After a game-saving block at the end of regulation Sunday night against Atlanta, Tyson Chandler’s presence on the Los Angeles Lakers is already showing up.
Let’s start with this: the baseline was low for 18-year NBA veteran Tyson Chandler to come to the Los Angeles Lakers and make an impact. The team let Julius Randle and Brook Lopez go this summer in favor of clogging their playmaking rotation, so Chandler needed only to be a serviceable backup to lifelong backup JaVale McGee to help the Lakers.
Yet on the other side of the equation, there was worry Chandler might not even be able to get to that level after three mostly dismal seasons in Phoenix. The Hanford, Calif. native proved those doubts foolish in his Lakers debut last week and continued strong play throughout the weekend for his new team.
Making the effort plays that will propel the last part of his career, Chandler helped the Lakers to three straight wins, averaging 4.7 offensive rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in just over 22 minutes per game. Coach Luke Walton has pushed Chandler directly into the backup center role, offsetting his minutes completely with McGee’s. The floor spacing with guys like Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma has held up, which puts a premium on the downhill gravity of Chandler and McGee.
Through 13 games, the Lakers’ defense is nearly five points better per 100 possessions with McGee on the floor according to Basketball-Reference, so Chandler’s mission will be to pick up the slack during the 22ish minutes when McGee sits.
After a game-saving block Sunday night against Trae Young, we also have to wonder whether Chandler’s role could continue to grow as he earns the trust of Walton — and more importantly, LeBron James.
Watching Chandler’s career the last three seasons in Phoenix, it was admirable to see the guy who was signed to woo LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency in 2014 become a veteran mentor during the Suns’ tankfest. He watched the likes of Alex Len, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Deandre Ayton and Richaun Holmes come (and leave) and most every one of those guys would tell you Chandler made an impact on their careers.
Those sage years of Chandler’s career in the desert may have been for the best in terms of continuing to produce as he nears 40. We’re seeing that impact now. Chandler looks as spry in Los Angeles as he has since he left the Knicks.
Few should be quite as bullish on Chandler’s impact on LeBron’s first year in Los Angeles as the anonymous coach Marc Stein polled for this tweet. Chandler looked too ground-bound to make an impact with the Suns, failing to finish the Luigi floating leap-lobs or finger-tap offensive rebounds that he trademarked as a younger player. Phoenix’s putrid, league-worst defense in 2017-18 was not much better with Chandler on the court.
But we should all ready ourselves to be proven wrong. If Chandler’s sudden bounce and productivity turns out to be more than a bump from playing near home and competing day in and day out once again, his story — considering the stakes of playing with James and the Lakers — will become one of the bigger in the league.
And if not, well, the Lakers really needed to get back over .500 against an easy schedule last week and stabilize the rotation. Chandler doesn’t need to win games for them, but he’s making the regular season grind easier to manage and keeping James happy, for now.