NY Knicks Defense Proving Tyson Chandler Is Most Irreplaceable Player on Roster

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistNovember 10, 2013

A matinee between the New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs turned into a defensive bloodbath for Mike Woodson's squad on Sunday, with the home team falling to the reigning Western Conference champs 120-89 at Madison Square Garden. 

Ever since it was announced Wednesday that Tyson Chandler would miss approximately four to six weeks with a non-displaced fracture of his right fibula, concerns regarding New York's defense have grown louder.

With Chandler out, the Knicks' worst fears were realized on Sunday, as the Spurs gashed a porous New York defense to the tune of 53.9 percent shooting from the floor, 42.9 percent from three and 44 points in the paint.

Chandler's absence has left a massive void in the middle of New York's defense, one that lacks any semblance of interior depth.

Taking the 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year's spot in the middle has been Andrea Bargnani, who's arguably one of the worst defensive bigs in the game today.

That's because he's not a conventional big.

Yes, he's seven feet tall, which would ordinarily classify him as a center, but given his limited offensive skill set (mid-range and beyond) and historically bad rebounding numbers (4.8 per game for his career), Bargnani isn't cut out to play the position in a conventional manner.

The difference between a disruptive rim-protector like Chandler and a soft, perimeter-oriented body like Bargnani is astronomical.

Carmelo Anthony may be the superstar, but there's no doubting that Chandler has become the most important cog of this Knicks team.

The stats back that up. 

Prior to his injury, New York was 10.2 points better per 100 possessions defensively when Chandler was on the floor, according to NBA.com's stats database.

Conversely, the Knicks have posted a miserable net defensive rating of minus-22.9 with Bargnani on the floor this season, per NBA.com.

Let's take a look at a couple of examples from Sunday afternoon.

With Chandler sidelined, the Spurs continually attacked the rim, knowing that Bargnani (who had zero blocks on the day) was no threat to challenge shots in the paint.

Here, we see a prime example.

Matador Defense
Matador Defense

Marco Belinelli starts with the ball on the left wing while Bargnani checks Tim Duncan. The first line of defense on Belinelli doesn't quite do its job (a whole different problem), and Bargnani half-heartedly slides over to contest at the rim.

Mike Breen described Bargnani's play on the interior as "matador defense," and it was an apt characterization.

A second example came in the second half, when Bargnani was situated on the perimeter defending Tiago Splitter.

Caught Flat-Footed
Caught Flat-Footed

With the Spurs spreading the floor and letting their bigs linger outside the paint, all San Antonio's guards have to do is beat their primary defender and they're home free. Bargnani is too slow to recover and challenge the shot at the rim as the Spurs tack on another easy two in the paint.

With slow feet and a penchant for shying away from physicality, Bargnani has no shot of filling the interior void left behind by Chandler.

Entering Sunday's game, Bargnani was surrendering 1.04 points per possession, including 1.33 in isolation and 1.17 on post-ups, according to mySynergySports (subscription required).

By comparison, Chandler was allowing a stellar 0.64 points per possession, including 0.75 in isolations and 0.4 in post-ups, per mySynergy, although it must be noted those numbers came in a rather small sample size.

It's still early, but at 2-4, the Knicks are in trouble.

Chandler provided the Knicks with a reliable offensive and defensive presence in the pick-and-roll and around the rim, but they're now left searching for answers as fans grow increasingly frustrated with the team's inability to mesh.

With stout interior teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers all looming, the Knicks need to find a way to mask Bargnani's defensive inefficiencies. Fast.