If it’s possible for an athlete to be overrated and underrated at the same time, you could make a strong case for Tyson Chandler being that athlete. This year, Chandler was recognized for his play more so than at any previous point in his career. He was defensive player of the year, he made third team All-NBA, and to top it off, he was a starter for Team USA in the London Olympics.
For some people, this was all a bit much. Sure, Chandler was a solid player, but did he really provide better defense than Dwight Howard? And come on, he looked a bit out of place on Team USA, right? As much I appreciate Chandler’s game, even I thought it was a bit shocking that he received the final All-NBA spot for centers over the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol, who struck me as a far more complete player.
But when you get caught up in the anti-hype, it’s easy to forget how good Chandler is. And as anyone who’s watched him since 2010 can attest, he’s really, really good. At first glance, it seems like he doesn’t contribute much on the offensive end. Sure, makes most of his shots, but that’s only because he takes all of them at the rim, right? Well, not so much. Every offensive possession is affected by Chandler’s presence. He does roughly the same thing every time; sets a screen for the point guard, then sneaks his way to the hoop. Roughly 5 or 6 times a game, the point guard will find him, setting up an easy, often uncontested two points. It’s one of the most sure-fire moves in the game.
But what about the plays when they don’t go the Chandler? He affects those, too. Other teams know how deadly Chandler is when he creeps his way into the paint, so they have to prepare for it. Is Raymond Felton going to dish to Chandler at the basket, or set Steve Novak up for an uncontested three? Will he defer to Carmelo Anthony, or will he shoot a floater himself? There’s no way of knowing.
Of course, that’s true with every team to some extent, but Chandler’s ridiculously high shooting percentages makes it all the more dangerous. Opposing teams know they have to prepare for Melo’s relentless offensive attack, but the possibility of Felton or Jason Kidd dishing to Chandler for an uncontested dunk or layup exists on every possession. If you don’t watch Chandler, he’ll burn you, but if you focus on him, that makes it all the more likely that Melo will burn you. All of this a huge part of why the Knicks are so deadly right now. Chandler’s presence, and his insane efficiency, makes it much easier for every other player on the team to play their game.
But it’s not just the offense. We all know what a great defender Chandler is, but it’s important to consider how hard he works to keep every play alive. If you watch a Knicks game, you’ll see Chandler tip about 5 or 6 balls, most of which will land in the hands of a fellow Knicks player. This doesn’t count towards his stats, but helps the Knicks immeasurably. They have another chance to score, and the defense becomes increasingly tired. Every time the Knicks eke out a close win, consider that the other team might have won had Chandler not been working his butt off to keep so many possessions alive.
It’s worth considering; the Knicks front office seems to be very aware of Chandler’s talents. Let’s keep in mind, the team’s biggest free agent signings were Felton and Kidd, both of whom had previous experience playing with Chandler. They wanted guys who could easily run the pick-and-roll with Chandler, and set him up for easy alley-oops. You wouldn’t think Tyson Chandler is the type of player you build a team around, but that’s kind of what the Knicks have been doing, and so far, it’s been working marvelously.
In short, Chandler is good. Really, really good. It doesn’t matter if he was the worst player on Team USA, because he’s one of the most important players in the league right now. Yes, Carmelo Anthony is having an MVP season, but Tyson Chandler has helped him – and every other Knick – immensely. It’s too early to tell if the Knicks are a legit title contender (although all signs point to yes), but if they do make it, Chandler will be one of the biggest reasons why, just as he was for the Mavs two years ago. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team; someone who works his hardest every game, and makes everyone around him better. So, maybe all those accolades he received last year aren’t so far-fetched. If anything, people still don’t completely understand just how good this guy is. When he wins a second ring with the Knicks? Then, everyone will have to take notice.
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John Hugar lives in Buffalo, where he is finishing up undergraduate work at the University at Buffalo. His work has appeared at 3 Shades Of Blue, The Classical, and Bleacher Report. He's been a Grizzlies fan since day one, during their time Vancouver and Memphis.