Boston Celtics Second Tier Free Agent Targets: Tyson Chandler


In Sunday’s piece, I covered how Paul Millsap could find himself in Danny Ainge’s offseason cross-hairs should free agent big shots like Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, and DeAndre Jordan spurn offers from the Celtics.

Today, we’ll continue down that rabbit hole of identifying second-tier ballers who could 1) help fortify the strong foundation the Celtics have already put in place and 2) attract a marquee player (or two!) in the summer of 2017. We’ll pick up where we left off with a big man who fills many of Boston’s needs and fits seamlessly into the blue-collar atmosphere the team has begun to construct.

Four offseasons after Dallas let him walk following the Mavericks’ magical 2011 run to the franchise’s first NBA title, Tyson Chandler finds himself in the same exact spot. Once again, he’s demonstrated interest in sticking around in Dallas, and, as the Mavs segue into the post-Dirk era, Chandler is presumably the perfect cog to help maintain the “culture” Rick Carlisle has worked so hard to create there.

It’s unlikely that Chandler leaves unless Mark Cuban can successfully woo DeAndre Jordan — or, to a lesser extent, Greg Monroe — this summer, but this is a rhetorical exercise, and, hey, we’re a sports blog… speculation on stuff that probably won’t happen is what we do!

The Celtics have clearly transitioned out of “tank mode,” and, honestly, with Brad Stevens commandeering the ship, losing enough games to obtain a prime seat in the lottery probably wasn’t all that realistic to begin with; you could sign a handful of dudes playing pickup in Southie, stick them in Stevens’ starting five, and still slap together a better record than the T-Wolves did this year. (Hyperbole alert for all you trolls out there!)

And if the Celtics are trying to be competitive while building a strong roster that only needs one or two more key pieces to contend in the East, well then Chandler is the perfect guy for that phase!

Apr 28, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler (6) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Houston Rockets in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

He’s a dunking, rebounding, shot-altering machine who ranks surprisingly near the top in a bevy of advanced statistical categories, including win shares per 48 minutes (7th), offensive win shares (11th), and value over replacement player (20th), per

Casual fans think of Chandler — the 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year — as purely a defensive threat, which doesn’t give his impact on the other end nearly enough credit.

Sometimes when you’re so good on one side of the court, it overshadows the things you bring to the table on the other side, and this seems to have affected Chandler’s reputation a bit. And that’s unfair because Dallas improved on both defense and offense when Chandler was in the game.

Yes, he has obvious limitations on offense; although he has developed a more reliable midrange jumper than you’d think, he doesn’t use it often, and Chandler has taken nine threes in fourteen NBA seasons, so he can’t stretch the floor like a handful of his counterparts around the league.

But his role isn’t to spread the floor; it’s to shrink it! That’s right, Tyson Chandler is one of the best rim-runners in the game, sucking in defenders from all over the court as he dashes into the paint on pick-and-rolls, looking for dump-offs and lobs.

He shot nearly 75% at the basket this season, a fantastic finishing number that eclipses even the one posted by field goal percentage leader and fellow dunking behemoth DeAndre Jordan.

Take a look at the first three clips from the following Monta Ellis highlight video; if Chandler isn’t busy dunking drop-off passes, he’s at the very least sucking in help defenders from the wing and opening up spot-up looks for teammates dotting the perimeter:

His athleticism is a very real threat on this half of the court. Chandler knows his role and is a low-usage guy who’s just as dangerous — if not more so — without the ball as he is with it.

Receiving a small number of touches isn’t going to discourage him from sprinting to the rim with purpose or competing his hardest on the defensive end, a common phenomenon among some big men (*cough, cough, DWIGHT!, cough*). He knows that’s how he earns his keep.

Dallas was the worst rebounding team in the league this year, gathering only 47.8% of available boards, but that rate jumped to 49.1% when Chandler was on the court; rebounding is another reason New York shelled out over $13 million a year in 2011 for Tyson Chandler to join the Knicks.

He is consistently near the top of the rebounding leaderboard, and the advanced stats back up his prowess on the glass. Offensive rebounds are an invaluable source of efficient offense, and Chandler excels at collecting his teammates’ misses, sometimes tipping them back out to a pair of waiting hands.

He hauled in 14.1% of Dallas’ missed shots, the 6th-highest rate in the league, and snagged 27.4% of the opposing team’s bricks, good for the same ranking among qualified players.

Apr 2, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler (6) grabs a rebound in front of Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Rockets defeated the Mavericks 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As NBA defensive systems become more sophisticated, and as analytics-influenced offenses evolve to produce more shots in the paint, rim-protecting big men like Chandler become all the more important.

It’s no wonder, then, that 25 of the top 40 players in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus statistic — which aims to measure a “player’s estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance… in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions” — are either power forwards or centers.

