Debating Whether NY Knicks' Tyson Chandler Is Still an Elite Big Man

Grant Rindner@grantrindnerContributor IIIJune 16, 2013

Debating Whether NY Knicks' Tyson Chandler Is Still an Elite Big Man

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    In his two seasons with the New York Knicks Tyson Chandler has completely revitalized the team's defensive culture, earned himself a Defensive Player of the Year award and averaged double-digit points.

    However, following an injury plagued 2012-13 season and an extremely lackluster playoff, the question of whether or not Chandler deserves elite status remains very much in the air.

    For all of the positives Chandler brings to the court, his game has some clear—at times, glaring—limitations, which have hurt the Knicks during the past two seasons.

    With New York regrouping and preparing to make another run at a championship, let's take a moment to look both at the state of the league and of Chandler to try and determine whether or not the 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star center is truly an elite big man.

He Can Still Dominate the Glass

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    In today's NBA there are not a lot of players who can lock down the glass like Tyson Chandler.

    This is the era of small-ball and big men playing 20 feet from the hope, so the fact that Chandler is still an elite rebounder can give the Knicks a huge boost at times.

    In the 2012-13 season Chandler averaged 10.7 rebounds per game, including 4.1 offensive boards. That number is his highest since his 2007-08 campaign with the New Orleans Hornets when he grabbed 11.7 boards per game.

    He had four games with 20 or more rebounds, including a monster 16-point, 28-rebound performance against the Golden State Warriors.

    Chandler also posted a stellar total rebounding rate of 19.0, good for 13th in the league and was in the top 10 in offensive rebounding rate at 14.1 ahead of the likes of Zach Randolph, Nikola Vucevic and Joakim Noah.

    Even when Chandler couldn't score, his ability tip out offensive rebounds created quality looks from the perimeter for shooters like Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith before the opposing defense could set back up. 

    His rebounding also led to a significant amount of his points on easy putbacks and fouls. His ability to power through contact and finish at the rim made up for his lack of a reliable post game or any semblance of an outside shot.

    Though Chandler's rebounding numbers took a hit in the playoffs. But playing on a team with Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony—two subpar rebounding forwards—Chandler's ability to consistently pull down double-digit boards is integral to their success.

He Has Struggled with Injuries and Durability

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    One of the few issues that has consistently plagued Chandler throughout his career is his inability to stay healthy.  

    However, since fracturing his foot during the 2009-10 season while playing with the Charlotte Bobcats, he has managed to stay relatively healthy. He played in 74 games with the Dallas Mavericks and 62 games in the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, but missed 16 games last year due to a myriad of injuries.

    Chandler has spent the last two years battling a nagging wrist injury and a troublesome bulging disk in his neck that forced him to miss 16 of the team's final 20 regular season games.

    The physical toll of the season manifested itself in Chandler's postseason performance. He averaged just 5.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, albeit on 53.8 percent shooting.

    Because of his injuries and foul trouble the Knicks were forced to cut his minutes from 32.8 per night to 29.2, while relying on the aggressive but undersized Kenyon Martin at the 5. 

    For a player like Chandler, who has always relied on his strength and physicality in place of skill and finesse, he needs his body to be functioning at, or around,100 percent.

    If Chandler cannot bang down low with bigs like Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah and Andrew Bynum (if he's healthy) in the Eastern Conference, then New York is never going to get over the hump as championship contenders.

He Excels in His Role

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    Tyson Chandler was brought to New York in the 2011 offseason fresh off of a championship run with Dallas to provide the resurgent Knicks with a formidable defensive center who wasn't a total offensive liability.

    And he has managed to do just that in his two seasons with the team. 

    In 2012-13, Chandler took just 6.1 shots per game, converting on 63.8 percent of them. Of those 6.1 shot attempts, five of them were directly at the rim and he connected at a 69.3 percent clip.

    According to Hollinger PER stats, he also posted a PER of 18.88 (via, which was 43rd in the entire NBA and came in above the likes of Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Zach Randolph and J.R. Smith. 

    Chandler may not have much of an offensive game, but he is a legitimate threat in the pick-and-roll and catching lob passes at the rim. When he receives a pass on his way to the rim it is almost a guaranteed score or foul based on his strength and ability to elevate.

    More importantly, though, Chandler, the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, was integral in New York's shift from an all-offense, no-defense ball club to one of the league's more well-rounded defensive teams.  

    In 2011-12 the team had a defensive rating of 101, good for fifth in the league and last year it gave up just 95.7 points per game, which was seventh in the league.

    Beyond just his own ability to guard the post and contest shots at the rim, Chandler's presence as a vocal leader on the defensive end of the floor has helped to keep his teammates active and aggressive while also not missing their rotations or losing track of their men. 

