2015 Year in Review: Tyson Chandler

Exit Interviews: Tyson Chandler

Tyson Chandler reflects on his 2014-15 season with the Mavs.

It was a storybook return for Tyson Chandler.

After he signed with the Knicks following the 2011 title run, it felt like unfinished business on both sides. But a summer blockbuster with those same Knicks reunited Chandler and the Mavs, and there were good feelings all around. Don’t be mistaken, though: The move wasn’t PR-driven. Chandler can still very much play, as he proved this season. The worry when he played in New York was that injuries were quickly beginning to consume him, but the 75 games he played this season were his most since the 2007-08 campaign. Even at age 32, he’s still in supreme shape. What else would you expect from a player like him?

SEASON STATS

PTS REB BLK FG% PER
10.3 11.5 1.2 46.2 20.1 (career-high)

PERFORMANCE EVALUATION

Chandler

If there’s one word to characterize Chandler’s playing style, it would be inspired. The big man works hard every possession, often performing thankless tasks like performing several tough ball-screens per possession or crashing the glass to fight for a rebound with two or three opponents. But that’s fine by him. Players like Chandler enjoy the challenge.

More than 45 percent of his rebounds this season were contested, per NBA.com, meaning there was an opposing player within a few feet of him. That includes 3.0 offensive rebounds per game — his patented back-taps gave Dallas so many extra possessions this season.

What makes Chandler’s performance on the defensive glass so impressive this season is that he was also the primary rim protector and often played with teammates who don’t specialize in blocking shots. This means that not only was Chandler tasked with contesting every shot close to the basket, but he was also responsible for chasing down the board. It’s a demanding challenge. Nearly 65 percent of his rebounds this season came after a missed two-point shot, per NBA.com, and a whopping 53.7 percent of them were contested. He wasn’t awarded any favors.

Measuring defensive impact is easier now than it has been ever before, given the amount of technology that’s been made public by NBA.com and SportVU. For example, Chandler held opponents to 4.7 points below their season average field goal percentage from within six feet of the rim, a better mark than rim protectors like Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, and DeAndre Jordan. Now, this credit doesn’t go completely to Chandler here, just like the blame doesn’t rest squarely on the other three players’ shoulders. Still, it’s one way to quantify the impact Chandler has around the rim.

Offensively, Chandler posted a career-best 133 individual offensive rating, per Basketball-Reference, and was worth a career-high 7.2 offensive win shares. Similarly, he posted a career-high offensive and overall box plus/minus, an estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player on a league-average team. Generally, this was a terrific season for any center, let alone one who’s 32 years old and in his 14th season.

STANDOUT SHOWING

Although it came in defeat, Chandler’s effort against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 4 was incredible. He scored 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting and grabbed 17 rebounds, adding two steals.

For those who don’t remember that contest, it was the game in which Dallas soared out to a 42-25 lead in the first quarter before the Warriors put in a three-quarter blitz that resulted in a 128-114 final score. Things ultimately turned south in the fourth, but not before my favorite Chandler moment of the season.

He’d have none of that partying in the Oracle, thank you very much. Instead, he stared down the crowd and strutted back up the floor after throwing down a vicious alley-oop. That’s his way of sending messages on the floor — he’s going to prove he’s the baddest, toughest player out there, no matter what the game situation is. He provided a much-needed swagger to this Mavs team, similar to the effect he had in 2011. Sure, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis carried the scoring load, Chandler Parsons and Devin Harris did the shooting, and Al-Farouq Aminu brought the energy. But it was Chandler who was the heart and soul of this team.

CONTRACT STATUS

Once again, Chandler is an unrestricted free agent after one season with the Mavs. This time around, however, he’s not in his prime in terms of age or perceived athleticism, although he’s coming off his healthiest season in nearly a decade. That will likely mean Chandler’s list of suitors will be slightly shorter and he might not be searching for an elite player. We won’t know that until free agency begins, ultimately.

The vibe coming from both Chandler and the Mavs before the season began was that Chandler would be a Maverick in the future, and both sides are surely still hopeful that that can be the case. But business is business in the NBA, and sometimes things don’t work out. What will happen with Chandler remains to be seen, but he’s the type of player who will always be welcome in that locker room.

FUTURE OUTLOOK

Chandler will be 33 on opening night and in his 15th season in the league, which normally would give us all pause, especially for big men. But for the most part Chandler remained both healthy and effective this season, fighting through various bumps and bruises along the way while still averaging a double-double and anchoring the defense. He can be a starting-caliber center for at least two or three more seasons, so long as his body cooperates, and perhaps even further in the future considering the shape he keeps himself in. There’s no questioning his effort on or off the floor, so I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’ll stay in playing shape for as long as he has a contract.

