In the dogs days of summer prior to a move to New York City and in the midst of an NBA lockout, Tyson Chandler focused on one award that would enhance his sparkling reputation.
Defensive Player of the Year.
“Definitely, when I was training this summer that was one of the biggest things I was thinking about,” Chandler recalled. “You know, I wanted to be the best defensive player in the league. That’s one thing I was trying to condition myself for.”
Recognized as an elite defender in his time with the Bulls, Hornets, Bobcats, and Mavericks, the 29-year old strived to become the best and his goal came to fruition on Wednesday afternoon with the NBA announcing Chandler as the 2011-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
“It means so much. I didn’t understand how much it meant to me until I actually achieved it. My whole entire career all I could think about was to be one of the top defensive players in the league. To be voted as the best defensive player in the league right now is an incredible honor,” Chandler happily stated.
Chandler effectively ended the three-year reign of Dwight Howard behind 9.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 0.9 steals per game. Beyond the individual statistics, Chandler has drastically altered the defensive culture in New York, lifting the Knicks to the top five in defensive efficiency next to some lofty company. Only Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago rank higher in that specific category this season.
In early December, senior vice president of basketball operations and interim general manager Glen Grunwald shocked the NBA world by snatching one of the prized free agents off the market. The 7-foot-1 Chandler was highly regarded among players, coaches, front office members around the league, and his impact was visible from day one in New York.
“Tyson has been our guy all year,” Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony explained. “He’s been our anchor in the hole. He’s been one of our leaders on this team and he always brings a positive attitude to the locker room and court. And, just a lot of the stuff he brings just doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.”
Dallas’ loss was certainly New York’s gain. Chandler was often seen stalking his prey inside the paint, altering shots and intimidating any brave souls attempting to challenge him at the rim. The Knicks allowed league-lows in points in the paint (32.3 per game) and opposing centers only scored 14.3 points per game with Chandler anchoring a defensive unit that only surrendered 94.7 points per outing.
“When you have a center in the back that can cover ground, switch and guard a point guard, and also guard people like Dwight Howard, you know you have something special. Our defense has been top ranked in the league and he’s a big reason for that,” Baron Davis professed.
There are two dimensions to Chandler’s dynamic personality. On one side, fans see his extreme intensity on the hardwood and on the other, a gentle giant that always seems to have the right perspective on life.
“A lot of people are afraid to approach me on the streets because they think I’m going to be one way and I’m completely the opposite. I don’t know what it is when I step on that floor – I turn into a different person,” Chandler divulged.
On Wednesday at Madison Square Garden Training Center, Chandler lifted the award in front of media and his family, displaying the calm and peaceful side of his persona. Chandler has plenty to smile about, considering he is the first player in franchise history to earn the Defensive Player of the Year honor.
The straight out of high school phenom has blossomed into one of the most respected players in the league. Through 10 grueling NBA years, Chandler found his calling card, “You know, I really had to find my way, find my niche and that goes to any young player coming up, working on their game. You find something that you are good at, you find your niche and you go after it. Mine is defense and energy and playing with my heart. I do that every single night.”
On the floor and inside the locker room, the big man’s voice carries major weight. Chandler owns some significant hardware that supports his messages, including a gold medal from the 2010 FIBA World Championship, a 2010-11 NBA Championship ring, All-Defensive Second Team honors in 2011, and now, a Defensive Player of the Year trophy. These accolades are a visual representation of Chandler’s accomplishments and a strong reminder of how important his presence is on this Knicks team.