Despite being 32 years old, Tyson Chandler's game was rejuvenated playing for the Dallas Mavericks last season. What value can he bring to the Suns on the court in 2015-16?
Tyson Chandler is about to turn 33 years old and enter his 15th NBA season, cementing his status as a veteran of the association. However, if his 2014-15 campaign with the Mavericks is any indication, Chandler is still very much in his prime.
Last season Chandler averaged 10.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. It was only the third time in his career that he was capable of averaging a nightly double-double. Additionally, he averaged a career-high 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. His production of 12.1 points per 36 minutes ranked 4th among all of his seasons, and his field-goal percentage of 66.6 percent ranked 2nd. He also dropped his foul rate to a new career low, averaging just 2.7 fouls per 36 minutes.
In terms of advanced statistics, Chandler scored a career-high PER of 20.1 (his 5th consecutive season with a PER over the league average 15), and also contributed a career-high 10.3 win shares.
In short, he was tremendous, easily bouncing back from an injury plagued 2013-14 season with the Knicks. And although regression to the mean could be projected in Chandler's future, the Suns can still expect a good deal of production out of him for at least the next couple of years.
So, why exactly is he such a great fit for this organization?
Shooting? We're going to start off by talking about Tyson Chandler's shooting?
Yes. We're going to pay attention to the least-known area of Chandler's game; his mid-range elbow shot.
That's the only footage I can provide, because Chandler's mid-range touch is seldom used. But trust me, it exists.
Chandler shot 18-45 on mid-range shots last season, a fairly efficient 40 percent. The vast majority of those shots were wide open, as it was used as more of a last resort if the offense couldn't get a better look. Still, having a center like Chandler who can make open jumpers at an average rate is a lot better than having a center like Andre Drummond who is completely useless from that range (7-41, 17 percent from mid-range in 2014-15). It may be worth noting that Chandler significantly out shot Alex Len, who's mid-range jumper connected just 32 percent of the time despite consistently going uncontested.
This isn't such a recent development for Chandler either. It's simply a matter of coaching. During the Mavs' championship 2010-11 season, Rick Carlisle had Chandler take 46 mid-range shots, and he made 22 of them. That's a very efficient 48 percent clip. But with the Knicks, Chandler took only 63 mid-range shots over the span of three seasons.
Chandler is one of those rare big men that can play elite defense while also keeping up with a quick pace on offense. It's what the Suns are hoping Alex Len can become, and having Chandler as a mentor could definitely help with that.
Transition plays accounted for 11 percent of Chandler's offense last season, a relatively high rate for a center. For reference, 10.9 percent of high-flying Clipper center DeAndre Jordan's offense resulted from transition opportunities. In those possessions Chandler was dominant, scoring 1.34 PPP. Of course, that's because virtually all of those plays were either layups or dunks, giving Chandler a ridiculous field-goal percentage of 76.1 percent in transition. Look below for a few examples of Chandler running the floor and either being rewarded with a pass or else cleaning up on the offensive glass.
Chandler can run, but if only 11 percent of his offense comes from transition plays, how else does he score?
Pick-and-roll plays and putbacks are the best answers, as those two play types combine to make up 43.8 percent of his offensive production.
As the roll man on pick-and-roll plays Chandler averaged an extraordinary 1.41 points per possession, placing him in the 97th percentile among all NBA players in terms of efficiency. He shot 72.5 percent from the field when cutting to the basket after a screen, and also made it to the free-throw line a whopping 23.8 percent of the time on those plays.
Chandler's picks are strong, but he definitely isn't the best brick wall in the league. The reason that he's so dangerous in the pick-and-roll is that he has the length to catch almost any lob no matter how high. He also has terrific hands in general. Here are a few examples, but notice in examples two and three that he doesn't even need to set a screen. He simply cuts to the basket when he sees a guard drive into a double-team and the rest is easy.
First of all, it's important to note that Chandler isn't such an amazing shot blocker. He tallied only two total blocks in four starts against the Suns last year, and his average of 1.2 blocks per game was good but not great. He did average close to 2 blocks per game for a couple of seasons with New Orleans and Chicago, but that was close to a decade ago. Even at this early stage of his career Alex Len is already the better shot blocker.
Additionally, Chandler allowed opponents to shoot 50.9 percent at the rim last season, per NBA.com/stats. That is always a fairly difficult stat to weigh as it heavily depends on the strength of one's teammates. Because Chandler was surrounded by poor defenders such as Rondo, Ellis and Nowitzki, it might make sense that he allowed a higher field-goal percentage at the rim by trying to do everything. Still, that percentage is way higher than that of rim protectors Rudy Gobert (40.4 percent), Serge Ibaka (40.8 percent) and Roy Hibbert (42.6 percent).
Chandler's main strength on defense stems from his agility. Not many seven-foot players are able to contain ball handlers and then recover as quickly as he does.
In this first play Chandler is tasked with defending the crafty Goran Dragic on the perimeter. Although Dragic gets a slight step on Chandler, Chandler forces him to the baseline and then uses his length to prevent both a passing lane and a shot. Credit Villanueva with the steal, but Chandler's length clearly bothered the Dragon.
The Suns may have gotten an easy dunk at the end of this second play, but not because of Chandler. He effectively defended the pick-and-roll against both Dragic and Bledsoe in a matter of seconds. Because Parsons went over Len's screen for Dragic, Chandler dropped back a couple of steps but still positioned himself to contain a potential drive. Dragic decided that he had no lane and passed it over to Bledsoe on the wing, and this time Chandler played some help defense on the ball handler with Ellis caught on Len's screen. Chandler's enormous wingspan easily trapped Bledsoe on the baseline, but because Villanueva was not in position to cover Len underneath the basket the Suns found a crack in the defense.
Chandler gets called for a foul on this third play, but it's questionable. A lot of referees will see that contest at the rim as a defender going straight up outside the restricted area, which is perfectly legal.
Again we see Chandler dealing with a screen. Because Nelson is going to go under the screen, Chandler positions himself to the side of Morris almost as if he is a second screener. This simply forces Dragic to spend more time moving laterally when he actually wants to drive forward, allowing Nelson plenty of time to go behind the screen and recover. Chandler can't just stand there at Morris' side but has to actively stick his arm out to check the ball handler before running back to guard the roll man.
Perhaps you remember seeing this before? This is exactly the same strategy that we saw Teletovic often use to guard the pick-and-roll with Brooklyn. This particular type of defense is called a contact show. As a reminder, here's a photo of Teletovic doing it.
Finally, Chandler finishes the play by meeting Dragic at the rim to bother the potential shot and then contesting Morris' drive once Dragic passes out.
In short, Chandler is going to block some shots but a lot of his defensive value is going to come from his speed, agility and awareness.
Chandler may be a former Defensive Player of the Year, but at this stage of his career it's not unreasonable to say that his rebounding, not his defense, is his most elite asset.
For the Suns, a team that finished 19th in offensive rebounding rate and 21st in defensive rebounding rate in 2014-15, that length and physicality could make a huge difference in how the team plays against certain opponents. Perhaps the Suns will no longer struggle as much against big, physical teams such as the Kings, Jazz or Grizzlies.
On offense, putbacks made up almost 20 percent of Chandler's offense. You will see some of those in the clips below. He also developed a habit of tapping a loose ball back out to the perimeter when he was on the Knicks, and he continues to do that when he cannot grab onto the ball. Take a look at several rebounding clips below.