Tyson Chandler is the “heartbeat” of the Mavs

Postgame: Tyson Chandler

Mavs C Tyson Chandler weighs in on Thursday night's win over the Kings.

In the Twitter Age, seemingly every minute detail of every NBA game is up for debate among hundreds or even thousands of people. Every time a player takes a bad shot or commits some counter-intuitive basketball act, the Internet explodes. That player becomes a lightning rod, and before the Internet finally moves on, you’ve seen all you’ll ever want to know about that player.

The Mavs have plenty of players whose games have been dissected to no end this season, starting with point guard Rajon Rondo and closely followed by near-All-Star shooting guard Monta Ellis. Let’s not forget about Chandler Parsons, either: Is he worth his contract? Will he become the star we hope he’ll be? Heck, even Dirk Nowitzki has fought through prolonged stretches of shooting below his career standards, although he has certainly shot better in recent weeks. And the thing about Dirk is he’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer, a megastar in a league of superstars, one of the greatest players ever. Seriously, in this day and age no player is immune to criticism on a global scale. Yikes.

He’s as important as any guy we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of important players. He’s kind of the heartbeat of our team in a lot of ways.

– Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle

But the one player in a Mavs uniform who’s earned the admiration of just about everyone on Earth this season is man in the middle Tyson Chandler, the anchor of an improving defense and by all accounts the heart and soul of this team. Chandler is one of the best rebounders in the NBA and has put on one of the best interior defense performances most Mavericks fans have ever seen from a Dallas big man — and that includes the season he put together in 2010-11, when Dallas won the title. Chandler is averaging 10.9 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. The last time he secured as many boards per game came in 2007. He’s not only elevated his level of productivity, though: He’s been the one constant on a defense that’s been on the rise.

Toward the beginning of the season, when Jameer Nelson was the starting point guard, Chandler was frequently taxed to the limit on the defensive end. The Mavs simply struggled to defend pick-and-roll offenses, especially the good ones. Dallas ranked 20th in defensive efficiency through the first third of the season before dealing for Rajon Rondo who, in combination with Chandler, has elevated the Mavs defense all the way to 14th in the NBA and eighth since the trade.

The addition of Rondo not only shored up perimeter defense issues, but it also allowed Monta Ellis to play a more gamble-heavy style of defense, allowing him to jump passing lanes and swipe at the ball more often. With a player as sure as Rondo on the perimeter, you’re able to afford a few risky plays here and there. Fortunately, those two changes of style in tandem have made the Mavs one of the better three-point defenses in the NBA since the trade, even taking into account Steph Curry and the Warriors’ 19-of-38 performance Wednesday night.

But once players penetrate into the lane, the responsibility of the big man is still the same, no matter who’s in front of him. Chandler has faced the third-most field goal attempts per game at the rim this season, per SportVU, and has held opponents to 51.2 percent shooting at the rim, a solid mark for a player at his position, especially given the volume of attempts he’s faced. And that extends to his entire performance on the defensive end this season. Per Synergy Sports, Chandler has allowed just 0.765 points per possession on 618 possessions this season, which places him in the 87th percentile (60th place) in the league. But when you consider that no other player in the top 87 and only three in the top 155 have faced as many possessions as Chandler, his virtuosity truly becomes evident.

His hyper-efficiency is reflected on the offensive end, as well. He’s shooting 68.5 percent from the field this season, a career-best mark. Per Synergy, Chandler has scored 1.392 points per possession on 102 plays as the pick-and-roll big man this season, which places him in the 94th percentile in the league (12th overall). No one ahead of him on that list has played as many possessions and only one player in the top 45 has played more. So as good as he’s been defensively, he’s been just as remarkable on the offensive end.

In fact, of the five players in the league to average at least 10 points and 12 rebounds per game, Chandler has been worth more win shares this season than all of them, per Basketball-Reference.

Player Pts/gm Reb/gm Win Shares
Tyson Chandler 10.9 12.1 7.9
DeAndre Jordan 10.3 13.6 7.4
Zach Randolph 17.2 12.1 5.0
Andre Drummond 12.5 13.0 4.0
DeMarcus Cousins 23.7 12.5 3.7

Win shares is a stat which does occasionally tend to favor players on winning teams, which is why Cousins, one of the best players in the league, would be so far down the list. However, Chandler’s presence at both ends has absolutely transformed Dallas into the team it is today, one that’s just 1.5 games out of third place in a loaded Western Conference. And how has he responded without Rajon Rondo? He scored 21 points and grabbed 17 boards against the Warriors Wednesday night and followed that up with 16 points and 16 rebounds against Cousins and the Kings Thursday night. When Dallas needed production more than ever — and on a back-to-back — Chandler stepped up to the plate.

