Tyson Chandler: A New Kind of Big Man

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by Matt Petersen

The NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award has been handed out since 1983. That’s over 30 years’ worth of individual recognition for the most influential NBA athlete on the non-scoring side of the court. A Suns player has never won that award.

That’s not a shocker. Only 17 of the league’s current 30 teams sport the DPOY in their trophy cases. No, the Suns’ unique part in this award is that none of its recipients have ever played a game in Phoenix purple and orange, before, during or after the year he won it.

Until now.

Such is the void Chandler will look to fill after signing with the Suns this offseason. The 7-1 big man provides a combination of strength, agility and timing on the defensive end that has never been seen in a Phoenix uniform.

No Suns center has ever earned NBA All-Defensive team honors. The only player in team history to average at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and one block per game in a full season – as Chandler did last year at age 32 – was 6-7 forward Shawn Marion.

The Suns’ strength has always been found in the backcourt. That will still be the case next season, when Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe mesh their versatile talents into Head Coach Jeff Hornacek’s dual point guard system.

Yet the defensive drop-off from half-court to the paint has never been less steep. Should opponents get past the initial points of defensive attack (Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker), Chandler – whose individual defensive rating ranks 10th among all active players – will be waiting.

The last Suns players to win gold medals for USA Basketball were Jason Kidd (2000), Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle (1994), all of whom are perimeter players. Shaquille O’Neal was the most decorated center in Suns history, but nearly all of his accomplishments had already occurred by the time he arrived in the desert. In his lone full season with the team (2008-09), the Big Shaqtus’ individual defensive rating was 109.

Chandler’s has never been that high in any season of his career (note: “high” is bad when it comes to defensive rating).

Perhaps the best aspect of Chandler is how well he knows himself. Once it became clear early in his career that defense was his bread and butter, he embraced it as an identity. He does not demand awkward opportunities on offense. The shots he does take are usually on dunks or after offensive rebounds.

In related news, Chandler ranks first among all active players in shooting percentage, third in individual offensive rating and fourth in rebound percentage.

Every offseason, free agency spawns the hope of finding a “go-to guy.” Phoenix found one, at center, on defense.

That will look good in purple and orange.

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