By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
POSTED: Oct 22, 2013 12:43 AM ET
Tyson Chandler was the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 2011-12.
Tyson Chandler knows he was outplayed by Roy Hibbert in the conference semifinals in May, one reason why the New York Knicks couldn't get past the Indiana Pacers. And though you can certainly chalk up his performance to a neck injury and various other ailments, Chandler realizes that he has to play better. He used that series to fuel his offseason work.
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"I vowed to myself that I would never let that happen again," Chandler said. "I've got to look at it like motivation, like I got my ass kicked."
Chandler has been working on his jump shot, with the idea that he can draw a rim protector like Hibbert away from the basket so Carmelo Anthony can drive baseline without getting stuffed. But the Knicks need their center to do more than just hit an occasional 15-footer or just outplay Hibbert when they face the Pacers. They need him to be the better defensive center he can be all season long.
Chandler won the Defensive Player of the Year award two years ago because he was the backbone of the No. 5 defense in the league and nullified the deficiencies of several teammates. He finished 13th in voting last year because the Knicks took a big step backward on that end of the floor, ranking 17th in defensive efficiency.
The regression wasn't all about Chandler. He was still playing behind several defensive liabilities. But, even before he got hurt in March, he didn't have the same impact as he did the season before, especially near the basket, where the Knicks ranked 29th in opponent's field-goal percentage.
That, obviously, has to improve. If it does, with the addition of Metta World Peace and the improving health of Iman Shumpert, there is reason to be optimistic about the Knicks. A return to the top 10 on defense would keep them among the best teams in the league and give them a better chance to win playoff series.
"[Top 10] is our goal," head coach Mike Woodson said, "without a doubt."
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Woodson blames last year's defensive regression mostly on injuries and the lack of in-season continuity or full-roster practice time. Chandler, Anthony and Raymond Felton missed a combined 45 games, the Knicks had Shumpert for just half a season, and they lost a couple of their experienced vets along the way.
"Our defense did have some slippage," Woodson said, "but a lot of it was because we just weren't able to practice based on all the injuries that we had."
"Guys were just trying to make game days," Chandler added.
Those reasons are valid, but the Knicks' top-five ranking came in a lockout year, when they were able to work through the drama and disruptions of a condensed schedule, limited practice time, seven weeks of Linsanity and a midseason coaching change.
Of course, they were pretty mediocre offensively that season. And though they took a step back defensively, they were the most improved offensive team last year and ranked third on that end. That more than made up for the defensive regression.
Matching that output will be difficult. The Knicks' outlook might not be so rosy if the focus is offense. Last season's Knicks were the most prolific 3-point shooting team in NBA history and had the lowest turnover rate in the league. Their offense was ridiculously efficient in the first month and a half of the season and again over the last month.
But Steve Novak, Jason Kidd and Chris Copeland have taken 322 threes (36 percent of the Knicks' total) with them on their way out the door, and they've been replaced by three guys -- Andrea Bargnani, Beno Udrih and World Peace -- who have shot a combined 32 percent from beyond the arc over the last two seasons.
So the Knicks must be able to count on their defense more if they aim to stay in the mix for a top-four seed in an improved Eastern Conference. The Pacers and Brooklyn Nets got better, the Chicago Bulls got Derrick Rose back, and the Miami Heat are still the two-time champs.
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"You can make a case for a lot of things," Chandler said about last season's defense. "You can make a case we were comfortable [outplaying teams offensively]. You can make a case for injuries. You can make a case for [lack of] practice. Regardless, we weren't satisfied with how we played defensively throughout the year last year. And that's something that has to be better."
And they can't just count on World Peace and a healthy-from-the-start Shumpert to do the trick. It has to be a commitment from every guy on the roster.
"It's not about having great individual defenders," Chandler said. "It's about putting that into a team."
Still, the Knicks' defense starts with Chandler. He's has to be the anchor and the guy talking louder than anybody. If his teammates know that he's got their back, they can more active and aggressive on the perimeter. More important than his ability to make shots from 15 feet and out is his ability to contest them from five feet and in.
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1. If his roster is mostly healthy, Woodson has some interesting rotation decisions to make. With Udrih replacing Kidd, he still has the ability to use the two-point-guard lineups that worked so well last season. But that makes things more complicated at the forward spots, with Anthony, Bargnani, Shumpert, J.R. Smith and World Peace all in the mix for primary roles.
2. Amar'e Stoudemire had another knee surgery this summer and the Knicks are taking things slow with him in training camp. So any production from the guy who is still owed $45 million over the next two seasons should be considered gravy. Stoudemire was an efficient scorer down low in limited action last season, but he hurts you as much defensively as he helps you offensively.
3. Woodson still sees a championship as the ultimate goal, but believes that winning the Atlantic Division for the second straight year is the first priority. "Right now, we got to try to defend our division," he said. "I think that's a major challenge for our ball club." The division should be a two-team race between the Knicks and their Brooklyn neighbors.
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