Why Tyson Chandler Is Critical to New York Knicks Offense

Dylan MurphyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - January 2: Tyson Chandler #6 of the New York Knicks shoots against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center on January 2, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photos by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)
D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

Tyson Chandler's impact as a defender is well known. After helping to clog the paint and win a title for the Dallas Mavericks, he ushered in an era of highly valued rim protectors. The likes of Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert, Omer Asik and Dwight Howard grew in value even more, and their offensive shortcomings became less important. 

In Chandler's case, his limitations with the ball are obvious: He doesn't have a mid-range jumper and his post-up game is nonexistent. But his value on the offensive end of the floor has little to do with the basketball being in his hands; it's the space he creates as a finisher at the rim.

If there's anything Chandler does well, it's dunking the ball. Certainly an easy task for a 7-footer, but very few players at any position finish as aggressively as he does. Coupled with excellent athleticism for a man of his size, Chandler is a player to be accounted for when he's loitering in the restricted area.

When Chandler runs the pick-and-roll, everyone knows where he's going: The rim. Without a pick-and-pop game, the big defending Chandler will often drop back to corral both the ball-handler and the rolling Chandler. When they don't, this happens:

Even when an angle for a pocket pass isn't available, Chandler's hands and timing allow him to finish anything thrown remotely near the basket.

When Raymond Felton is on the floor, he looks for Chandler with the lob all the time. Teams anticipate this action and have their defenders drop even further to get in its way.

If they're in a hard hedge—when the big defending the roller steps out and tries to prevent the guard from turning the corner on the pick—they'll often have a weak-side defender "chuck" Chandler. Under normal circumstances, this is a short stunt towards the rolling big to prevent an easy dump-in pass. 

With Chandler, the chucker will often come from far away to defend him. Sometimes this means leaving a weak-side shooter wide open, but this is what a simple roll to the rim can do: Make a defense choose between giving up a three-pointer or a dunk.

On this play, Toronto hard hedges the pick-and-roll as Chandler slides down into the paint.

Photo via MSG

Toronto's DeMar DeRozan is the chucker here, but he reacts late and doesn't arrive to defend against the dunk in time.

Photo via MSG

For argument's sake, let's say DeRozan rotates early. Instead of throwing it inside to Chandler, Beno Udrih can now throw a cross-court pass to J.R. Smith for the three-pointer. Notice how open he is right as Chandler is about to throw down the dunk.

On this next example from later in that same game, DeRozan diagnoses the pick-and-roll early, anticipating the roll and sliding into a help position. He does a good job greeting Chandler early, halting his momentum near the free-throw line and obstructing his path to the rim.

If he were to catch it at the elbow, Toronto would be pleased: He isn't a threat from there and would likely throw the ball back out. 

Chandler, however, recognizes that defenses can and will often load up against his roll. He therefore counters by rolling into DeRozan intentionally, with the purpose of getting him caught up in a pseudo-screen. 

Photo via MSG

Although the danger of a moving screen hovers here, referees are hesitant to make this call unless a defender is in position well before the offensive player. The result here is an open three-pointer for Tim Hardaway Jr., which he knocks down.

Chandler does not record an assist on this play, but the three points should be credited to his work off the ball. And it's these types of plays that opened up the three-point line last season for New York, something they've gotten away from this year.

While this rolling technique can be utilized by other Knicks bigs, the personnel doesn't quite fit. Andrea Bargnani is more of a pick-and-pop player, preferring to shoot it from the outside or attack overaggressive closeouts. Kenyon Martin is a good screener, but he doesn't finish well over longer defenders this late in his career. Amar'e Stoudemire just doesn't have the explosion he used to, and defenses no longer consider him a grave threat in the restricted area. 

There's also the matter of Chandler's energy on the whole. The Knicks with Carmelo Anthony are typically a half-court team, and Chandler's willingness to run the floor and up the tempo creates easy scoring opportunities for his team. He's the only Knicks big that does this with any consistency, making his presence that much more irreplaceable. 

And all of this, of course, ignores Chandler's defensive impact. But moving forward, Chandler must be a bigger part of New York's offense if it hopes to recapture the firepower it enjoyed in 2012-2013. This doesn't necessarily mean that he has to score the ball; he just needs to be involved in the main action to use his finishing ability around the rim as a decoy.