Don’t disregard his moxie, either. Even as Golden State pulled away Wednesday night, Chandler was still mean-mugging the world with every vicious dunk and forceful rebound he’d pull down. As wonderful as Monta Ellis has played in the clutch, and as masterful as Dirk Nowitzki remains in isolation, Chandler’s place on this team is just as important. If Rondo is the brain, Ellis is the legs, and Dirk is the arms, Chandler is the heart of this entire thing. The Mavs offense might operate like a sexy sports car, but underneath the hood, if you look closely, you’ll see Tyson Chandler churning away, working ridiculously hard to make every little thing that needs to happen happen. That’s why he’s universally loved, and there’s no player in the league who’s earned that love more than No. 6. As Mavs PA Sean Heath reminds us every home game, Chandler is back home now, and every night at the AAC there are 20,000 people thrilled to see him here.

Player of the Week: Tyson Chandler

It didn’t take long for Tyson Chandler to make his presence known.

The center has dominated for practically the entire season, but this week he turned it up even further. Chandler averaged a double-double this week, including a 25-board gem against his former team, the New York Knicks. It was just the sixth time a Maverick has ever recorded that many rebounds and the second since the end of the 1995-96 season. For all the worries that some around the country expressed regarding Chandler’s injuries last season, there hasn’t been much for Dallas fans to fret about this season with the seven-footer’s play. Chandler has been the best defender and best rebounder on the team in all 18 games. In other words, he’s just doing his job.

Chandler’s Week in Numbers
13.5 PPG 67.7 FG% (led team) 14.3 RPG (led team) 6.0 ORBPG 1.8 BPG 90.4 Defensive Rating (led team) 21.0 Net Rating (led team)

Chandler’s net rating this week in particular stood out. Normally, Dirk Nowitzki and Brandan Wright are among the team leaders in net rating. However, those two were shockingly toward the bottom of the pack this week, while the two Chandlers — Tyson and Parsons — topped the list. The Dallas starters did work this week. The best thing about this team is that the bench can carry the team for very long stretches, but the starters definitely can, too. Dallas rolls 12-13 deep almost every night, and the Mavs have quality from top to bottom. Perhaps a more effective way of measuring a player’s value is by looking at how his team did without him. In the four games last week, the Mavs were 33.8 points per 100 possessions worse than their opponents when Chandler did not play. How’s that for impact? Last week, at least, the team performed miles better offensively and defensively when its starting center took the floor.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean Chandler is a one-man team or that his teammates let him down this past week. The numbers do speak for themselves, though, and rather loudly. Chandler is healthy, motivated, and comfortable. That’s a dangerous combination for a player capable of affecting the game in all areas the way Tyson can.

STAT OF THE WEEK98.12

The Mavs’ pace averaged out at 98.12 in the four games they played last week, a huge increase over their typical mark. Pace is the number of possessions a for team per 48 minutes. You’ll notice many newer basketball stats are “X per 100 possessions.” Almost every team plays fewer than 100 in a typical game, but that number is just a round, even way to account for style of play. For example, slow-it-down teams like the Grizzlies, Pacers, Knicks, and and Hornets are all toward the bottom in pace, while run-and-gun teams such as Golden State, Phoenix, and Denver are toward the very top.

Chandler Crush

Jose Barea feeds Tyson Chandler inside for the power dunk in the lane.

Last season’s Dallas squad was near the bottom in possessions per game, and the same held true through the first dozen or so games this season. However, last week the Mavs averaged more than 98 possessions per game, more than two per game above the club’s season average and ninth-most in the NBA. The Mavs now rank ninth in total pace for the entire season. It certainly helps that games against Toronto and Philly, two fast-paced teams, helped to cancel out the grinding battles versus New York and Indiana from earlier in the week. The Mavs averaged 99.89 possessions in the Raptors and 76ers contests, which would be the fourth-highest pace in all of basketball were it the team’s season mark.

Dallas has shown that it is fully capable of adjusting to its opponent’s preferred style of play, whatever that might be. The Mavs don’t necessarily need to impose their will on the game because their roster is so versatile enough to win in several different ways. For example, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons are capable of speeding up the tempo, while players like JJ Barea and Dirk Nowitzki can slow it down with multiple pick-and-rolls to milk the shot clock. Dallas attacks early in the shot clock and the Mavs also wait until the final second at times to find shots. Dallas will take whatever the defense gives, and not many teams can make the same claim. Last week the defenses allowed early shots, so the Mavs took early shots — and it worked out just fine.

Player of the Week: Tyson Chandler

Dunk of the Night – Tyson Chandler

Jameer Nelson lobs it to Tyson Chandler who finishes with the one handed alley-oop dunk.

