Take your pick: Mike Conley (Grizzlies), Luol Deng (Bulls), Dwight Howard (Magic), Serge Ibaka (Thunder), LeBron James (Heat), Shawn Marion (Mavericks), Chris Paul (Clippers) and Josh Smith (Hawks).
They're all in consideration for Defensive Player of the Year.
But there is one stat that shows why Tyson Chandler should be ahead of them all in the race. In 2010-11, with Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and a few defensive pieces (most notably, Wilson Chandler and Jared Jeffries), the Knicks had a defensive rating of 110.1 (22nd of 30 in the league). This season? 100.3 (fourth).
While all those aforementioned players should be applauded, they were also helping their teams excel defensively last season. Chandler has led the Knicks to the biggest jump in defensive efficiency. Without him, the Knicks don't even crack the top 15. In fact, in the two games Chandler missed this season, on March 7 and 9, the Knicks gave up 118.5 points per game. And they lost both times.
Not only that, but for most of the season Chandler was helping Mike D'Antoni's offensive-minded team make stops, and the Knicks allowed only about 95 points per game. Under Mike Woodson, guess what? They've been holding opponents to 87.8 points per game -- the best mark in the league since March 14, when Woodson replaced D'Antoni.
Of course, a lot of credit goes to the defensive-minded Woodson, the enforcer, who's been with the team since training camp. But the Knicks couldn't have done it without Chandler, the facilitator, who's been as advertised. Blocks (1.5 per game), rebounds (9.8 per game), weakside and pick-and-roll help, active feet, long arms, vocal leadership -- and he's doing it all while playing through pain (groin and left wrist injuries).
Here's a look further into some of the numbers to demonstrate Chandler's defensive impact (entering Friday's play, according to ESPN Stats & Information):
The Knicks allow almost three more points when Chandler isn't on the court, compared to when he's playing (95.5 vs. 93.0).
In pick-and-roll defense guarding the ball handler, Chandler's presence leads to a higher turnover rate and a lower scoring percentage, compared to Jeffries and Josh Harrellson. Turnover percentage: Chandler (22.3.), Jeffries (15.9) and Harrellson (16.4). Scoring percentage: Chandler (35.3), Jeffries (46.0) and Harrellson (36.1).
In pick-and-roll defense guarding the roll man, Chandler's presence leads to fewer points per play, compared to Jeffries and Harrellson. Points per play: Chandler (0.889), Jeffries (1.000) and Harrellson (1.188).
The Knicks allow 4.3 fewer points from a distance of 5 feet when Chandler is on the court. When Jeffries is playing, the Knicks allow 0.7 more points, and when Harrellson is in the game, the Knicks allow 2.8 more points.
While many fans were initially saddened to see Chauncey Billups get amnestied back in December, Chandler has been the all-season-long glue guy. He has helped the team remain consistent on defense through all the injuries, and he will give the Knicks, currently the eighth seed, a better fight in the playoffs no matter who they face.
When the Knicks chose to sign Tyson Chandler in the off-season, they made two crucial decisions.
One, which seemed to haunt the team until the emergence of Jeremy Lin, was to waive starting point guard Chauncey Billups to make room for Chandler. With Mike D’Antoni’s offense dependent on a floor general, the decision to let Billups go was cause for concern.
The other decision, however, was a commitment to changing the defensive culture in New York.
The Knicks have struggled throughout the season to find a consistent offensive rhythm, but that is exactly why their elevated defensive performance has been so important along the way. Chandler, the new defensive anchor, has emerged as a leader, as the team has allowed only 94.7 points per game.
Chandler leads by example, most recently seen in his effort on Dwight Howard. Chandler has shut down the all-star as the Knicks have won two out of three games against the Magic this season. Howard was limited to an average of only 9.3 points during those games. What’s more, Chandler also pestered Howard into committing 5.7 turnovers per game.
Of course, the Magic are plagued by off-the-court distractions, but that in no way discounts Chandler’s impact. Coming off a season in which he won an N.B.A. championship and finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, Chandler has picked up where he left off, averaging 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks heading into Thursday’s game.
Chandler not only uses his lengthy frame to alter the play of some of the league’s stronger post players, but also effectively makes use of his fouls by committing them when he is clearly beat. When he’s not able to stop opposing players simply by skill, Chandler makes sure he gives them a challenge, forcing them to make free-throws.
His statistics are not breathtaking, but Chandler makes up for what he lacks on the stat sheet by ensuring that his presence is felt on the court. His importance to the Knicks’ defense is worth noting because of where the team has been and where they now expect to go. Chandler’s defensive intensity was enough to help propel the Mavericks’ to an N.B.A. title last season and with the Knicks currently facing an array of injuries, they hope that same intensity may be enough to a help the team inch into the playoffs.
Because Chandler is essential to his team’s defensive prowess (not to mention its playoff chances), the case can be made that he is most valuable defensive player in the entire league. Last season, he was an N.B.A. champion. This season, his prize may just be Defensive Player of the Year.