NEW YORK – The buzzer sounded and it was over. The Knicks had just defeated the Sacramento Kings, 100-85. For the Gotham Gang, it was their seventh win in a row. Although their leader played less than 30 minutes and took only six shots, his impact on the game was undeniable. Behind his efforts, the Knicks put away a team they had to beat in a game they had to win.
After fueling gritty and improbable comebacks in Minnesota and Toronto, that leader was determined to make sure the Knicks won this game. The fight back to .500—back to respectability—has been too difficult.
That’s why, yet again, Tyson Chandler did all he could to ensure his team of a victory.
What? You thought I was talking about someone else?
As great as Jeremy Lin has been, he couldn’t have saved this team by himself. And you know what? He didn’t.
As well as Lin has played, the Knicks’ recent winning streak is the product of teamwork. Landry Fields and Steve Novak have been phenomenal. Iman Shumpert has looked like a lottery pick, Jared Jeffries continues to make the right plays and Bill Walker has convinced some Knicks fans that they don’t need J.R. Smith.
With all due respect, though, none of this would have happened without Tyson Chandler. If Lin is the straw the stirs the drink, he’s the ice that keeps it cold.
Chandler’s career statistics—8.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, and 1.4 bpg—might be somewhat underwhelming, but his effect on his team and his teammates is anything but that.
And that’s not a New York thing.
That’s a Tyson Chandler thing.
On December 10, when he signed on with the team, Chandler knew he was coming to do the dirty work. “I know what my job is,” he said. “I’m gonna defend the rim, I’m gonna rebound, I’m gonna get extra shots.”
He never said anything about getting glory. He didn’t mention accolades. He’s just a guy that goes to work, punches in, busts his ass, and does his job.
In him, the Knicks acquired not only a unique talent, but a great teammate who has a reputation of being an effective leader.
Better yet, they got a winner with a proven track record.
Chandler was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers with the 2nd overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft and was immediately traded to the rebuilding Chicago Bulls for Elton Brand. In 2005 and 2006— his fourth and fifth years—he played 27 minutes per game and helped the Bulls win 47 and 41 games, respectively. It was the first time in the post Michael Jordan era that the Bulls were able to avoid the draft lottery.
After signing Ben Wallace, the Bulls dealt him to the New Orleans Hornets for J.R. Smith and P.J. Brown. With Chris Paul, Chandler formed one of the league’s most unstoppable pick-and-roll tandems. In 2008, they led the Hornets to a 56-26 record and their first ever division title. They would push the San Antonio Spurs to seven games before losing to them in the 2nd round of the 2008 Western Conference playoffs.
Due to financial concerns, the Hornets traded Chandler to the Charlotte Bobcats in July 2009. In the ensuing season, the Bobcats won a franchise-best 44 games and made the playoffs for the first and only time in their history. Nonetheless, new owner Michael Jordan eventually signed off on trading Chandler to the Dallas Mavericks for a package built around Erick Dampier’s partially guaranteed contract. The Bobcats—despite coming off of their first playoff berth—decided to slash their payroll and start over.
Prior to Chandler’s arrival, the Dallas Mavericks were a perennial 50-win team that was labeled as “soft.” With him, they managed to win their first NBA Championship.
Now, in his first season with the Knicks, Chandler is shooting an astronomical and NBA-best 70 percent from the field. He’s matching the highest points per game average of his career (11.8), but doing it on two less shots per game than he averaged back in 2007-2008 in New Orleans.
Coming into this season, expectations were very high for the Knicks. Many dubbed Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony the “New York Skyline.” Thus far, of the three, Chandler is the only one to not miss a game. Moreover, he’s the only player on the entire roster to start each and every game thus far.
From Chicago to New Orleans and Charlotte to Dallas; Chandler’s track record speaks for itself; his success is no coincidence.
A box score can only tell you so much. If you really want to see Chandler’s impact on a game, count how many times he shows on a pick and roll but recovers in time to prevent an interior pass. Pay attention to how often he causes an offensive player to miss a shot because he forced a double pump or midair shot adjustment.
Those small plays, just like boxing out and enabling a teammate to grab a rebound, don’t show up in box scores. Dedicating yourself to being one of the guys that do the dirty work, night in and night out, probably won’t get you into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Heck, doing the dirty work isn’t even good enough to get you into an All-Star game.
But Chandler takes it all in stride.
When I told him that some members of the press believed he deserved to head to Orlando, he appreciated it and admitted being disappointed to have never made an All-Star team. “It’s happened throughout my career, and it’s frustrating at times,” in the same breathe, though, he proudly reminded me that he was selected as a member of the 2008 Redeem Team as an alternate. “But, I’m appreciative that I’ve been recognized for other things. I’m just a team guy.”
That, he is. And that’s Tyson Chandler in a nutshell.
He might not have scoring titles or MVPs, but he’s a hard worker and a winner. He’s proven that in his previous NBA stops and he’s proving it now with the New York Knicks.
Even still, Chandler’s personal contributions have been largely ignored. It was never more obvious to me than it was after Wednesday night’s victory against the Kings. For seven straight minutes, I stood beside him while he was asked about just about everybody on the team except himself.
Chandler answered every question and even cracked a few jokes. He’s perfectly fine with allowing others to bask in the spotlight and get the praise from the fans and the media. “I do me. I just try to be a teammate and a leader,” he said. “When I walk on the floor, I try to hold guys accountable and try to be a professional at all times.”
That’s exactly what he did back on January 28 after the Knicks lost in Houston to the Rockets. After the game, Chandler caught everyone’s attention when he declared he refused to have a losing season. According to him, everyone needed to look in the mirror and do their jobs.
Since then, the Knicks are 8-2.
And in the 11 total games they’ve played without either Stoudemire or Anthony, they’re 7-4.
Tonight, the Knicks will attempt to win their eighth game in a row and defeat the New Orleans Hornets (6-23) in Madison Square Garden. A win would make the Knicks 16-15 and give them their first winning record since January 12 when they were were 6-5. A Friday night win would also move the Knicks into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
We might be less than halfway through the season. But in this lockout truncated season, every game counts.
Fortunately, for the Knicks, Chandler knows that. He wants to bring a championship to New York City, but knows it’s a daily grind. “I look to the future but I understand the steps to get there,” he says. “It’s good to set goals but you can’t forget the things you have to do every day to reach them.”
So while the entire country has gone Linsane in the Membrane, pay attention to Chandler. Watch him on the court. He’s the one player the Knicks absolutely need and the one player they couldn’t possibly do without. He knows it and never takes a possession off.
He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, either.
So the next time Lin shakes free and finds Novak for an open three pointer, check to see if Chandler set an off-ball screen to free up Novak. Those little plays don’t show up in the box score.
But those little plays win games.
And win games, it seems, is what Tyson does best…
Even if he sometimes has trouble filling up the box score.