying aspect of my belief is this: Who contributes as much to an NBA team without taking anything off the table? Tyson supplements your offense with points without demanding touches and is the most efficient scorer in the league. Many fans point out here that he simply dunks and takes layups, and thus isn't as good on offense as that efficiency mark seems to indicate. This is wholly inaccurate. First of all, if it were so easy to do then we would see the Kendrick Perkins and Gana Diops of the league posting league-leading TS% every year. They don't. Secondly, and this is extremely important: Chandler's TS% is augmented by how insane he is at drawing fouls. Most fans managed to not notice how often Chandler draws fouls on offense. I'm here to point it out: Tyson Chandler drew fouls last season at a rate of 28.1%. Let that marinate for a moment. Twenty eight point one. For comparison's sake, Andrew Bynum drew fouls at 17%. Dwight Howard: 24.6. Roy Hibbert: 13.4%. Brook Lopez: 19.8%. Nobody in the NBA draws fouls like Tyson Chandler does. Despite, or maybe because of, this largely unknown fact Tyson Chandler isn't in many people's top five when it comes to the best centers in the NBA. I can't accept that.
The point has been made that Tyson wasn't a great rebounder last season, and that he can't be that underrated if he's only a top 25 rebounder by total rebounding percentage. I disagree with this concept anyways, but it should be noted that last season was the first time since 2003 that Chandler hasn't appeared in the Top 6 TR% in the NBA. He is 7th in the league in active career rebounding percentage and 12th in NBA history in career TR%. Tyson Chandler is a great rebounder. I would be remiss to neglect to mention the Tyson Chandler Tip-Out. Once I began to notice it, it became one of my favorite parts of watching Knick games. Chandler does an interesting job boxing out: He uses his length to contain his man, but rather than fight for the rebound he simply predicts its descent and tips it out to the perimeter, often with one hand and calf still on his cover. It's incredibly useful, and it set up some of the more memorable plays from last season. Carmelo was only able to hit the Gametyer/Gamewinner three combo against Chicago because Tyson tipped out JR's miss during that "play". Rebounding is a vastly underrated aspect of team success and wins; there is far more corrolation between rebounding and win percentage than between points per game and win percentage. Chandler is typically one of the best in the business at it; I won't begrudge him last season's relapse.
Defense is difficult to quantify. There is no easy way to isolate a player's contributions on that end of the floor, and that was exacerbated by the statistical quandary that Amar'e Stoudemire placed on the team's plus/minus. Simply put: Amar'e was so bad on defense that he dragged down the numbers of all of his starting teammates. Remember that the team was a net -8.8 while Amar'e was on the court. Because of that, Tyson Chandler was, according to +/-, a net negative on the court as well (-.7). This is largely because he shared starter's minutes with Amar'e. As a result of this anomaly, it is difficult to properly evaluate the 2011-2012 Knicks' starters +/- numbers. What we do know is that the Knicks became a dominant defense between the -2011 and -2012 seasons, and the biggest change was the addition of Tyson Chandler. He's a skilled man defender, for what it's worth. He isn't as hefty as most centers, but he has great lower body strength and instincts. Chandler contests shots without jumping well, avoids bad fouls very well considering his length, and his mobility allows him to rotate all the way out to the perimeter to contest shots. Chandler makes smart predictions on defense, and is the loudest voice on that end of the floor helping his teammates find their man. He is a modest shotblocker, considering his height. Tyson stays low to the floor to help him cover more ground, as opposed to occupying airspace like a Ben Wallace or Serge Ibaka. This makes his rotations crisper, but his blocking less prolific. It's a sacrifice I'm glad he makes.
Some of you are aware of the work Patrick Minton and the guys at the Wages of Wins Network do. Their favorite formula, Wins Produced, was created to quantify a players impact on creating wins in the NBA. Check out any of their sites if you want to verify the formula yourself, because we are venturing into true advanced stats territory here and I don't want to bore you. According to Wins Produced, Tyson Chandler should have been an MVP candidate last season. Only LeBron James and Chris Paul posted a higher WP. Yes, this formula sees Chandler as more productive than Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Kobe Bryant. Before you scoff, realize that this is the same formula that correctly called the brilliance of Jeremy Lin before he was drafted. These were the same people who believed Lin should have been a top 10 pick that season. There is value in their methods, and it would behoove all of us to at least understand how they reach these conclusions. This is hardly the only formula that ranks Chandler favorably, either: Chandler was 9th in the NBA in Win Shares per 48 minutes last season as well. Both these disparate formulas reached the same conclusion: Tyson Chandler is a fantastic player. Yet how many people would even consider ranking him as a top 10 player in the NBA? Even Knick fans would likely place Carmelo higher. Herein lies my point: Most NBA fans succumb to the lure of per game stats as the determining factor in a player's contributions. This is why Chauncey Billups won Finals MVP for that '04 Pistons title over Rasheed and Ben Wallace. This is why Jamal Crawford keeps signing multi-million dollar contracts. The single most important factor in making All-Star teams, All-NBA Teams, and the Hall of Fame is points per game. That is a fact. Look at the 6th Man of the Year award or the Most Improved Player award. Every year the award is handed out to whoever takes a lot of shots and scores a lot of points off the bench or relative to the previous season. This is why Chandler is and will continue to be underrated. This is why we can pay Chandler $13 million per while Brooklyn shells out a max deal for Brook Lopez.
I struggle to compile all this knowledge of Chandler's impact into a concrete statement on his production. He is, by several metrics, arguably the most productive center in the NBA. He still leads the NBA in active career TS%. He draws fouls better than any other star in the league. He is a dominant rebounder and defender. And yet, Chandler just made the first All-NBA team of his career. He has never made an All-Star team. Most fans wouldn't even consider him a star. No other player in this league is disrespected in that regard. Even Kevin Love is regarded as the best power forward in the league in most circles. Chandler isn't even believed to be the best player on his team. It is fortunate indeed that Chandler has accepted that and continues to produce at a high level wherever he plays. The Knicks have a steal and a star in Tyson Chandler, and I couldn't be happier to have him on the roster.