How Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby Will Propel NY Knicks to Defensive Greatness

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2012

Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby will bring '90s-style basketball back to MSG.
Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby will bring '90s-style basketball back to MSG.Marc Serota/Getty Images

The last time the New York Knicks had two quality big men on their roster, they made it to the NBA Finals and the Eastern Conference finals in consecutive seasons.

Those seasons were 1998-99 and 1999-2000, and the players in question were the greatest Knick ever, Patrick Ewing, and a man named Marcus Camby.

For the 2012-13 season, the Knicks find themselves with another intimidating tandem at the 5: Tyson Chandler and the selfsame Marcus Camby.

Last season, Tyson Chandler became the first Knick to be named the Defensive Player of the Year. He can compare that hardware with his new teammate, because Camby took home the award in 2007.

While Camby is eight years Chandler's senior, he hasn't lost any tenacity. Last season, Camby led the entire league in rebounding percentage—besting glass-dominators like Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and DeMarcus Cousins.

And that should come as no surprise. In the previous four seasons, Camby has finished second, first, fourth and third in the category.

Having Camby as the backup to Chandler ensures that there is always a quality center on the court for the Knicks. While Jared Jeffries was serviceable as the backup last season, he's not in the same stratosphere as Camby.

Having a solid center on court at all times takes a great deal of pressure off perimeter defenders, as they know the paint behind them has a pernicious patrolman.

This pairing will also be mutually beneficial for both centers. Camby saw his field goal percentage fall well below his career average (46.7 percent) in Portland over the past two seasons (38.8 percent and 41.6 percent).


Relying less on the 38-year-old should save his legs and bolster his play on both ends of the floor. He will also be surrounded with more potent offensive weapons, like J.R. Smith.

Similarly, Chandler averaged 33.2 minutes per game last season, the third highest mark of his career. While he missed only four regular-season games, he battled through numerous injuries and found himself stricken with the flu as the playoffs began.

In his championship season with Dallas in 2010-11, Chandler averaged just 27.8 minutes and was a dominant force throughout the playoffs. He was also the scourge of Miami in those NBA Finals.

With Camby backing up, Chandler will be fresher late in the season as the playoffs begin, and he will look to duplicate his 2011 performance in 2013. The minutes will likely be split up to the tune of 30/18.

As always, health will be the key for the team's success. Keeping the most important players healthy could be the difference between a first-round exit and a deep playoff run.

As I wrote on August 1, Camby has been more durable lately, after battling the injury bug early in his career, especially in his first stint with the Knicks. He has missed an average of just 12 games over the past six seasons, between the ages of 33 and 38.

But luck plays a huge role with injuries, so the Knicks will be rubbing their rabbit-foot key chains.


And ultimately, the most exciting thought for Knicks fans (and the most frightening thought for opposing coaches) is what Chandler and Camby could do on the court together. At certain junctures during games, coach Mike Woodson could opt to substitute Camby not for Chandler, but for Amar'e Stoudemire.

This would essentially render the paint a no-go zone for opposing offenses. The blocked shots and perimeter bricks would pile up, as would the rebounds on both ends of the floor.

And it was clear that late in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Woodson prized defense over offense.

A Twin-Towers threat like this hasn't been seen in the NBA since the mid-to-late-1980s, when Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson patrolled the paint in Houston, and Ewing and Bill Cartwright loomed large at Madison Square Garden.

NCAA fans enjoyed another dominant defensive tandem at Ewing's alma mater, Georgetown, from 1988-91, where Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo played together for three years. They went on to win six Defensive Player of the Year awards between them in the NBA.

And of course, David Robinson and Tim Duncan were fearsome for the Spurs from 1997 to 2003, but the Navy Lieutenant and the St. Croix native were always more gentlemanly than brutal, and merely extinguished opponents through their elegant efficiency.

Neither Chandler or Camby are polite, nor are they elegant. They pound and brutalize opponents with oppressive physicality and an intimidating demeanor.


In the 2011 finals, Chandler demonstrated the havoc that a dominant big man can wreak on an undersized team like the Heat. Camby will only serve to further lock down the paint versus potent opponents.

If the Knicks can somehow get past Miami in the playoffs, and they find themselves in the finals against the Western Conference champion, they would likely face either the Lakers or the Thunder. These teams have towering duos of their own, but with Camby and Chandler, the Knicks can match up against any frontcourt.

The Lakers boast Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, but one has back issues and the other is known as a finesse power forward, which is to say, he shies away from the physical side of his position.

The Thunder boast Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

Chandler narrowly beat out Ibaka for DPOTY last season, but the "Serge Protector" mainly thrives as a help defender. Ibaka is not as proficient when defending isolation or post-ups.

Perkins, on the other hand, was the victim of one of the most spectacular poster dunks in recent memory.

As former Knick Charles Oakley said of Perkins on Jim Rome's radio show: "You're a power forward, you don't let guys dunk on you. I played 18, 19 years, I got dunked on three times" (on The Jim Rome Show, via USA Today).

Both Camby and Chandler play with a ferocity that has disappeared from the NBA over the last decade. It delivers a message along the lines of, "Don't try to dunk on me or you'll end up in a heap on the hardwood."


The Knicks' other defenders can rest assured that the team is loaded at the 5, and GM Glen Grunwald has packed the roster with other proficient defenders.

From Ronnie Brewer to Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton to Jason Kidd, there aren't many players on the roster who ignore their defensive responsibilities, unlike in previous seasons.

Even Carmelo Anthony exhibited more proficiency on defense, seemingly invigorated by the change in the team's focus brought by coach Woodson.

And Chandler and Camby don't just offer defense. Both have pre-existing chemistry with the Knicks' new point guards. Camby played in Portland last season with Felton, and Chandler has played elsewhere with both Felton (2009-10 in Charlotte) and Kidd (2010-11 in Dallas).

Chandler also led the NBA in field goal percentage last year—showing he can do damage in the offensive paint as well as on the defensive end—posting the third highest mark in league history (67.9 percent).

Overall, the Knicks are stacked with proficient defenders in the backcourt and two looming giants in the middle.

Offense scores points, but defense wins championships.

The last time the Knicks competed for one, they had a much younger Camby and Ewing in the middle. Now, with Camby and Chandler at the 5, they are setting their sights just as high.

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