Wilson Chandler turned in maybe the most under-the-radar good season of any Nuggets player.
His 15.7 points per game were a career high. His 6.5 rebounds per game were a career high. His 2.0 assists were the second-highest of his career and his most in five seasons. Chandler’s 30.9 minutes per game was the third straight season he averaged over 30 per game.
But more important than almost anything else was this number: 71.
That was the number of games played for Chandler, who missed the entire season prior to this one due to hip surgery. Staying healthy and pushing his games played number over 70 was a goal. In the end, it was mission accomplished.
Putting both pieces together – playing the majority of the season, and playing well – put Chandler’s career back in a space he’d worked hard to occupy before losing the entire 2015-16 season to injury. If a player’s best ability is his reliability, then Chandler wanted to be sure he was present much more often than he wasn’t. And when Chandler was on the court, the Nuggets were a better team.
The Nuggets were 21-19 in the 40 games in which Chandler scored more than 15 points. They were 8-6 when he played 36 or more minutes in a game. They were 18-15 in the 33 games he started.
“It was a great season because of my health and play overall,” Chandler said. “Hopefully I’ll continue to even improve on my health this summer, take more strides so I can be even healthier next year.”
He added this season was just scratching the surface of what he thinks is still out there for him to achieve. Though he is nine years into his career, Chandler says his best basketball is yet to come.
“I still even want to improve some more,” he said. “So hopefully I’ll come back next year and continue to improve.”
Offense. Because Chandler is 6-foot-8, 225 pounds and can shoot it, handle it and play out of the post if need be, he was deployed in ways that consistently put opposing defenses at big disadvantages. And the Nuggets hit an unexpected jackpot in one action in particular – using Chandler as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls. Few actions produced better results for the Nuggets offense than the 3-5 pick-and-roll involving Wilson Chandler and, more often than not, center Nikola Jokic.
As the ball handler in screen-rolls Chandler was in the top 12 in the NBA in scoring efficiency, averaging 1.087 points per possession, per Synergy stats. Simply, opposing defenses just didn’t know how to handle it. He knocked down jump shots if his defender went under the screen. He turned the corner and drove to the rim if his defender got caught trying to get over the screen. He used a speed advantage against the bigger defender if they switched the screen. Chandler was almost always in a position of power in those actions. He scored 125 points and shot 46.5 percent in those actions. But, in the end, Chandler’s use as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations was just fourth on his list of most-used actions, accounting for 10.2 percent of all of his possessions. Expect the Nuggets’ multi-ball handler offensive philosophy to get Chandler more opportunities in screen-roll actions next season if this trend holds.
Spot-up shooting was by far Chandler’s most-used action. He took those kinds of shots in 26 percent of all of his possessions. The next highest? Transition at 13 percent. Getting Chandler downhill and to the rim, however, was the Nuggets’ best strategy. He shot 63.8 percent in shots under five feet away.
Defense. Chandler’s length and athleticism have always been his biggest assets defensively. They continued to be positives for him even on a Nuggets team that was poor on defense overall.
Chandler lived up to his profile in two situations in particular: As the “big” defender in pick-and-roll circumstances, and in isolation. Offensive players shot just 39.8 percent when Chandler was the big in defending the screen-roll, and they shot just 35 percent in isolation, where Chandler continues to be a good one-on-one defender due to long arms and quick feet. Mostly, however, Chandler was forced to defend a ton of spot up shooters, and he’ll have to improve at closing out with more quickness and authority to run them off the 3-point line or get a better hand up on the shot attempts.
Chandler also had the second-highest turnovers of his career (114), and those came in three areas, although one – the bad pass turnover – was his biggest trouble spot. Accuracy while passing on the move was the biggest issue there. Lost ball turnovers from dribbling into traffic and having the basketball poked away, and offensive fouls were also prevalent.
Overall, Chandler this was a very successful campaign for Chandler in many aspects, even as he says he looks to reach his full potential in the future.