    On a team with players like J.R. Smith, Anthony and Stoudemire, all of whom have spotty defensive credentials, having a big man who can make up for his teammates' defensive lapses is incredibly valuable.

    Say what you will about Tyson Chandler, but he has never been one to eschew his role on the Knicks for the sake of stats or personal glory.

His Declining Playoff Production

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    For as well as Chandler has played in stretches with New York during the regular season he has been a much different player in the playoffs, and not necessarily for the better. 

    In New York's five game loss to Miami back in the 2012 postseason, Chandler averaged 6.2 points, none rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game but shot just 44 percent from the floor. The small-ball versatility of the Heat was simply too much for the Knicks and Chandler was not capable of providing the kind of defensive presence New York needed to pull off the huge upset

    His second postseason with the Knicks was not any better, as Chandler battled a bulging disk in his neck and a nasty case of the flu during two brutally physical series with Boston and Indiana. 

    The physicality of competing against Kevin Garnett, David West and Roy Hibbert for 12 games clearly affected Chandler, as he averaged just 5.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He did shoot 53.8 percent from the field, an incredibly high clip, but struggle to reach the free throw line (1.3 attempts per game), and committed four fouls per contest.

    Chandler did a decent job on Garnett in the first round, but was absolutely manhandled by the taller Hibbert. Hibbert was able to consistently carve out great post position on Chandler and create easy shots. To make matters worse, Chandler averaged a mere six boards per game in the Pacers series.

    While the Knicks don't need Chandler to be stellar to win a series, the fact that their battle-tested center has struggled so visibly in the playoffs is certainly troubling.

The Dearth of Quality Big Men

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    This argument has less to do with Chandler and more with the current state of the league, but the reality is simply that there are not a whole lot of elite big men in the league for Chandler to contend with.

    Chandler was one of only 11 players in the NBA to average a double-double this past season, and his 20 double-doubles ranked him ahead of the likes of Kevin Garnett, Marc Gasol and David West.

    While there are big men like LaMarcus Aldridge, Brook Lopez and David Lee who can dominate a game offensively and bigs like Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert who can control a game defensively, there simply are not many elite two-way frontcourt players.

    In seasons past a player who was as limited skill-wise as Chandler would not be a realistic contender for elite big-man status, but the reality is that there are just not that many players in the league who can do what Chandler can do on both ends of the court. 

    For some perspective, let's take a moment and look at the other big men selected for the 2013 All-Star game along with Chandler. With the exceptions of Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan, it is pretty easy to argue that Tyson Chandler presented as much value to his team as anyone on either roster.

    Could you really say that the likes of Chris Bosh, Aldridge, Noah, Lopez or Zach Randolph are significantly better than Chandler? 

    Chandler may not put up numbers as flashy as these players, but his PER is right on track with the rest of them. And with his ability to play effective help defense and make hustle plays, he brings more intangibles than perhaps anyone on this list outside of Noah.

    Today's league is more guard oriented than ever before. The reality is is that for Chandler to be considered elite he doesn't need to be a 20-10 threat or an MVP candidate or even a regular all-star, he simply needs to be as good or better than his main competition. 

His Decline Defensively

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    Make no mistake, Tyson Chandler is still a very strong defensive player, but he did not look as sharp in the 2012-13 season as he did during his award-winning 2011-12 campaign.

    Chandler is just 30 years old, but he has 12 seasons of NBA experience on his legs since he came into the league out of high school. He has suffered more than his fair share of injuries during his long and largely productive career.

    When you add to that the fact that he has been to the playoffs in eight of those 12 seasons and that he played in the 2012 London Olympics with Team USA, it becomes obvious that Chandler really has played a staggering amount of basketball for someone his age.

    All of that began to show during the 2012-13 season—more so than in the year prior. He was not quite as quick to help defensively and not as effective guarding the post one-on-one. In many ways he simply did not move as well on the court as he had in the past and was less of an omnipresent force in the paint.

    Chandler is a decent shot-blocker, but not a great one, and his best defense involves getting in front of his man and using his length and strength to force a tough shot, something he had more difficulty doing.

    To make matters worse, he was outplayed in the playoffs by Garnett, West and Hibbert pretty emphatically. While he is still putting in top-notch effort, his injuries and mileage are clearly preventing him from playing the kind of all-world defense of which he is capable.

Final Verdict

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    Final Verdict: Elite

    For all the flack I've given Chandler throughout this slideshow, it is almost impossible to find a player capable of averaging a double-double and being the kind of defensive player that Chandler is.

    While he does disappear a little too often when he is not being found for lobs and rolls to the rim, he is one of the few centers in the league capable of being the best player on the court for an entire game. 

    Because of his obvious limitations he cannot be considered a franchise-caliber player, but for the way he revitalized the Knicks defensively, his value as a veteran locker room leader and his ability to play within himself, he can certainly be considered an "elite" big man.