In His Quiet Way, Chandler Has Emerged as a Knicks Star
By HOWARD BECK
Published: April 13, 2009
MIAMI — The search for silver linings in a dismal Knicks season can lead in many directions, although the trail usually ends with an asterisk.
David Lee and Nate Robinson had breakout years. But they could leave as free agents this summer.
Chris Duhon emerged as a solid point guard. But he withered in the last two months.
Danilo Gallinari showed fabulous potential as a rookie. But he is now recovering from back surgery.
So when Coach Mike D’Antoni was asked which player made the biggest impression this season, he did not pause.
“Wilson Chandler jumps out real quick,” D’Antoni said Sunday before the Knicks played their final road game of the season, losing to the Heat, 122-105, in Miami.
Chandler was a relative mystery to the Knicks’ new coaching staff. He had hardly played as a rookie. But his size (6 feet 8 inches, 220 pounds), athleticism and body type reminded D’Antoni of Shawn Marion, the former Phoenix Suns star. That alone was cause for excitement.
With the season down its final days, D’Antoni is still bubbling with enthusiasm. Through 81 games, including 69 starts, Chandler had averaged 14.4 points and 5.4 rebounds. He has come on strong down the stretch, averaging 18.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in April.
Chandler has guarded every position on the court and can play offensively at shooting guard or either forward spot. He is regarded as the Knicks’ best post defender and one of their top perimeter defenders.
Perhaps most critically, Chandler is under contract beyond 2010, making him one of the Knicks’ few reliable building blocks.
“He’s a great kid that works hard, and I really think he has a chance” to become a star, D’Antoni said. “That will depend on him and his work that he puts in the summertime.”
The encouraging news on that front is that Chandler plans to spend the off-season in New York, working with the coaching staff. His top priorities are improved ball-handling skills and shooting. Chandler had converted just 43.3 percent of his field goal attempts and 33.3 percent of his 3-point attempts going into Sunday’s game.
Chandler’s energy sometimes wanes, particularly in transition. Although he is a willing passer, he sometimes forgets to look for teammates before making a move with the ball. But he has proved to be eminently coachable, almost to a fault.
“You tell him something and you can see he goes right on the floor and tries to incorporate it in his game,” D’Antoni said. “We have to be real careful about telling him something, because he’ll literally do what we tell him.”
Off the court, Chandler is easily the most reserved Knick — the yin to Robinson’s yang. He speaks the same way he plays, with a quiet confidence, but no detectable swagger.
“I still got a long way to go,” Chandler said in typically soft tones.
Chandler seemed deeply appreciative of D’Antoni’s high praise, but, he admitted: “At the same time, I’m kind of nervous, because of him looking at me like that. It’s like I got to do a lot this summer, to get a whole lot better.”
Of the current Knicks, only Chandler, Gallinari, Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries are under contract beyond next season — and the latter two are candidates to be traded. They need Chandler and Gallinari to blossom, and quickly.
Marion is a four-time All-Star, so D’Antoni is hesitant to make the Marion-Chandler comparisons too strongly.
“I had an old coach who once said, ‘Yeah, he’s good today, but he might be a serial killer in about two weeks,’ ” D’Antoni said, chuckling. “We want to be real careful. But I really like the guy.”