The Mavs got more than just a rim protector when they acquired Tyson Chandler this summer.

Yes, he’s one of the best in the league at defending close shots. Yes, he covers up holes on the perimeter with ease. Yes, he has practically mastered the art of verticality.

Yes, he’s even the team’s emotional leader, bringing a contagious and fiery passion that has rekindled the intensity in laid-back Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis.

But for this week, at least, Chandler has literally brought more to the Mavericks. Shots, that is.

The Mavs’ prodigal son at center is averaging 2.0 offensive rebounds this season, second on the team only to Brandan Wright (who also deserves plenty of praise for his play this week). Chandler has battled against some of the best rebounders in the NBA to do it, too — during this week’s three games, his adversaries included Tim Duncan, Derrick Favors, Anthony Davis, and Omer Asik.

It’s the situations in which Chandler gives Dallas a second chance that matters most. Per NBA Stats — every single one of you should check out the league’s newly designed stats page right away! — 1.7 of Chandler’s offensive rebounds have followed shots from at least 13 feet, and all of them have come with at least one opponent in the immediate vicinity, what the NBA refers to as a “contested” rebound.

Chandler’s Week in Numbers
10.7 PPG 7.7 RPG (led team) 2.0 ORBPG 1.0 BPG 70.0 FG% 136 Off Rtg 107 Def Rtg

This is important because it shows that not only is the Dallas center winning box-out battles against big-time glass-eaters, but he’s also preventing possible easy points the other way. Generally, long shots produce long rebounds, and long rebounds lead to transition opportunities at the other end.

For example, if Monta Ellis and Nowitzki run a pick-and-roll with Chandler Parsons in one corner and Jameer Nelson in the other, and Ellis misses an 18-foot jumper, Dallas isn’t in position to defend in transition. Should the defense come away with the rebound, Ellis and Nowitzki would be the only men back left to defend against two or three attackers. That’s a mismatch in the opponent’s favor.

The Mavericks have combated this in the past by immediately sending as many as three men back on defense as soon as a shot goes up. That works for defending a fast break, but it greatly reduces the odds of coming away with a second chance. Dallas did this many times against San Antonio, and Chandler took advantage, back-tapping three boards to midcourt, where a Mavs player was always waiting.

If Chandler can continue acting as a one-man offensive rebounding crew while also protecting the rim at a high level, he’s not only going to shore up the middle; he’s going to be an All-Star-caliber player on a very, very good team.

STAT OF THE WEEK120.4

The Mavs’ offensive rating of 120.4 leads the league by a mile. The next-closest team, Miami, put up an impressive 116.0 points per 100 possessions this week, but it doesn’t even come close to the mind-boggling number Dallas achieved. A team 4.4 points beneath the Heat would be 7th in the NBA in offensive rating. That’s how wide the gulf is after one week. The 120.4 mark is also 15.5 points above league average.

For reference, the highest-rated offense ever was that of the 1986-87 Lakers, who finished with a 115.6 mark. However, their strength of schedule (-0.98) was nowhere near what Dallas’s will be this season. The Mavs will surely regress from 120.4, but how far? Last season’s team finished with a 111.2 offensive rating, and this year’s club is much better on the offensive end.

It’s entirely possible the team could finish at 113 — or higher, even — barring significant injury. Were that to happen, the Mavs would be just the 37th team all-time to reach that plateau, and the first since the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns. If they continue going crazy and reach 114 points/100, they’d be just the 17th team to do so, and we’d need to have the conversation about where this team places in the all-time discussion of great offenses. But that’s a very, very, very, very long way away. There’s a lot of basketball yet to be played.

Dallas has accomplished this all while playing at the league’s fifth-slowest pace (91.1 possessions per game) against the league’s fourth-toughest schedule: at San Antonio, vs. Utah, and at New Orleans. The Pelicans’ defense was not highly regarded last season, but this year with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik manning the middle, that’s changed.

The Mavs also led the league with a 52.0 field goal percentage, including shooting 58.9 percent on two-point shots. Most of those have been dunks, sure, but Dallas has also shot a ridiculous 65.6 percent on field goals between 10-16 feet away from the rim and 51.2 percent on shots from between 16 feet and the three-point line.

New additions mastering Mavs’ pick-and-roll play

Chandler Flush

Jameer Nelson circles down the lane and lobs it to Tyson Chandler for the flush.

The Mavericks run lots of pick-and-rolls. So many, in fact, that the team led the league in pick-and-rolls last season. No other club in the NBA relies on the most common play in the NBA more than Dallas, and Dallas executes the set better than just about anyone. These are facts.

