Why Tyson Chandler Is the One Player NY Knicks Can't Afford to Lose

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Why Tyson Chandler Is the One Player NY Knicks Can't Afford to Lose
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like Black Tuesday Part Two.

The New York Knicks suffered a tremendous loss on Monday night, and that had nothing to do with the final scoreboard that read 102-97 in favor of the visiting Charlotte Bobcats.

Tyson Chandler—the 2011-12 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year and three-time All-Defensive selection—collided with Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker midway through the first quarter. Afterward, Chandler spent several minutes icing his right knee on the Knicks bench before heading to the locker room for further evaluation.

Initial X-rays on the injured joint came up "inconclusive," via Marc Berman of The New York Post, but further testing revealed the full extent of his injury:

This is bad news all around for New York. Replacing a star player is never easy, but in Chandler's case, it looks impossible.

 

Decorated, Yet Underappreciated

Chandler is certainly flying well above the radar. The basketball world has showered the former No. 2 overall pick with accolades in recent seasons, recognizing the greatest gift that the mobile 7'1" giant brings to the hardwood.

Yet it still feels as if his talent goes unnoticed at times—or at least falls a few minutes shy of his well-earned 15.

Maybe it's the fact that he's underwhelmed in the sexy stat categories, with career averages of 8.7 points and 1.3 blocks per game. Or maybe it is due to the fact that he shares the floor with a sexy-stat stuffer, Carmelo Anthony, who averaged 28.7 points per game last season.

Whatever the reason, Chandler is an NBA phenomenon. Even amid his growing list of accolades, he's still fighting to receive his proper due.

He gives Mike Woodson options with his rotation. Woodson can fill the floor with shooters, including a wildly productive stretch-4 in Anthony, as long as he has Chandler guarding the rim.

Once Chandler left the floor against the Bobcats, Charlotte found steady streams to the basket:

Chandlet doesn't just anchor the Knicks defense; he is their defense. It's hard to quantify changing a culture, but just look at the way Chandler has changed New York's stat sheet since his arrival in 2011-12, via TeamRankings.com and NBA.com:

Award-Winning Protection
Season Def Rtg NBA Rank PITP Allowed NBA Rank
2010-11 106.9 21 45.4 26
2011-12 98.4 5 38.6 7
2012-13 103.5 16T 38.9 5
2013-14 98.2 9 37.5 10

TeamRankings.com, NBA.com

New York made a weakness into a strength overnight—a process that started and finished upon Chandler's arrival. He's every bit the defender that his accolades suggest, but he's more than just a one-trick pony.

While his offensive range is limited, he's an expert finisher at the basket. He's converted 62.8 percent of his field goals since the start of the 2007-08 season, which is the highest conversion rate of any full-time player (at least 25 minutes per game) during that stretch.

Also, his rebounding ability is up there with some of the best in the business. He's averaged 9.9 boards per game since 2010-11, the ninth-best rate in the league. And even that figure fails to account for all of the rebounds he saves for New York when he back taps the ball to a teammate on the perimeter.

The hoops world might appreciate his talent, but I'm not sure everyone recognizes just how good he is. The one thing that's hard to miss, though, is the gap between him and his frontcourt mates in New York.

 

Red-Flagged Frontcourt

One player who fully understands what Chandler brings to the floor is Anthony.

The desperation in his words following the loss to Charlotte was impossible to ignore. "I just pray and hope he's fine," Anthony told Berman. "We missed him big-time."

Coach Mike Woodson has other options to fill his interior, but all of them come with red flags attached.

Amar'e Stoudemire (knee) and Kenyon Martin (ankle) are both operating under medically imposed limits restrictions. Handed a win-now doctrine from owner James Dolan, Woodson has had to get creative with his hobbled bigs.

He had implemented a platoon system for Stoudemire and Martin, alternating the players when the Knicks play games on back-to-back nights. When asked if Chandler's injury meant he'd have to scrap this idea, Woodson simply said, "I got a lot to think about right now," via Newsday's Al Iannazzone.

Trotting out a pair of aging, damaged goods is hardly ideal. But somehow, that might be Woodson's best option.

Andrea Bargnani is neither an imposing defender (career 0.9 blocks per game) nor a steady presence on the glass (career 4.8 rebounds per game). Don't let his 7'0" frame fool you; he's on an NBA roster strictly for his shooting ability.

Ned Dishman/Getty Images

I wish I could tell you how Cole Aldrich has managed to find an NBA home. He had trouble carving out minutes on a bad Sacramento Kings team last season (11.7 a night over 15 games) and is strictly an option in garbage time only.

Beyond that there's...nothing. Zilch.

Jeremy Tyler might be an option. A foot injury cost him the chance to secure a roster spot in training camp, but he was recently added to the team's D-League affiliate. Woodson told Berman that Tyler "could be wearing a Knick uniform" at some point in the near future.

But none of these players are Chandler, not by a long shot.

With Chandler gone for an extended period, New York's chance at success may have gone with him.

 

Offense Fills Seats...

...but defense fills trophy cases.

Who should get the bulk of Chandler's minutes?

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Anthony is a vital piece to New York's offense, but at least the Knicks have other offensive-minded pieces to help hold his spot should he go down. None of them can match his production level—no scorer in the league could last season—but there'd still be the chance that a collective effort could offset some of his numbers.

There is no such safety net with Chandler.

Stoudemire can score around the basket, but he'll give back whatever points he gets at the other end. Bargnani manages to make Stoudemire look like a glass cleaner and imposing presence. Martin has some of the intimidation factor, but he's a bit undersized (6'9") and doesn't have the legs to control the boards.

As for Aldrich and Tyler, they're still fighting to prove that they belong on an NBA bench. Actually getting them off that bench and onto the floor will be an exhaustive process, however.

Chandler's absence brings some uncomfortable questions to the organization's forefront. And not a single one offers a promising solution.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

 

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