Why Tyson Chandler Is More Important Than Ever to NY Knicks

Grant RindnerContributor IIIMarch 18, 2013

SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Tyson Chandler #6 of the New York Knicks sits on the bench during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on December 28, 2012 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For an NBA team, it doesn't seem like replacing 10.7 points, 11 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game would be a particularly difficult thing. But for the New York Knicks, a box score belies the importance of All-Star center Tyson Chandler.

Chandler, who sat out games against the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers due to a left knee contusion and a neck strain, respectively, has been as instrumental to New York's success as any player on the roster. 

New York lost those two games by an average of 14 points, and the extended absence of Chandler for the first time in the 2012-13 season highlights just how important the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is to the Knicks at this point in their campaign.

Without Chandler manning the middle, Portland shot 51.3 percent from the field and their guards were able to penetrate the lane and attack the rim at will.

Though L.A. finished at a more modest 45.3 percent, there were several instances where Chris Paul waltzed to the rim unencumbered, and Blake Griffin powered down putback dunks that would not have been available with Chandler anchoring the paint. 

While Carmelo Anthony is the leader of New York's offense, Chandler is the unquestioned leader of Mike Woodson's defense, and the team looks visibly lost without him on the floor being vocal and making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be. 

Chandler is not a dominant shot-blocker like a Dwight Howard or a Serge Ibaka, but he is an excellent help defender who can protect the paint and cover pick-and-rolls better than almost any big man in the NBA. 

Although Marcus Camby is finally healthy enough to contribute for New York, he is rusty after missing most of the season with a foot injury and is simply not capable of providing 30 minutes of top-shelf defense like he could in the past.

New acquisition Kenyon Martin has played well since being thrust into a starting role, but he did not join the team until late February, and at 6'9" is not capable of guarding the league's bigger centers one-on-one the way Chandler is. He is also an absolute liability from the foul line, shooting just 33.3 percent on the season.

Veteran backup Rasheed Wallace recently underwent surgery to repair a fractured metatarsal in his foot and will be sidelined until the beginning of the postseason. Granted Wallace is depended on more for his scoring and rebounding than defense, but the 38-year-old was a part of New York's rotation until he went down with injury. 

As if things were not bad enough, Amar'e Stoudemire's knee surgery now means that New York is depending on Kurt Thomas and Chris Copeland to play meaningful minutes in the frontcourt.

Thomas is playing his hardest, but at 40 years old, he is not good for much more than 15-foot jumper and a brutal screen or two, while Copeland seems to be legitimately afraid of playing aggressive defense.

Though Stoudemire is far from a great defender, he was excelling in a sixth man role, providing interior scoring and rebounding off the bench, before the injury sidelined him. Even when STAT returns, he will not be in peak physical condition and will be rejoining the rotation right around the start of the playoffs.

Chandler cannot provide scoring in the same manner as Stoudemire given his lack of post moves and jump shooting, but he has been an underrated offensive contributor all season long for the Knicks.

He never does anything outside of his skill set and always seems to know where to be on the court. He has also cut down on his fouls, picking his spots more carefully than in years past.

Shooting 64.5 percent from the field and 69.4 percent from the free-throw line, Chandler formed a solid pick-and-roll threat with Raymond Felton because of his aggressive drives to the rim and ability to finish in the paint. He may not be able to generate his own offense, but he runs the floor extremely hard and is capable of throwing down a lob pass easily.

He also provided points by grabbing tough offensive rebounds and converting at the foul line, an invaluable trait for a center in today's NBA.

More valuable than his scoring though, is his relentless rebounding on both ends of the floor. New York does many things well, but they are a poor rebounding team, ranked 22nd in the league at 41.1 boards per game, and they are even worse without him. 

'Melo is a decent rebounder but is more focused on the offensive end of the floor, and Stoudemire has always been mediocre on the glass despite his size and strength. That leaves the majority of the clean-up duties to Chandler, who uses all of his 7'1" frame to dominate the boards.

Chandler has had 11 games this season with 15 or more rebounds and 20 double-doubles overall. In February, he had three-consecutive 20 rebound performances and notched 28 boards in a home win over Golden State.

On a Knicks team that can sometimes be complacent and jack-up contested jump shots, Chandler is the one player who is always working every second on the court. Whether he is tapping out a rebound to earn his team another possession or rotating over to help a teammate, there is never a moment where you aren't aware of Chandler's presence. 

Chandler could be back for the Knicks' tilt with the Utah Jazz, and with New York mired in a four-game losing streak, the team is undoubtedly hoping for him to suit up. However, it is also possible that the team opts to wait until they are home against the Orlando Magic before Chandler laces up his hi-tops.

Granted the Eastern Conference is not exactly filled with elite big men, but this team is not a threat to make the conference finals without Chandler manning the middle. No matter how well their offense is clicking, their defense is not going to be capable of stopping the league's better teams with Chandler anything less than 100 percent.

With the team's lead in the Atlantic Division dwindling rapidly, their bench significantly depleted and the playoffs looming, they need their anchor in the paint to play the way he was prior to the knee injury.

He may not repeat as DPOY or even make an All-NBA team, but at this point in the season, no Knick comes close in importance to Tyson Chandler.

Statistics accurate as of March 17th, 2013.