Friday, March 18, 2011

Deciphering Tyson Chandler's Defensive Impact

Tyson Chandler is a so-so individual defender. I said it. There's no going back, so I might as well try to explain myself for making such a blasphemous comment against the savior of this year's Maverick team and the one player who is single-handily able to erase the memory of the Erick Dampier era completely.

I've been formulating this opinion for a couple of months now, ever since I watched Chuck Hayes drop a couple of jump hooks over Chandler on Jan 27 and finish 8-for-10 from the floor. Now, before I begin, I'd like to first start by saying that Chandler is a fantastic team defender. His ability to cover ground after guards break down the defense is second to only Dwight Howard. Chandler cuts off lanes, rotates to the baseline and hedges on pick and rolls as good as any other big man in the league. And the numbers back it up. The Maverick defense overall is three points per possession better when Chandler is on the court. Don't forget the rebounding too, since the Mavericks have trouble in that department anyway and Chandler's ability on the defensive glass allows the Mavericks to close out the few defensive stops they do get (especially in the last few weeks).

But I don't need to be telling you this, you already know. If you want to know more, better take it from Ian Levy from Hickory High and The Two Man Game breaking down Chandler's overall team impact on the defense. He does a better job than I ever could.

What I am here for is to debate or bring to your attention the individual defense Chandler plays, 1-on-1 with another player. Not covering screens. Not rotating over after Jason Terry was caught flat-footed. Mano y mano defense.

Unfortunately there are even fewer advanced stats that back up individual defense then there is team defense. The site Synergy Sports breaks down how certain players perform in individual situations (for instance, what Dirk Nowitzki's shooting percentage is in spot-up shots and catch and shoots) that go towards defense. But being the starving artist that I am, I don't have an account to the site and have to rely on the eye-test and the few (accessible) advanced stats that are out there.

First, the eye-test. It's clear that Chandler isn't the bulkiest of centers in the league, a more slim, fit, athletic type which is becoming the standard of NBA big men. Because of this, Chandler is easily pushed out of position on defense from the likes of Amare Stoudemire, Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge. When opposing post players catch the ball on Chandler, it is usually right on the block which only requires a simple jump hook or turnaround jumper and no dribbling. Chandler's biggest strengths -- speed, athleticism, quickness and vertical leaping -- are neutralized when a post player catches deep in the paint against Chandler and has a variety of release points to shoot quickly, which most above-average post scorers have. If there is one thing Chandler will have to improve, it's preventing post-players from getting deep position on the catch.

Now let's get into how some post-players have faired in games against Dallas this season. Amare Stoudemire averages over 28 points and 48 percent shooting. Tim Duncan averages 16 points and 54.6 percent shooting. Luis Scola averages 17.7 points on 55.8 percent shooting. LaMarcus Aldridge gets 31 points on 51.4 percent from the floor. Maverick killer Zach Randolph hasn't been phased by Chandler, getting 24.3 points per game on a ludicrous 61.4 percent shooting. Even Chuck Hayes, who might be the most offensively challenged PF/C in the league, averages 68.4 percent shooting against the Mavs this year.

I understand that all these players (besides Hayes) are great big men, All-Stars and former MVPs. I also understand that Chandler isn't solely responsible for the big numbers these players are putting up. Not all these players are scoring in isolations against Chandler (again, wish I had the Synergy Sports account) and this isn't taking into account guards allowing penetration and so forth. But it still isn't a great trend to see against your defensive stalwart.

Luckily, there are some numbers to back up these claims. According to, Chandler is allowing opposing centers a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 17.7. A 15 PER equates to an average player. Chandler also allows opposing centers to have an effective field goal percentage of 53. To compare, Dwight Howard limits opposing centers to a 12 PER and only a 46.2 eFG percentage. And Chuck Hayes, who is significantly more challenged physically in the post than any other PF/C in basketball, allows only a 16.4 PER and centers to have a 47 eFG percentage.

Ready for the heartbreaker? Bust out the tissues because Erick Dampier this season only allows opposing centers to have a 14.2 PER and shoot an eFG percentage of 46.6. Of course, Howard and Dampier are surrounded by better perimeter defenders this season, but Hayes plays on one of the worst defenses in the NBA at Houston. And, Dampier is putting up similar individual defensive numbers to his last seasons in Dallas, compared to Chandler.

Tyson Chandler is a great player and easily the Mavericks second-most important player this season. But all the talk about his impact on the defensive end is held together by tape and paper clips from the Mavericks early start to good defense this season. Dallas has now sagged to the middle of the pack in defensive efficiency. There's no doubt Chandler makes the Mavericks defense better when he's on the court. But let's no overstate how good a defender he really is. In fact, I'd argue Chandler is more important to the Mavericks offense then the defense, being a scoring option at the center positon the Mavericks haven't seen in the Dirk Nowitzki era. Dallas still has trouble with effective post-players, and Chandler shouldn't be exempt from the problems the Maverick defense has encountered over the last month.

(Editor's note: Apologies for being absent. If you don't know, I've been awarded a sports writing gig at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for obvious reasons have focused my time to that. After getting used to my new schedule, I should be able to post more. Sorry, again for the wait.)

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1 comment:

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