When the 2009 season started, many Knick fans had high hopes on Wilson Chandler. As a rookie, Chandler’s stats weren’t overly impressive. Although he showed some athleticism, his numbers were pedestrian. Chandler rebounded well (6.7 reb/36), but his defensive stats were average (0.8 stl/36, 0.8 blk/36), and his shooting was bad (48.0% TS%, 45.7% eFG, 30.0% 3P%, 63.0% FT%). However Chandler was only 20 years old, and pre-drinking age players are usually the most volatile. Looking over the players who had a PER under 12 as a 19 or 20 year old shows a wide variety of players, from future All Stars (Tony Parker, Rashard Lewis, Joe Johnson) to future McDonalds employees (Joseph Forte, Donnell Harvey, William Avery, Ha Seung-Jin)
Although it was unlikely for Chandler to turn into an All Star, it was entirely possible that he would be able to turn into a solid NBA starter. Unfortunately, Chandler’s second season showed little improvement. As early as the beginning of December Knick fans were calling for Chandler to be sent back to the bench. On December 22nd, Chandler’s had improved his FT% to 82.8, but not much else. His PER was a paltry 12.1, nearly the same as last year. Chandler’s main weakness was his inability to get to the free throw line. He felt more comfortable taking jump shots. His main weakness was from behind the arc where his percentage stayed at 30%, but his attempts per minute increased 250%. Even when Chandler got close to the rim, he preferred to take a spinning fade away jumper in lieu of going strong to the hoop.
One of the tools statisticians use to measure a player’s ability to earn points from the free throw line is FT/FG. Basically this measures the ratio of free throws made to the field goal shots attempted. It will give you a good idea of how often a player gets to (and converts) from the free throw line. Last year Chandler’s FT/FG was 14.0, which was third lowest on the team. This year began no differently, as Chandler’s FT/FG on December 22nd was exactly the same 14.0.
However Chandler has put together a string of 5 strong games, earning praise for his play. The secret to Chandler’s success is simple: he’s been taking it to the basket more. Over the last 5 games Chandler’s FT/FG has been 34.9, raising his season average to 18.2. Of course 5 games isn’t significant, and this change might just be an outlier in Chandler’s career. But if Chandler is able to score more from the charity stripe, it’ll make him a more efficient scorer. This helps the Knicks in the short term (as Chandler is still in the Knicks starting lineup), and the long (he’s more likely to develop and/or be valuable to other teams).
But more significantly is that perhaps this coaching staff noticed this flaw in Chandler’s game and attempted to correct it. This would be a substantial gain for the team, because it marks their ability to improve their players. Two of Isiah’s biggest acquisitions were Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford, two young players that the team hoped would turn into NBA All Stars. Unfortunately Curry & Crawford continued to commit the same mistakes over and over and never improved. If the current Knick coaching staff can identify a young player’s flaws and attempt to rectify them, then it shows the team has improved in that area as well.
Granted this doesn’t mean that the team can turn any young player into an NBA starter. Obviously credit for this change, should it be permanent, should go to Chandler for being physically and mentally able to get to the charity stripe more often. Not every NBA player will be able to correct their flaws. However during the Isiah era, it felt as if the team was stuck in the same place. Every month the Knicks suffered from the same problems and made the same mistakes, without any change. At least Knick fans can be more confidant that the team probably won’t fall into the same malaise.
Now if they could just work on Chandler’s three point shooting…