A. Wilson Chandler posted a 31/9/4 stat line while going 13-for-19 from the field.
B. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich pulled his best three players from the floor with over three minutes to go.
D. Walt Frazier may have skinned a magical chocolate milk cow to make the blazer he wore last night.
The correct answers are A and D, but for the purpose of this article, let's focus on A.
Wilson Chandler perhaps had his best game in his NBA career, dazzling the MSG crowd with a varied arsenal of offensive moves that perplexed the Spurs into submission.
His cutting last night was also exceptional, as was his court vision. Chandler's excellent game (in particular his 12-point first quarter) also opened the floor for Amar'e Stoudemire and Ray Felton, who each scored 28 points.
Five Chandler plays in particular showed that the 23 year old's maturity, skill level and decision making are reaching new levels:
A. With the Knicks up 18-16, Chandler receives the ball at half court from Felton in transition. Sensing the moment to strike, Chandler dribbles to the three-point line, crosses over Richard Jefferson, eludes Tony Parker via what Walt Frazier called a "windmill" move, takes three steps (the NBA doesn't call traveling, so no worries) and puts in a layup over Tim Duncan's outstretched arms.
It's good to be 6'8".
B. Knicks up 55-53. Chandler, defended by DeJuan Blair, misses a shot from the elbow. Blair inexplicably fails to box out and starts running down the court. Sensing an opportunity, Chandler follows his own shot (gasp!), corrals the rebound and puts up a baby 10-footer over Tony Parker.
C. Knicks up 96-90. Matt Bonner throws down a wide-open dunk. Felton immediately pushes the tempo, looking to catch the Spurs off guard. He does, thanks to a brilliant Chandler cut into the paint. Felton to Chandler for an easy two.
D. Knicks up 101-95. Chandler sets a pick on George Hill, Felton's man. Richard Jefferson is forced to switch off. Felton feeds Chandler at the low blocks and Chandler is immediately double-teamed by Hill and Gary Neal. Chandler scoffs at the situation, swings his arms upwards with the ball, swerves to the hoop and puts in a layup.
E. Knicks up 110-115. Chandler gets the ball at the top of the three-point line. He leaves Jefferson in his rearview mirror, fakes a pass, takes three steps and drives to the hoop for an easy score over Hill.
Each play shows a different facet of Chandler's game that has improved mightily since last season.
Play A shows how Chandler can use his 6'8" frame and long wingspan to shoot over big men. Play B shows his hustle. Play C shows his intelligence. Play D shows his awareness, specifically when the opposing defense breaks down. Play E shows his ability to quickly and efficiently get to the rim from outside the three-point line, instead of settling for a poor outside shot.
Most importantly, notice the scores during each of these high-percentage plays. The Knicks were never up by more than six points. If you subscribe to the "one seemingly meaningless play can change a game" theory, as I do, Chandler's baskets were key to preventing any opening for a quick run from the now fast-paced, high-scoring Spurs.
With his constant improvement and games such as these, Chandler makes the case for becoming a fringe All-Star player who can easily average 20-plus points and eight-plus rebounds per game in his prime.
However, is Chandler, a restricted free agent next offseason, going to be fighting for placement in the All-Star game for the Knicks, or another team next year?
If the Knicks get Carmelo Anthony and a starting center as logically rumored (I honestly think the Knicks need the latter much more), you won't see Chandler, Landry Fields and Danilo Gallinari in Knicks uniforms as well. The Knicks would then have seven starters for five spots. Who do you let go?
It's a question Donnie Walsh must wrestle over for quite some time, and a topic for a future article, too. However, if Chandler keeps playing games like this, it's hard to see the Knicks let a potential All-Star leave town, even if Carmelo Anthony becomes a Knick.
It's all too easy to imagine what the future holds even though the present is very promising. For now, Chandler is on the rise to being a full-fledged star in the NBA.
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