Tyson Chandler's Defensive Decline Is New York Knicks' Biggest Problem

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2014

No one person is responsible for the New York Knicks' abrupt, yet seemingly inevitable demise.

From the tyrannical front office to the chaotic and cluttered sideline, legions of underachievers and incompetent decision-makers are at fault for turning New York into the blighted rat's nest it is today.

Chief among the Knicks' problems, though, is defense, which they approach with understanding rivaled only by a bunch of 80-somethings attempting to figure out the Internet. And at the forefront of their biggest disappointment is Tyson Chandler, the former Defensive Player of the Year tasked with anchoring the middle and protecting the basket, who is no longer playing up to snuff.

The burden Chandler carries is a hefty one, having been forced to bear the defensive cross for a team rife with one-way, offensive talents and defensive pariahs. But it's the same workload he has been asked to carry since 2011, when he first arrived in New York. 

Unlike seasons past, though, Chandler's impact has been nonexistent and nigh detrimental.

No longer defending with the same vigor or engagement, or effectiveness, Chandler, who is oft-represented as a defensive solution, is now trail-blazing New York's biggest problem.


Lack of Tenacity

Very little about the Knicks defensive system has changed between last season and now. Basically nothing, in fact.

The Knicks still rely on a heavy and unhealthy dose of switching off screens and elusive ball-handlers to get by, understanding, of course, that "get by" really means "get slaughtered." They rank 27th in defensive efficiency leading into their home game against the Dallas Mavericks, having spent most of the season parting like the Red Sea.

Chandler, to his his credit, has conveyed previous disdain for head coach Mike Woodson's switch-laden defensive system, per Newsday's Al Iannazzone:

Leaving nothing to chance, Chandler has also outright criticized the Knicks for embracing a brand of prevention that doesn't come close to working.

"I don’t want to switch. I personally don’t like it," he said previously, via the New York Daily News' Frank Isola. "You come with a defensive plan and then every guy kind of mans up and takes his responsibility. I think switching should always be your last resort. That’s me, personally."

Conventional wisdom was right there with Chandler—for the most part.

Although Chandler speaks like switching is a matter of happenstance for the Knicks, it's actually by design thanks to New York's relative inability to fight over screens.

"We've had our problems in that area," Woodson said in December, according to ESPN's New York Ian Begley. "Those are things that we're trying to correct because if we do it right, and we have ... it works. I've just got to get us going a little bit more consistently."

Note that Woodson's December comments came on the heels of him admitting he doesn't want to switch. But he couldn't get away from the conversation without defending its intended effectiveness. And since then, the Knicks haven't gotten away from switching.

New York switches with such frequency it's unbearable to watch. Anarchy ensues once opposing offenses run pick-and-rolls, forcing bigs to defend guards and unsuspecting and incapable Knicks defenders to close out open shooters.

While this creates unfortunate mismatches for Chandler, it's a reality he's been dealing with since last season. This year, the difference is he's not defending at the level he's (supposedly) still capable of. Whether it's because he's aggravated and disinterested by superfluous switching, or on the decline, is nearly irrelevant.

Chandler hasn't been Chandler on the defensive end, and it's killed the Knicks.

If Only the Numbers Lied

Systematic flaws aren't helping Chandler. That much is obvious. But the Knicks providing him with a lit match doesn't make him bathing in gasoline acceptable.

Over the last two seasons, the Knicks have actually allowed more points per 100 possessions with Chandler on the floor, according to NBA.com (subscription required). Putting that on Chandler alone is inane. Those numbers exist in part because of a defunct defensive system, where Chandler finds himself on the floor against starters instead of second units.

That still doesn't incite confidence, and it most certainly doesn't explain Chandler's individual regression.

Opposing centers are posting a 15.8 player efficiency rating against Chandler this season, according 82games.com. Though that's down from last year's 17.2, it's worlds worse than the 12.6 he relinquished during his 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year campaign.

Chandler's defensive rating has trended in the wrong direction each of the last three seasons as well, beginning at 99 in 2011-12 and culminating in the 105 he's at now.

Among the most unnerving of failures has been Chandler's post defense.

Various aspects of individual defense can be attributed to collective faults, but Chandler's faring worse in post-up and isolation situations. 

Chandler's Declining Defense
Points allowed per post-up0.710.780.84
Opponents FG% in post-up41.935.843.9
Points allowed per isolation0.590.780.82
Opponents FG% in isolation27.235.838.7
Via Synergy Sports.

Who's to blame there? Chandler himself.

Chandler is allowing more points per possession across the board, too. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Chandler has never ranked worse than 120th in points allowed per possession. This year, he checks in at 232nd.

No matter how you look at it, New York's defensive lifeline is struggling immensely, which has, in turn, put the Knicks defense on life support regularly, right along with their chances of making the playoffs.


What Gives?

It's impossible to blame Chandler alone for New York's disastrous 2013-14 crusade.

Look all around. There's no shortage of culprits. James Dolan, J.R. Smith, James Dolan, Andrea Bargnani, James Dolan, James Dolan and Woodson, among others, are all responsible for the Knicks dwelling near the bottom of the standings.

But Chandler is now headlining the Knicks' greatest pratfall.

After being viewed as a defensive savior for two-plus seasons, he's slowly and surely become part of the problem. A lot of it, again, can be attributed to a broken system, but much of the blame must fall on Chandler himself at this point.

There are relatively routine plays where Chandler's help defense is nonexistent—like this one, for instance:

Jeff Teague is beating Tim Hardaway Jr. off the dribble, which is typical of the Knicks defense and not Chandler's fault. His responsibility, however, is to provide help.

In this case, it comes halfheartedly:

Chandler's feet don't even leave the ground, which is unlike him to say the least.

Where he's hurt New York the most is one-on-one situations. There was a time when he could bruise down low and guard against dribble penetration from the outside. It's what allowed the Knicks to switch more effectively last year.

Perhaps because of the leg injury he suffered earlier this season, Chandler is no longer suited for those situations, and is now prone to getting beat off the dribble by guards he's forced to pick up off switches.

Like here:

Equally troubling, the Knicks have been forced to send help for Chandler himself more often.

Double-teams have become more frequent with him struggling to defend one-on-one in the post, which has rendered the Knicks one of the worst at guarding against three-pointers.

Take the following play in their loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, which Pablo Prigioni is largely blamed for:

Mike Miller is left wide-open and eventually drills a dagger from beyond the arc to put Memphis up for good. That's whom Prig should have been defending. 

Instead, he was cheating toward his left, preparing to help Chandler defend Zach Randolph. We've already discussed how Chandler is devolving in these scenarios, so one could argue Prig did the right thing, and that puts the Knicks at a severe disadvantage.

Chandler has looked like a lame duck at different points this season against bigs such as Z-Bo or Anthony Davis, players he was once able to keep pace with. Without him playing up to his previous standard, the Knicks, an already flimsy defensive team, are lost.

Eliminating switches should prevent Chandler from having to defend players smaller than himself, but it won't necessarily improve his help defense and it sure as anything won't make him an impregnable one-on-one defender.

And when New York's "best" defender constantly needs help of his own, things aren't going to play out well.

And they haven't.

The Knicks are chasing a playoff berth they're unlikely to catch, and while plenty of others are at fault, Chandler's defensive regression is the nail in a coffin that's already six-feet under.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference, NBA.com (subscription required), Synergy Sports (subscription required) and 82games.com.


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