So what the Mavs did this offseason was find players who can fit into the pick-and-roll offense Rick Carlisle prefers. Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, Richard Jefferson, Greg Smith, and yes, of course Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler all excel when playing that style. Building a roster isn’t as simple as just signing the best players available. Especially in the NBA, it’s all about fit. Always.

It’s still preseason, sure, but the Mavs are running the pick-and-roll at a high level. It’s impressive, too, just how well they’re running it, given that many players on the team are new. I haven’t even mentioned Charlie Villanueva or Al-Farouq Aminu, two players who have enjoyed serious playing time thus far. Most of the 19-man roster is new, but for the most part it doesn’t appear that way. Remember, though: It’s all about fit. These pieces fit.

Dallas is in the process of building a team that can run pick-and-rolls from anywhere on the court with multiple ball-handlers on the floor at the same time. Not many other teams — if any — do this. The Spurs, for example, rely almost exclusively on Tony Parker or one of his backups to run all pick-and-rolls. Last season’s Rockets saw James Harden earn most of the pick-and-roll opportunities, with a little Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin sprinkled in here and there. But on this year’s Mavs team, there will always be at least three players on the floor who can drive and kick, and there will always be at least two big men capable of setting quality screens that affect the defense. That’s extremely rare. Mavs owner Mark Cuban wasn’t exaggerating when he said the team is looking to play the game in a way no one has seen before.

I’m not arguing the Mavericks are reinventing the wheel, or inventing something completely new, but Dallas is going to play in a way we aren’t used to seeing, and it’s going to be very fun to follow. Here’s a taste of what we’re in for this season.

THE PICK-AND-ROLL

Parsons Alley Oop to Chandler

Starting simple, this is a pretty standard pick-and-roll. The only unusual thing about the play above is that Tyson Chandler basically slips the screen, meaning he doesn’t really make hard contact with Perry Jones III, responsible for defending Chandler Parsons. Chandler’s reasoning: It’s early in the shot clock and OKC’s defense isn’t set. Steven Adams, the opposing center, is on an absolute island against the two Chandlers 2-on-1, and that’s a bad mismatch. Adams plays his way into “no man’s land” before Parsons ultimately delivers an alley-oop to Chandler.

One way to defend the pick-and-roll is for the big man to show hard, stepping out to the side of the big man he’s defending in an attempt to cut off the guard from turning the corner toward the rim.

Nelson Chandler Defender Show.gif

Above, Al-Farouq Aminu sets a screen for Jameer Nelson to his left-hand side. Terrence Jones, Aminu’s defender, plants himself to Aminu’s right, basically creating a human wall that would prevent Nelson from getting anywhere would he have decided to go left. But that’s just fine with Nelson, because he’s going right, anyway. He catches his defender, Patrick Beverley, leaning to Nelson’s left hand as well, so there’s no one to stop him from getting into the lane. Once he’s there, it’s another 2-on-1 with Chandler, with this time only Josh Powell standing in there way. No matter who you are, you aren’t going to deflect a lob pass that high. It’s a Chandler dunk with an assist from Nelson — and the backboard.

This is about as elementary as it gets within the Mavs’ offense. Defenses can try a multitude of looks to throw off the timing of the pick-and-roll, but because Dallas has so many players capable of running the offense, it’s difficult to develop one consistent scheme that can exist throughout a whole game. For example, how do you defend a Parsons P&R versus a Nelson P&R versus an Ellis P&R? And, as we’ll soon find out, those defenses will also have to take into account players elsewhere on the floor. But anyway, back to the pick-and-roll. Carlisle loves throwing in wrenches to spice things up.

THE HIGH SCREEN

Nelson Parsons High Pick and Roll

A high screen gives the guard more space to work with once he turns the corner. The Mavs turned to this look more and more toward the end of last season, especially with Monta Ellis as the ball-handler. By drawing big men 35 feet away from the rim, Ellis and other Dallas guards have more room to accelerate past them. And because of that speed difference and simple geometry, it’s much, much more difficult to eliminate any driving opportunities in favor of giving up an open mid-range jumper, the preferred method of defenses defending Ellis.

In the play above, Nelson turns the corner off a Chandler screen. As Chandler rolls to the rim, Andre Roberson sinks way off of Parsons in the weakside corner in an effort to help out against the Mavs big man. Parsons, the savvy off-ball player that he is, uses that opportunity to cut all the way to the rim and, off a nice dish from Nelson, finishes the dunk. Parsons could have very easily stayed in the corner and taken an open three, and that would have been a desirable outcome… but dunks are easier.

Here’s a still of the same exact play, just flipped.