Chandler ranked 15th (11th among players averaging over 18 minutes per game) in this category, accounting for the deletion of over 3-and-a-half points per 100 possessions from the opposing team’s tally.

This is interesting because his rim-protecting numbers aren’t all that gawdy; in fact, they’re slightly below average. Opponents made 50.9% of their shots at the rim this year when Chandler was in the restricted area, slotting him a mediocre 47th out of 88 players who played in at least 50 games and defended at least 4 such shots per game.

But remember who he was sharing the court with for most of his minutes. Amar’e Stoudemire, a player with a well-known distaste for fire extinguishers who has undergone multiple knee procedures, is an oft-noted defensive sieve, and a 36-year-old Dirk Nowitzki isn’t exactly stellar (or even average) on that end either.

Charlie Villanueva had a solid year spacing the floor as a 37% 3-point shooter, but his defensive chops are worse than France’s during World War II (sorry France, I’m just an arrogant American).

We all remember the horror of the aerial bombardment that Josh Smith and Dwight Howard unleashed on the Mavericks in Game 2 of Dallas’ first round evisceration by the Rockets. I mean, just look at the first and last plays of that hyperlinked Youtube video; Chandler has no chance.

In the first clip — a high screen between The Beard and Smith — a creaky Dirk stays with Harden a second too long, so he slips a pocket pass to Smith at the elbow.

With a lob threat like Howard lurking along the baseline, it should have been JJ Barea’s job to meet Smith at the elbow before J-Smoove even has a chance to look up and survey the scene. But “el puertorriqueñito” is nowhere to be found, choosing instead to stick with Jason Terry in the corner:

It’s unfair to put all the blame on Barea here because you have to respect Jet’s outside shooting ability, but this ultimately left Chandler out to dry, as he was stuck with an either-way-damning choice: behind the first door, “Dunkular Annihilation Option 1” and behind the second “Dunkular Annihilation Option 2.”

The same thing happened later in the game (the last play in the hyperlinked Youtube video). After a side dribble hand-off on the right wing, Harden sees Dirk double onto him, so he loops an overhead pass to the wide open Smith.

Once again, Barea no-shows his help defense responsibilities. It should be noted, though, that even if he had moved over to stunt Howard, it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway; that’s one of the problems you confront when participating in the NBA playoffs at a mere 4 feet, nine inches tall (rough estimation).

But yet again, Chandler is faced with selecting either frontal posterization or posterization from the back, another lose-lose. Hopefully it makes sense now why his rim protection numbers have been lower than you’d think; and because he was put in these perilous situations so often, it also makes sense that Chandler contested nine-and-a-half shots at the rim per game, the fourth-highest rate in the entire league.

The fact that defensive real plus-minus holds Chandler in such high esteem gives credence to the notion that his teammates this past season were, shall we politely say… lacking, in that area.

He has nimble feet (which helps him reel in ball handlers and scurry back to his own man when defending the pick-and-roll), long arms, good instincts, and a propensity for barking out orders like a quarterback at the line of scrimmage.

Apr 26, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler (6) and Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) fight for the loose ball during the second quarter in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the kind of guy you want on your team, even if he is 32 years old. Chandler has the same slim body type as Tim Duncan, and The Big Fundamental has stayed sharp on defense even as he has approached Social Security eligibility.

Guys around the league respect Tyson Chandler like their own father, and having him on the Celtics would likely give a hefty boost to Boston’s free agent appeal in the summer of 2016. If Ainge can’t convince DeAndre Jordan or Marc Gasol to sign with the Celtics, it’s definitely worth tossing a big contract Chandler’s way.

The Mavs are hoping Chandler takes a hometown discount like his buddy Dirk, but if the Celtics offered him a four-year contract worth around $50 to $60 million, that would provide him the longterm security every aging veteran covets.

In an Eastern Conference with a maximum of only three true contenders every year, the Celtics aren’t too far away from approaching that territory. With a staunch rim protector there to clean up the mess, Bradley and Smart could transform into an aggressive two-headed monster wreaking havoc on poor suckers out near the mid-court line.

And having a lob threat like Chandler near the basket and on pick-and-rolls would open up gobs of room for those drives and threes that Brad Stevens so covets. Oh, and one more thing that just has to be mentioned: Chandler shot 72% from the charity stripe last season, so “Hack-a-Whoever” is not going to work.

Signing Chandler wouldn’t catapult the Celtics up to the top of the standings. Hell, he might not even elevate them to the middle of the playoff bunch, the longtime perch of teams like Toronto and Washington.

But throw in a Kevin Love or a Paul Millsap, and ask me that question again. Everyone should be on Danny Ainge’s radar this summer, and that includes Tyson Chandler.

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