2011 NBA Finals: Impact of Tyson Chandler on Mavs vs. Heat

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There is a notion floating around much of the Basketballsphere (neologism alert!) that great players need to be volume scorers. No player challenges that notion more than Tyson Chandler and his 5.5 field goal attempts per game.

One can argue that Chandler’s arrival in Dallas is the single biggest reason Dallas transformed into a legitimate title contender this year. Chandler’s presence has given the Mavs a championship gear on defense they lacked in prior seasons; With Chandler on the court this year, the Dallas defensive rating was ~103. Without him, they were over 3 points worse, or close to average. The numbers have been more profound against the tougher playoff competition.

I’ve tracked nearly 2000 Chandler possessions dating back to last spring in Charlotte, and he is about +2.0 on defense by Expected Value (EV). Just short of the elite. But I don’t think anyone needs advanced metrics to know Chandler is a high-quality defender. What’s up for theoretical debate is how valuable his offense is.

Stylistically, he can shoot open 15 footers from the elbow if left alone – note his good mid-range shooting percentages. (Dallas likes to run a downscreen for him about once a game, although they’ve gone away from this recently.) According to Expected Value, he’s +3.5 on offense…which actually makes him one of the best offensive players in the league.

Wait, what? That’s a head-scratcher. How can someone who rarely shoots be so good on offense?

Well, maybe it’s that what he does is just that beneficial. He sets good screens, doesn’t take bad shots, doesn’t stop the ball, is a threat rolling to the rim and is an excellent offensive rebounder. Most of his value in EV actually comes from his offensive rebounding: Without offensive boards, Chandler is a shade above average as an offensive player. With them, he’s a really good. Let’s break this down further.

Offensive Strengths:

  • Highly efficient
  • Excellent offensive rebounder
  • Sets strong screens
  • Doesn’t need ball/plays for him to be effective

Offensive Weaknesses:

  • Relies on others for offense
  • Not a hub/passer
  • Incredibly low volume player

Conceptually, which makes more sense? That Chandler is roughly neutral as an offensive weapon, or that his efficiency and rebounding make him a fairly solid positive on offense, despite low volume scoring numbers? I can certainly buy the latter. We’d never say he’s a No. 1 (or even No. 3) offensive options, but he might be more effective than many No. 1 options in his role.

Consider 1973 Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt finished 4th in MVP voting that year, setting the FG% record. He boarded well, only took efficient shots and played 1st-team defense. That’s not to say Chandler is equal to 73′ Chamberlain — he’s a lite version, at best — but it’s not far fetched to consider a player with that role as a top-tier star. Dennis Rodman even played a similar part, and many are comfortable calling the Hall of Famer a top-20 player in his time.

Here are the stats between Chandler this year and Wilt in 1973, per 75 possesions:


73′ Wilt

11′ Chandler

By classic box metrics, Chandler was also amazingly good. He was 6th in the league in Win SharesS/48 this year. By offensive win shares, he was 26th in the league.

Then there’s plus-minus data, an entirely different family of measurements. I told you the defense was better this year with him on the court…but the offense was also three points better.

The regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) data from Jeremias Engelmann also tells us Chandler is really good. His 4-year results have Chandler +2.6 on defense and dead even on offense. Whether his defense is radically different this year, I think it’s safe to say his offense is improved this year. So at the least, calling Chandler slightly positive on offense — say, +1.0 — makes him look like a top-30 player in the NBA since 2008.

And in this year’s RAPM run he was top-15 player!

2011 RAPM Leaders Englemann

I suppose that’s the real question here: Where exactly does Tyson Chandler reside among the top-30 or so players in the league? Is he closer to the elite than we realize, or is barely mentionable as an all-star candidate? Whatever the answer, it’s safe to say he’s Dallas’ second most important player and one of the NBA’s most underrated.

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