Chandler did it all at DePaul — which could have been a pretty cool title for a player of the year campaign. (“Wilson Chandler does it all, at DePaul! Sponsored by Nike!”) But he never led the Blue Demons beyond anything better than also-ran status in the Big East. His team was knocked out in the first round of the 2007 Big East Tournament, better known as “the four days when Jeff Green went into beast mode,” and Chandler left school after DePaul was bounced in the NIT.
When the Knicks snatched him in the middle of the first round in that year’s draft, Chandler was not so different from dozens of other athletic, 6-foot-8 ‘tweeners trying to distinguish themselves in the pros. His timing was impeccable, though. The NBA was about to go all-in on the “stretch-four” phenomenon, and lighter, faster, smaller power forwards were suddenly in high demand. A wing player for his first three years in New York, Chandler’s role and position transformed quickly when the Nuggets acquired him as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade.
Now, Chandler has added another element of danger to an already scarily deep Denver squad. After battling with the aftereffects of hip surgery early in the season, Chandler has recovered well in the last 26 games. As Thursday’s dunk on Matt Barnes demonstrated, the fast and fearsome Nuggets are only getting better now that Chandler has found his stride.
“Wilson has helped us win two or three already this year,” Nuggets coach George Karl told The Denver Post last week.
Whoever invented the concept of the new-age backup forward drew up Chandler, gazed at the portrait longingly and then threw away the rendering in disgust because it was an unrealistic ideal. With his long arms, Chandler can disrupt passing lanes on defense, but any tall, lanky guy could do that. He can stretch defenses with his 3-point shooting, but the league is filled with spot-up shooters. With his speed and vertical leap, he could be an excellent finisher, but many high-fliers have never made it off the bench in the NBA.
What sets Chandler apart from the likes of Ryan Anderson and Jared Jeffries is that, at times, he is capable of filling both their roles in one body. He is neither an elite shooter nor an elite defender — nor is Anderson or Jeffries, respectively — although he is having an abnormally effective season shooting-wise. His effective field goal percentage (which weights in favor of 3-pointers due to their being worth 50 percent more than a regular field goal) will not stay 13 points above the league average the entire season, but history shows that he will be a reliably above-average shooter when threes are taken into account.
Karl makes use of un-prototypical players as well as any coach in history, and since Chandler returned from injury Karl has had a blast putting his new toy to use. On alternating possessions against the Celtics in early February, Chandler blocked a shot and then helped bring up the ball to initiate the offense. Against the Thunder, Karl alternated shutdown defender Andre Iguodala and the longer Chandler on Kevin Durant, helping the Nuggets steal a last-second win.
This sort of versatility is not unique to Chandler on Denver’s roster, and it is what makes the Nuggets so potentially dangerous in the postseason. They will have a matchup advantage somewhere on the court, regardless of whom they play against, and the depth to keep that advantage even when the second unit comes in. No one has ever been attacked by five wolves, staved them off, and then been thankful when a second group of five wolves arrived. Playing the Nuggets must be sort of like that. If Danilo Gallinari is going off, the other team cannot count on relief when Gallo goes to the bench, because Chandler is on the way. The same follows with Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee, Iguodala and Corey Brewer.
The Nuggets play like a pack of wolves, which interestingly enough is one of the few things Chandler does not have a tattoo of. The lack of inked-up imagery does not take away from the sentiment, however, now that Chandler’s abilities are coming into full view.