Tyson Chandler has an itch that he can’t scratch. That itch? Roy Hibbert. (Just look away now, Knicks fans.) Going into the playoffs last season, the Knicks had realistic championship aspirations for the first time in over a decade. Not that Hibbert cared. In the second round against the Knicks, the Pacers’ big dominated the series, shooting 78 percent from the floor, assertively turning away oncoming slashers on defense, and putting up a monstrous 21 point, 12 rebound, and 5 block performance to close out the series.
Hibbert went head-to-head against Chandler, the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year and 2013 All-Star—the anchor of Gotham’s defense—and washed him. With that disappointing second-round exit and in particular, Hibbert’s accomplished array of post moves in mind, Chandler rededicated himself this offseason. Despite being a part of the most expensive frontcourt in NBA history, there are still questions looming over the team and Chandler’s ability to hold it all together. Speaking to Complex after a team practice, Chandler addressed concerns about his own game, talked up the potential of Iman Shumpert, and made it clear that the Knicks are ready to keep up with the LeBrons in the Eastern Conference.
Interview by Justin Block (@JBlock49).
In a training video for Muscle Milk, you said that, "There is no offseason for me because there's always somebody else working…I refuse to let them outwork me." Who were you thinking of in particular when you said that?
I think about some of the top centers and big men across the league, and I won’t name anybody specific, but I just have visions in my head that help motivate me.
You said a few days ago that Roy Hibbert kicked your butt in the playoffs. What did he specifically do in the post that got to you, and what changes have you made this offseason to counter the elite post moves of a big like Hibbert?
I felt like I wasn’t—I was coming off injuries in the playoffs. I felt like I wasn’t strong enough, as strong as I normally was. I made sure to address those problems in the offseason by getting stronger, and trying to prevent certain injuries.
Was that the first time in your career that you had to be brutality honest with yourself so you could improve in the offseason?
I pride myself on guarding anybody, regardless of whether it’s one or two great games, I don’t want anybody to have any on me. I took that personally.
Honestly I felt like that was the only time in my career where I felt like in a series, a big has gotten the best of me. I felt like he had an incredible series, and he went on to have another incredible series [against the Heat]. He was very hot in the playoffs. I pride myself on guarding anybody, regardless of whether it’s one or two great games, I don’t want anybody to have any on me. I took that personally.
Bruce Finch, your strength and conditioning coach said this about you: "His competitive nature and the gossip and doubts of others really drive him." Do you pay attention to the blogs and the whispers? There's a feeling that you're reaching a stage in your career where you can no longer shoulder the Knicks' defensive burden, despite the 2013 All-Star selection and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year award.
No, I honestly don’t dig for anything. When you’re a player of my stature, things just come back to you regardless. I use this as motivation. To me, it’s just bigger expectations for me that people have. That’s a compliment. The fact that I was first team All-Defense, and like you said, Defense Player of the Year the previous year and an All-Star this year, it’s a compliment that people are saying that, and it’s being said that I had a great season. Having such a great season—regular season I’m saying—it’s just added motivation.
Looking at the Knicks' preseason roster, I noticed that you guys are carrying 10 forwards. Do you think that's a problem, considering that Carmelo Anthony's most effective position last season was power forward?
I think it’s better for Melo to rest and play his natural position at the 3. I think a lot of times, especially in the playoffs, you run into true power fowards and big bodies down there, that to me it put too much of a burden on him. Having to fight in the low-post defensively, fight and scrapping for rebounds. That’s a lot of energy when you ask a guy to carry your team offensively as well. I think it’ll just help having some bigger bodies out there.
The team's biggest offseason addition was Andrea Bargnani. How do you think coach Woodson will use him on both ends of the court? He's a pretty unconventional big, and his presence out there will certainly affect how you play.
Absolutely. I love the addition. I think with him spreading the floor, having a big guy who shoots the ball the way he does and draws fouls, it’s going to really spread the offense out. Just having another seven footer out on the court helps with the defensive positioning and rebounding as well.
Could he move to small forward in situations to clear space for Melo to work in the paint?
Well the way our offense is set up, I wouldn’t say he’ll move to the 3, but he’ll space the floor. We’ll utilize Melo posting up, himself posting up, and some other guys, and because he can knock down that long distance jump-shot, you got to honor it. It creates space for anybody to work in the post.
It sounds like you guys have a lot of variability on the roster this year where you can take advantage of different match-ups when the situation calls for it. With Bargnani spreading out and Melo going low, and vice versa, what do you think about the diversity in the team this year?
I think we’re a better team this year. Like you said, I think we got depth at multiple positions, especially at ones we didn’t last year when we faced injuries throughout the season. It gives guys an opportunity to stay fresh as well as having assurance down the stretch.
One team finished first, and everybody else finished last the way I look at it. We’re gearing up, everybody is ready for a fresh start and go after a ring this year.
I saw on Instagram a photo of you working on jumpers after practice from around the free-throw line. Why have you decided that at age 31, going into your 13th NBA season, that you need to add an outside offensive skill set to your game?
You have to try and develop every year. Every year that you’re in the NBA, you’re blessed to be able to go out there and play at the highest level of your profession. Every year I want to get better, and it’s something that I’ve been working on consistently. I’m at the point now where I’m confident in it, and I feel like the hard work is staying to pay off. I don’t feel like big guards can guard me if I’m around that area, knocking down free-throw line jumpers.
And how confident are you about knocking down that 15 footer in a game situation—not just practice?
Very confident. I’ve been shooting the ball extremely well, but it’s something that I’ll obviously have to work on throughout the training camp, preseason, and early regular season so it becomes second nature.
Which Knick do you think can surprise fans this season? Any picks to be a break-out performer?
I think Shumpert has worked really hard in the offseason. I think he’s going to take his game to another level. Things are starting to slow down for him, and he’s starting to understand the game better. There are several guys I think too. The addition of Bargnani. I think our two guards—Pablo [Prigioni] being back another year, he’ll be a little better and be able to communicate during a possession. There’s not one particular guy—there’s several guys, but I have seen some great things out of Shumpert. He’s feeling comfortable with himself and getting confident.
Looking around the East this season, the Miami, Chicago, Indiana, Brooklyn, and even Detroit have vastly improved from last season. Are the Knicks prepared to compete with those teams?
Absolutely. I think we’re prepared to compete with anybody. That’s the goal in the offseason and now in the season. It’s to prepare yourself to be able to go out there and compete for a title. One team finished first, and everybody else finished last the way I look at it. We’re gearing up, everybody is ready for a fresh start and go after a ring this year.