May 13 2013
Tyson is awesome, but was he deserving of such a high accolade?
Earlier today, Knicks center Tyson Chandler was named NBA first team All-Defense. Chandler is one of the best defenders in the league, as well as one of the game’s top centers. However, his injury riddled season combined with an iffy Knicks defensive scheme resulted in Chandler being much less effective this season than in his 2011 Defensive Player of the Year campaign. When he won that award last season, he was voted second team All-Defense. This years winner, Memphis’ Marc Gasol, finds himself in the same circumstance. The simple and likely explanation for this is that the coaches are always a year behind in these awards/accolades. Next year, Gasol will replace Chandler on the first team All-Defense.
These awards or accolades don’t really matter, but they make for interesting discussions. So let’s dive into this. I like to evaluate big man defense a few ways. One would be the eye test. How active is a guy as a helper? Does he dominate his man in one on one situations? How many shots does he alter/block? How’s his pick and roll defense? I like to look also at how a team performs with said player on the court as opposed to how they perform with him off the court. Would that team be better or worse defensively with that player on or off the court Defensive rating can be important when evaluating individual defenders, but that stat needs context and shouldn’t be used as an indicator of how good/bad a player is defensively. For example, Carlos Boozer always has an impressive D-RTG because he plays in Chicago’s great team defensive scheme, but he’s clearly a below average defender.
In terms of the eye test, Chandler definitely wasn’t the same dominant force he was the last couple of seasons. Coming into the year, I pegged Chandler as the Knicks most valuable player and probably their best player, billings he failed to live up to. He participated in the Olympic games this summer, and so I wonder how much of his early season struggles had to do with fatigue. Part of what made him so effective in 2011 was his ability to make up for the mistakes of his teammates around him. He wasn’t able to do that nearly as effectively this season.
I wonder how much of his perceived ineffectiveness had to do with the Knicks change in scheme/personnel. In 2011, New York finished 5th in the league in points allowed per possession, giving up 98.4 points per 100 possessions. This past season, that figure fell to 17th as the Knicks allowed 103.5 points per 100 possessions. I can’t pin that all on Chandler, and neither should anyone else. Schematically, the Knicks kept their switch and chase scheme, but altered it and downgraded defensive personnel. We saw more double teaming than in 2011, which led to lazy rotations and open shots and driving lanes for the opposition. This sounds outrageous, but the Knicks did miss Landry Fields on defense. Though his offense was porous and every once in a while he looked foolish guarding some of the league’s better scorers, he fit very well into the Knicks scheme. Because he could play the 2, 3, and even the 4 at times, his versatility was perfect for the switch and chase scheme. He could switch with a teammate and not be exploited for a mismatch. Jeremy Lin is also a better defender than his replacement Raymond Felton. Lin wasn’t exactly Eric Bledsoe out there, but he was good in isolation and knew how to use angles to his advantage in his pick and roll defense. Felton was arguably the worst defensive point guard in basketball and Fields’ replacement, Jason Kidd, is a below average defender in his own right.
Having said all that, Chandler wasn’t the same defender either. As I mentioned before, he looked fatigued earlier in the season and his play suffered. Mid-way through the year, he injured his neck. He hasn’t been the same player since then, as currently seen in the postseason. If we look to the analytics, we see the team was bad defensively with Chandler on the court and bad defensively with Chandler off the court. In fact, they were slightly worse with him than without. The team’s D-RTG was 103.7 with him on the court, as opposed to 103.2 with him off the floor.
I’m not at all saying that Chandler isn’t a good defender or isn’t totally awesome. He’s both. But we can’t overlook that he was not nearly as good this season as he was last year. He’s still a top 30 player in the league and one of the best defensive centers in the game, he just had a rough year for a variety of reasons. If I had a vote (which obviously I don’t), I would’ve voted Marc Gasol first team All-Defense. I don’t even think it’s close. Chandler wouldn’t have been considered for the second team either in my book, as Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah were much much better in my opinion.
Follow Taylor on Twitter @tarmosino