Will Tyson Chandler's Return Be Just in Time to Save New York Knicks' Season?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2013

Welcome to the rest of the New York Knicks' season.

At 7-17, New York has the Eastern Conference's third-worst record and is falling fast. But for the first time all year, help is on the way.

Tyson Chandler, who has missed 20 straight games rehabbing a broken left fibula, could return in time for the Knicks' next game against the Milwaukee Bucks, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman.

"I’ll do a five-on-five scrimmage and if it goes well, I’ll play," Chandler told Berman just before his Knicks suffered a heartbreaking home loss at the hands of the Washington Wizards.

Chandler's return couldn't come at a better time. The Knicks need him, and that's putting it lightly. They're a servile 6-14 in his absence, and while the Eastern Conference has redefined nauseating, the Knicks are in need of drastic changes.

Changes that only Chandler, and Chandler alone, can provide.


Healthy Body

Clean bills of health have become mythical in New York.

Key players simply aren't at full strength. Chandler's been missing for 20 games, but the injury bug hasn't stopped there. 

Kenyon Martin is out indefinitely with a strained abdominal muscle, Raymond Felton remains sidelined with a hamstring injury and because fate despises the Knicks, Pablo Prigioni, their best playmaker, is out with a broken toe.

Then there's Amar'e Stoudemire, who hasn't been healthy since 2010 and is experiencing swelling in his knee. Again.

J.R. Smith isn't even healthy. Ask former head coach Mike Woodson, and he may not be healthy all season. 

"I don’t think he’s still 100 percent," Woodson said previously, on ESPN Radio 98.7 FM in New York, as transcribed by the Berman. "I don’t know if he’ll ever be this season based on the surgery he had this offseason. I have to be patient with him."

Beyond that, Carmelo Anthony, 29, is being run ragged. His 39.2 minutes a night rank second behind only Bradley Beal, who is nearly a decade his junior (20).

Chandler will be a sight for sore eyes. Transitions, grace periods and conditioning be damned. Seeing him on the court, in uniform, free from tailored suits that don't reach his shoes, will be a relief.

It will give the Knicks another body, something they've been short on since the season began.



Defense wins championships and, if you're the Knicks, inflicts heartache.

Woodson fancies himself a defensive-minded coach capable of instilling preventive purpose into his players. For much of last season, he fooled us. This season, he hasn't.

New York ranks 27th in defensive efficiency, allowing 105.4 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com (subscription required). Injuries to K-Mart and the Chan-Chan Man haven't helped their cause, but shouldn't a coach like Woodson be able to overcome significant losses? He's a defensive sage, is he not? 

I have my doubts. Actually, I don't. I know he's not.

The Knicks are hapless defensively. They switch on everything. That's been their knock all season. But it's not even that anymore.

They're starting to double on everything. Setting traps near the timeline, which, like Woodson's nonexistent defensive credentials, are meaningless. If anything, as we saw against Washington, they're hurtful. As is their pick-and-roll defense.

Off pick-and-rolls, the Knicks either a) create mismatches of their own by forcing their big man to switch onto quicker ball-handlers, b) double ball-handlers off screens, forcing everyone else to rotate and inevitably leave someone unattended or c) switch "properly" but fail to close out the ball-handler, who then becomes a wide-open assassin.

On numerous other occasions, they're getting beat off the dribble without any help behind them. Bradley Beal's game-winner was too easy. He went around Beno Udrih and reached the cup without any additional resistance:

Notice that Udrih points to where he'll send Beal—baseline. It's almost like he's trying to tell his team something.

"Hey guys! He's going this way. HE'S GOING THIS WAY! Just thought you should know."

Udrih's teammates didn't flinch or take heed, because of course. They're the Knicks. And Knicks are going to Knick stuff up. It's what their defense does. 

This next play from the Knicks' fourth-quarter debacle against the Wizards also sums up their defensive incompetence nicely:

Iman Shumpert and Andrea Bargnani decide to trap Beal near half court, because, unlimited range being an actual thing, he's clearly going to shoot from there.

