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2012 knicks playoff preview

In Praise of Tyson Chandler the Great

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  Tyson Chandler #6 of the New York Knicks celebrates with teammates J.R. Smith #8, Baron Davis #85, and Iman Shumpert #21 during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks on March 26, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Yesterday, over at the Knicks Blog, Tommy Dee had a pleasant little post reminding everyone just how important Tyson Chandler is to the Knicks, even going so far as to compare him to Patrick Ewing. (One of those things that's really impressive to everyone but people who call into sports radio.) But we're still not quite sure Chandler has been appropriately appreciated by the fanbase this year. By almost every advanced metric available, Chandler has been the best player on the Knicks this season, by a large margin.

Bill James aficionados are surely aware of baseball's Win Shares, which, roughly, attempts to gauge the actual contribution of an individual player to a team's victories. This ultimately morphed into Wins Over Replacement Player, which is pretty much your best statistic at measuring a player's value. (Last year's MVP, for example, was Matt Kemp, and it wasn't close.) In the NBA, Basketball Reference's Justin Kubatko invented basketball's Win Shares, which basically tries to do the same thing: nail down how many wins a player provides for his team. (You can get a great explanation of Kubatko's Win Shares system right here.) Offensive Win Shares are based on points produced and offensive possessions; Defensive Win Shares are "an estimate of the player's points allowed per 100 defensive possessions." That sounds really complicated, but what it really means: who has done the most to help their team win, in a quantifiable sense. Win Shares isn't as quick and dirty as John Hollinger's PER rankings, but it's better at taking shot defense into account. We find it an excellent judge of the actual value a player provides to his team, in a macro sense. (Here are the all-time Win Shares leaders.)

So, how do the Knicks shape up, Win Shares–wise? Here's the Knicks' rankings, from Basketball Reference:

1. Tyson Chandler, 9.3
2. Carmelo Anthony, 6.2
3. Amar'e Stoudemire, 3.9
4. Steve Novak, 3.6
5. Landry Fields, 3.3
6. Jeremy Lin, 2.7 (in just 35 games!)
7. Iman Shumpert, 2.3
8. J.R. Smith, 2.0
9. Jared Jeffries, 1.6
10. Josh Harrellson, 1.2
11. Bill Walker, 0.9
12. Mike Bibby, 0.6
13. Jerome Jordan, 0.4
14. Renaldo Balkman, 0.3
15. Baron Davis, 0.1
16. Toney Douglas, -0.6

First off: Man, Baron Davis has been pretty awful. Second: Chandler has been the rock all year. Obviously, he's changed the Knicks dramatically on the defensive end, but these stats argue that not only is Chandler the best player on the team, he's the primary reason they're over .500.

And he might just be a first-team All-Star. When you look at leaguewide Win Shares, Chandler is sixth in the NBA. Here are the top ten:

1. LeBron James, 14.5
2. Chris Paul, 12.3
3. Kevin Durant, 11.9
4. Kevin Love, 10.1
5. James Harden, 9.4
6. Tyson Chandler, 9.3
7. Ryan Anderson, 8.7
8. Blake Griffin, 8.6
9. Joakim Noah, 8.6
10. Pau Gasol, 8.4

That's some heady company. Knicks fans have known just how important Chandler has been all season, how much he unites his teammates, how he's always the first guy off the bench to slap someone after a great play (it's a good slap), how he's the organizer on defense, and consistently efficient on defense. He has become many fans' favorite player, particularly those exhausted of the regular Carmelo dramas. (He was also better than anyone else on the pick-and-roll when Jeremy Lin was at the point.) He has been an absolute joy to watch. And the numbers back it all up. We'll be talking about Carmelo over the next fortnight, without question, and we should be. But let there be no doubt: Tyson Chandler is the Knicks' most important player, and the more you look at it, the more you think he might just be their best one.

Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images