2014-10-14 23_35_47-Microsoft Silverlight

Brandan Wright has already set a high screen for Devin Harris. OKC has defended the play fairly well, only the Thunder have left Richard Jefferson wide open. It’s honestly not a bad way to defend — the small forward is in his own time zone almost 50 feet away from an off-balance Harris — but the Mavs guard is good enough a passer to deliver the ball cross-court, and Jefferson is brilliant enough from the corners (49.1 percent last season) to knock down the three (which he did). Notice how the Mavs overloaded the strong side? They’ve essentially played themselves into 4-on-5, but Jefferson is so wide-open that he presents an escape from the imbalanced numbers. That’s an easy, easy shot.

THE DOUBLE-SCREEN

Harris Wright Double Screen

The Mavericks run a ton of double-screens with Dirk Nowitzki at the power forward, but as he was out against the Thunder, we got to see a few other players take a crack in the set. In the play above, Richard Jefferson sets the first screen for Harris, and Wright soon follows. In this play, the center almost always rolls to the rim, and the non-center (usually Dirk) almost always pops. I can only think of one time that wasn’t the case last season.

The job of the first screener is to create a guard-against forward mismatch and to throw that forward off-balance. After switching onto Harris, Roberson isn’t expecting another screen to come; typically you don’t see many double-screens. Once Wright sets the pick, Roberson is basically out of the play. It’s once again Steven Adams versus two Mavericks, and once again the Mavericks came out on top. Some cool stuff is happening off the ball too, though. Jefferson is all alone at the top of the arc for a potential three. Normally, that would be Nowitzki, meaning that would normally be three points.

2014-10-14 23_37_33-Microsoft Silverlight

Here’s a similar play Dallas ran against Houston in the preseason opener. By now, Wright has already set his screen and has rolled. Beverley, guarding Raymond Felton in the strongside corner, is in a position either to help on Harris or close out on his man should Harris decide to make the pass. But the problem for Houston is Harris isn’t even considering making that pass, because wide-open atop the arc is Villanueva. Against a double-screen, the defense must make a choice. There are three primary threats — the ball-handler, the popping big man, and the rolling big man. You can really only stop two of them unless you defend it absolutely perfectly and nail all of your rotations to a tee, and that isn’t going to happen very often. That means the only way to stop it is to hope the ball-handler makes the wrong choice. But, again, Harris is a fine passer, and he’s not going to misread a play this simple. Villanueva catches, shoots, and scores.

These are only a couple tricky variations on an otherwise simple offensive system. The pick-and-roll might be elementary, but it’s dangerous. The Utah Jazz of the ’80s and ’90s rode it to the Finals multiple times, the Spurs and Heat have recently won titles working out of that offense often, and the Mavs had the best offense in the league post-All-Star break working out of that offense religiously. If the Triangle is NBA Calculus, the pick-and-roll is NBA Algebra. It’s not that difficult, but it will give you a headache if you aren’t ready for it. That’s what Carlisle and the Mavs hoping to give defenses this season.

Tyson Chandler steals the show at Mavs’ Player Introduction Press Conference

1-on-1 with Tyson Chandler

Mavs.com's Lonnie Franklin III chats with Tyson Chandler after the team's player introduction press conference.

The Mavericks added several big names this summer in an attempt to contend for another championship. But one thing was clear at the team’s introductory press conference: For one day, at least, Tyson Chandler was Mr. Maverick.

Chandler, acquired this summer via trade with the New York Knicks, was the man of the hour as he and five other Mavs were introduced to media and the public. Even flanked by former All-Star Jameer Nelson and up-and-comer Chandler Parsons, the center stole the show. He was asked the most questions, he did the most talking, and he received the loudest cheers. Clearly, the city missed him after his one-year stint with the club during the 2010-11 season that resulted in the franchise’s first championship.

But what was most striking in between moments Chandler was given thunderous applause was the big man’s words about the city that longed for his return. That feeling wasn’t one-sided.

“I absolutely missed playing here,” he said. “I missed playing for this organization. I missed the fans. I’m extremely happy to be back, and I feel very blessed. I’m really looking forward to that tip-off and the first game of the season.”

The center became the club’s vocal and emotional leader during the championship season in 2011, when he averaged 10.1 points and 9.4 rebounds in 27.8 minutes per game. His play stood out so much that the Knicks swooped in the following offseason and awarded him with the contract he deserved, but the Mavericks chose not to match.

In the years following, Chandler won the Defensive Player of the Year award once and set the single-season record for field goal percentage. Last season, a leg injury sidelined him for 27 games, and a front-office change in New York suddenly led to Chandler’s availability. The Mavericks pounced on the opportunity. And now that he’s back, it’s safe to say he’ll stick around for a while.

“Let’s just say I’ve learned from my mistakes,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said with a laugh when asked about the possibility of Chandler staying with the team long-term.

