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In discussion of the New York Knicks' convincing 100-86 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night, much attention will be paid to Carmelo Anthony, and that makes sense. The NBA's second-leading scorer came back after missing two games with a sprained left ankle to feast on the Brooklyn defense, scoring 31 points on 12-for-22 shooting, including a 4-for-8 mark from long distance, in 35 1/2 minutes, running his season averages against Brooklyn (37 points and seven rebounds per game on 53.5 percent shooting from the floor, 60 percent from three and 76.7 percent from the line in three meetings) to a level that has inspired both MVP talk and a classic @netw3rk goof alike.
There'll also be a lot of talk about Nets point guard Deron Williams, and that's understandable, too. After raising eyebrows by bristling at coach Avery Johnson's offense, Williams responded to criticism and adversity with a pair of underwhelming performances (14 points on 5-for-12 shooting, five assists and three turnovers against the Utah Jazz; 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting, 10 assists and five turnovers against the Knicks) in consecutive Brooklyn losses that have the Nets floundering at 13-12 and the most skilled surgeon out here taking a scalpel to D-Will's game.
But amid our questioning of whether Melo's the MVP or Williams was really worth $98 million, here's hoping we can spare a bit of praise for Tyson Chandler, who might just be the Knicks' best player and continues to make Raymond Felton look like a wizard whenever he gets into the paint:
Chandler had 16 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and two assists in New York's Wednesday win, which ran the team's mark at Madison Square Garden to 11-1 on the season and represented a bounce-back after the embarrassing Monday concession to Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets. Ten of those 16 points came in the third quarter, eight of them on dunks and six coming from Felton, who (thanks to a neat design by Knicks coach Mike Woodson and a lack of adjustment by the Nets under Johnson) worked a high double-screen with Anthony and Chandler to perfection to create a wide-open path to the rim for Chandler's roll for the finish. The most aesthetically pleasing of these, Chandler's reverse at the 4:22 mark of the quarter, got the slo-mo treatment from the NBA's Phantom cameras:
After playing an integral role as the organizing principle in the middle of Rick Carlisle's matchup zone for the 2010-11 title-winning Dallas Mavericks and earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in his first season in New York, we tend to think of Chandler's primary contribution on the 19-6 Knicks as coming on the defensive end. And there's merit to that — on a per-possession basis, Chandler's allowing fewer points in the post and on spot-ups than he did last year, and on isolation plays than he did in Dallas, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting data. And on an offense-first team that spreads the floor with older, slower perimeter defenders who have major trouble containing dribble penetration (and that continues to miss injured sophomore wing stopper Iman Shumpert), Chandler is often the only thing standing between a ball-handling guard and the basket. (Even with his ability to cover ground and make up for teammates' mistakes, the Knicks — a top-five defense last season — have slipped just below the middle of the pack this year, ranking 16th among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per 100 possessions through 25 games, according to NBA.com's stat tool.)
But as much as Chandler means to the Knicks' defense, more folks are starting to take notice of just how much he means to their offense, even while scoring just 13 points per game.
For one thing, there are the offensive rebounds — "Tyson tapback," as Knicks fans tend to shout out on Twitter — that lead to additional possessions and sometimes, as was the case when Jason Kidd got an extra look at a 3 to beat the Nets in the teams' last meeting, big-time shots.
“There are plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Anthony told Fred Kerber of the New York Post after Monday's game. “Those are moments that are crucial plays for us.”
But Chandler's offensive impact manifests itself in other, more muted ways, as Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted in a nice post at HoopSpeak:
No center traverses more ground than Chandler, and perhaps no center owns more vertical space. The combination of his horizontal and vertical talent makes for a constant threat to the defense. He races out quickly to set a screen and dives back to the rim just as fast. Not only is he slick about setting sticky screens for driving guards, but Chandler’s also adept at spinning off the screen for an alley from said guard.
His occasional butt-screens (there is probably a more technical term) make for an amusing, effective tactic. Tyson will put his back and rear into a defender, and bounce off them towards the rim, like a pro wrestler leveraging the ropes. Once he makes a catch off these rim runs, it’s usually over. He’s too large and moving with too much ever-engulfing speed. The rushing wave will make the hoop splash.
And it's also, as Strauss writes, how excellent Chandler is in his limited offensive purview. Chandler's not a good jump shooter, so he doesn't shoot — of his 172 field-goal attempts this year, 163 have come inside the restricted area and 66 of them have been dunks, according to CBSSports.com. He doesn't try to create for himself — 83 of his 121 makes on the season have been assisted (including 54 by Felton) and better than 20 percent of his offensive possessions come off an offensive rebound, according to Synergy.
He knows what he is good at — setting a good screen and then rolling to the rim, lurking along the baseline until a defender leaves him to rotate and then cutting to the rim, and crashing the boards when one of his team's million jump-shooters lets it fly. He might only take seven shots per game, but he makes five of them; he is, by Synergy's numbers, the most efficient offensive player in the game right now, producing 1.31 points per possession used. He creates space and takes advantage of it without getting in anyone's way, basically ever; he just does it, frequently, in ways that aren't so flashy or loud. Which is why it's nice that when he does score, he does so, frequently, in ways that are very flashy and loud — it gives us the chance to talk about all those quiet things that matter so much for a team that's way, way more potent than most reasonable people expected.
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