Doubling Beal leaves Marcin Gortat open, which is how disaster strikes.

Once Beal delivers the ball to Gortat, Anthony leaves Jan Vesely to close him out. Udrih, who is already nowhere near Garrett Temple, switches over to Vesely. 

Recognizing that Temple is all alone, Gortat bullets a pass his way, forcing Smith to cover Temple, who hits a wide-open Martell Webster. And so goes the Knicks' switch-happy, rotation-heavy, horrifically ineffective defense.

Chandler can change this. He can make it better. Though he won't solve everything, he'll handle a great deal. 

As a help defender, he's spectacular, always talking and rotating properly, and with purpose. While he's not a great shot-blocker, he does the next best thing: forces mid-air adjustments. Going straight up against airborne players seeking an easy two limits foul calls and acts as a hybrid block.

Put bluntly: He is New York's defensive lifeline. 

Relying on one player that heavily, especially one who frequently battles injuries, isn't ideal, but it's who the Knicks are. And the numbers show it.

When Chandler's on the floor, the Knicks are allowing 92.2 points per 100 possessions. I'm dead serious. That equates to the league's best mark. The top-ranked Indiana Pacers are relinquishing 94.2.

When he's off the court, it's been worse. Much worse. They're allowing 106.7 points per 100 possessions, which would be the NBA's second-worst mark, ahead of only the tanking Utah Jazz (108.8).

But wait, it gets worse.

Since Chandler went down, the Knicks' defensive rating stands at 106.8. In his absence, the Knicks have basically taken an already terrible defensive attack and made it even worse.

This is problematic for obvious reasons, because defense actually matters. But also because the Knicks don't have a top-heavy offense to carry them. Their 101.8 points per 100 possessions ranks 19th, so there's no comfort there.

What they need is a defensive renaissance. A method of attack that stands up to opposing offenses and won't crumble late in games. 

What they need, what their season needs, is Chandler.


Saving Woodson

What is time? 

Don't ask Woodson. He doesn't know. Doesn't understand it. And he's running out of it.

Berman writes that Chandler's return could determine Woodson's fate, and I'm inclined to agree. This is Coach Woody's last shot. After what happened against the Wizards, it's his only shot.

The last minute of that game saw some of the worst decision-making ever. Not only did the Knicks blow a two-for-one opportunity, Udrih hit just one of his two free throws. Then, despite having a foul to give, the Knicks didn't use it, allowing Washington free reign instead. We all saw how that turned out.

They capped the evening's festivities off by stumbling and bumbling up the court like there was a full minute left in the game. Really, there was under seven seconds.

Woodson could have called a timeout during that situation, advancing the ball to half court and giving the Knicks time to set up an actual play. But no. Mass chaos is better.

Chandler cannot only save the Knicks' season, he can save Woody's job. If he comes back, regains form and the Knicks regain respectability, Woodson will be safe.

Safe as you can be while working for the ever-unpredictable, historically impulsive James Dolan, anyway. 


One (of Two) They Cannot Afford to Lose

Is there a more important member of the Knicks than Chandler?

Say what you must about Anthony. He's a stud, and he led the Knicks in scoring in each of their first 24 games, attesting to his importance. But the Knicks are still 7-17 with him and 6-14 without Chandler. At the very least, they're of equal importance to New York's immediate future.

New York needs both. Anthony on offense; Chandler on defense. That's how it has to be. That's the only way it can be. They can save the Knicks' season together, alongside each other. One half of this pairing won't be enough. They must do it together. And fast.

Only four games separate the Knicks and Atlantic Division-leading Celtics. Only three stand between them and the Eastern Conference's playoff picture. They can still save their season. They can still do this, but only with Chandler.

"He’s just done three-on-three," Woodson said of Chandler's potential return, via Berman. "We got to see how he feels. If he doesn’t have any setbacks after [Tuesday], he might play Wednesday."

The Knicks can only hope Chandler is fine. They can only hope his return comes now. They have 'Melo; now they need him. 

Their season, if it's to traverse anything other than rock bottom, needs Chandler.


All stats in this article used courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required) unless otherwise noted.


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