There are no hard feelings between the parties, though. Chandler is as happy to be back as Cuban, GM Donnie Nelson, and head coach Rick Carlisle are to have him here.

“I’ve always loved these guys,” Chandler said of the Mavs brass. “And I felt like they gave me the ultimate opportunity by bringing me here the first time around and putting me in a position to succeed, so I’ve always felt in debt to them. To be able to come back now and have the opportunity to contend again, I’m gonna give them everything I’ve got again.”

The Mavericks will certainly be looking for instant impact on the defensive end from the big man. Last year’s squad allowed 55 percent shooting at the rim, per SportVU, second-worst in the league. Led by Chandler, the Knicks finished 12th in the league at 51.7 percent. Three percent might not seem like a huge difference, but that’s roughly two points every other game or so, and as we learned last season, every point matters. What’s more, Chandler’s presence alone in the paint influences opposing players not to drive all the way and instead either pull up for a longer shot or pass out of the lane. Even with Chandler hindered by injuries last season, the Knicks allowed 2.5 fewer attempts at the rim than the Mavericks; New York allowed just 19.7 point-blank attempts, fourth-fewest in the league.

Below is a chart with Chandler’s own field goal percentage allowed at the rim during the 2013-14 season compared to the five best rim protectors on the Mavericks for the same season.

Protecting the Paint

Player FG% Against at Rim
Jae Crowder 48.7
Sam Dalembert 52.0
Dirk Nowitzki 52.3
Shawn Marion 53.5
Vince Carter 53.9
Tyson Chandler (NYK) 50.9

The Knicks were 2.9 points per 100 possessions better overall when Chandler played last season. That’s the type of effect he can have on a defense. And as Carlisle said at the top of the presser, defense was the team’s most pressing issue heading into this summer. The acquisitions of Chandler and Al-Farouq Aminu, among others, gives Dallas the defenders it so desperately needed, filling the team’s most gaping hole. What does that mean for the club’s outlook in 2014-15? Leave it to Chandler himself to explain.

“As far as predictions, you never know what happens in this league,” he said. “The only thing you can do is come out and compete. But I will say that we have a very talented roster and we have every opportunity in the world to contend this year.”

Tyson Chandler will benefit from Mavs’ flow offense

With all the good things we’ve been saying about the impact Tyson Chandler can make at the rim on both ends of the floor, the big man’s jump shot has almost gone not talked about.

Chandler attempted 32 field goals from 15-19 feet last season, per NBA.com. That’s his highest mark since the 39 he took during the 2010-11 season, which he spent with the Mavs. One of the team’s trademark plays that season — typically one of the first sets Dallas would run any given night — resulted in an open elbow jumper for the center.

Rick Carlisle has always tended to only run sets that work, and that play for Chandler worked almost every time. He hit 18 of his 39 mid-range attempts during his lone season in Dallas, good for 46.2 percent. He also hit four of his seven attempts from between 10-14 feet. Those are the types of percentages Carlisle will hope Chandler can replicate this upcoming season should that same play reappear within the Mavs’ offense.

The center didn’t enjoy the same level of success on such shots with the New York Knicks last season, as he hit just 12 of 32 attempts from 15-19 feet. The big man earned 4.9 elbow touches per game with the Knicks last season, according to SportVU, second on the team only to Carmelo Anthony. One could argue that nearly five elbow touches is simply too much for a player with an elite finishing ability at the rim. Heck, even Dirk Nowitzki only got 4.2 elbow touches per game in 2013-14, and he scores at a high clip from that region of the floor.

Chandler’s 67.9 field goal percentage during the 2011-12 season for a time ranked as the highest single-season shooting performance in league history. That season, he took just nine shots from 10 feet and beyond. His shot chart looked like this (courtesy of Nylon Calculus).

Chandler 11-12

All of his volume was at the rim. All of it. However, just two seasons later, he experienced a huge leap not only in touches outside the paint, but also in shots, too. It isn’t exactly fair to argue the Knicks just weren’t as good at generating clean looks for Chandler. As we’ll see later, they were. But it’s curious that the team would use him to do one thing when he performed so well doing another. In fact, his shot chart from that season looks very similar to Brandan Wright’s from last season. The Mavs’ big man’s is below.

Wright 13-14

Just because Chandler’s performance from mid-range took a slight dip last season does not mean he’s suddenly lost the ability to make those shots. As is always the case with any player, individual performance to a degree does rely on the skills and abilities of not only his teammates, but also his coach and the system he runs. The Knicks struggled with floor spacing last season, at times lacking the shooters necessary to stretch defenses. Chandler thrived last year when catching and shooting from the mid-range, but struggled when he shot off the bounce and when contested. Fortunately for Chandler, he’s already familiar with the Mavs’ “flow” offense and all of the sets they run, as he spent a season with the team just a few years ago. Even better, though, is the effect Nowitzki and Monta Ellis could have on Chandler’s success not only at the rim, but also from the elbows. Chandler should actually fit in pretty well with many of the sets Dallas ran last season with Sam Dalembert at the five.

Dallas ran a lot of plays out of the “Horns” offense last season, a set defined by the shape the players make at the beginning of the play — with the point guard in the middle of the floor, both the off-guard and small forward retreat to either wing or corner while the big men stand at either elbow. There are countless variations of the play, but most commonly what you’ll see is one big man set a ball-screen and the play develops into a pick-and-roll. Nowitzki isn’t a conventional player, however, so Carlisle has tweaked Horns a bit to play more to the German’s strengths. Nowitzki’s presence alone at one elbow creates plenty of open space everywhere else on the floor, which benefits both the shooters in the corners and the other big man — in the case of last season, it was Dalembert; this season, it will be Chandler.

Here’s an example of the way the Knicks commonly generated mid-range looks for Chandler out of Horns.

HORNS 1

Raymond Felton makes the first pass to Chandler, hinting that the big man might make an entry pass into the posted-up Carmelo Anthony. However, Chandler waits as Felton uses an Amar’e Stoudemire screen to cut to the baseline and then back up to the top of the key. Horns features plenty of misdirection, which plays into the hands of crafty guards and big men alike.

HORNS 2

Felton gets the ball back and immediately has two screens to choose from: one from Stoudemire, and another from J.R. Smith. Meanwhile, Chandler still remains at the elbow, while his defender Ryan Kelly has turned his complete attention away from his man and toward the moving Felton. By now, it’s already clear that Felton is going to use Stoudemire’s screen, which means the Lakers defense will have to converge in the lane in an attempt to stop the drive to the rim.

HORNS 3

Felton sucked in Kelly and the rest of the defense with his drive, which left Chandler open by a whopping 10 feet. That’s going to be two points every time.

Dallas ran nearly identical sets last season, both with and without Nowitzki, that created the same types of shots for Dalembert, also a quality mid-range shooter. See below for the beginning of the play.

2014-09-11 11_33_43-

In this case, Shawn Marion set the ball-screen for Jose Calderon. Zach Randolph, responsible for guarding Dalembert, has sunk off the Haitian big man so much that the Mavs center is going to have an easy, easy jumper once Calderon delivers him the ball.

2014-09-11 11_34_04-

Calderon attracted all of that attention from the defense and last season he preferred not to shoot on drives. Imagine the type of space Monta Ellis can create on his drives toward the rim. Plays like the one above are deadly because they force the opposing team to make a choice: Do they stop the drive or do they stop the jumpers? Dallas made matters even worse for opponents last season because the Mavs ran sets so early in the shot clock that in many cases the defense wasn’t even able to set itself completely. For example, in the play above, Marc Gasol is guarding Shawn Marion, not Dalembert. Gasol likely would not have defended Calderon’s drive any differently, but the Spaniard has a reputation as one of the best defenders in the league. He might have been able to stunt the play. But that’s where the Mavs’ offense has beaten so many teams time and time again.

Let’s throw Nowitzki into the equation. Below is a Horns set with the German manning one of the elbows.

2014-09-11 11_32_05-

The play begins with a high screen by Nowitzki. Larkin drives to the left, down the middle of the floor, right at Boris Diaw. The Frenchman will soon have a decision to make: stop Larkin or stop Dalembert, but he can’t do both. This is where Nowitzki’s impact plays in, however. Jeff Ayres is responsible for guarding the German, so instead of hedging against Larkin, forcing the point guard to reset the offense, he immediately sprints back to Dirk. Can’t afford to give the seven-footer an open jump shot. Patty Mills, meanwhile, is already beat. There’s no way he can recover in time to stop Larkin.

2014-09-11 11_31_28-

Diaw smartly elects to stop Larkin, as a jump shot is more difficult to make than a layup. Dalembert, then, is left completely wide open at the elbow. But notice how closely Ayres is guarding Nowitzki. The German’s court presence alone has turned what could have been a crowded defense into a two-on-two with Larkin and Dalembert vs. Mills and Diaw. That’s a favorable matchup for the offense, and one that will surely benefit Chandler this season.

All of this doesn’t necessarily mean that Chandler will receive these types of looks. Horns sets usually involve one ball-handler, but the Mavs’ starting lineup this season will feature no less than three perimeter players capable off the bounce. There’s no telling what tricks Carlisle will pull out of his bag this season, but Horns will likely be one of them. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and a clean look for Chandler from the elbow is pretty automatic.