GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Tyson Chandler being named Defensive Player of the Year as a Knick on Wednesday only seemed right, considering his defensive upbringing in the NBA started under the tutelage of a former Knick.
When Chandler was drafted No. 2 overall by the Bulls in 2001, his teammate, Charles Oakley, taught him a valuable lesson about the importance of defense.
"Just his approach every single day," Chandler said. "Oak, even at that age, felt like the guy wasn't going to score on him. He was going to pose his will on that guy, whether it be in practice or a game. I really learned something for that, just watching him and how he approached the game and the defensive end, and approached the game as a professional by taking your job seriously.
"He would always tell me you can't control offensively the kind of night you're going to have night in and night out. Sometimes the ball just doesn't go in, but defensively you never have to have a bad defensive game, and I kind of ran with that. So every night I felt like I could always have a great game because I can always come out here and play D."
Chandler, the first Knick ever to be crowned Defensive Player of the Year, also credited former award winners Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, including close candidate Patrick Ewing, for how he sculpted his defensive style of play.
"All those guys I have respect for," Chandler said. "Any time you're able to change the game without taking a shot, I have a lot of respect for that, because to me that's like the ultimate sacrifice."
Overall, Chandler said his biggest motivation growing up was Celtics legend Bill Russell.
"I wanted to mention myself in the same breath as him," he said. "What I shoot for is him."
During his time in New York, Chandler has worked very closely with assistant coach Herb Williams, another former Knick who's taken the young center under his wing. After practice, they're always together talking about the game and strategizing schemes to beat the next opponent. In addition to defense, Williams has worked with Chandler on his post moves and free throws, helping him build rhythm and getting his release right on his shot.
"Herb has been incredible," Chandler said. "I absolutely loved the guys that played back in the day, the old big men. Those are the true big men and you can learn a lot from the Oakleys to Ewings to Herbs to the Cartwrights. You learn so much from them and I appreciate the time that Herb gives me every day."
Overall, Chandler said the Knicks' defensive history fueled him ever more to sign with New York in December, in addition to joining forces with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. He wanted to bring back what his former teacher, Oakley, helped establish in New York, and that's just what he did.
"I feel like coming here in free agency, if I could change the culture around and bring the Knicks back to where they were in the 90s, bring back that great effort, it could be fun times," Chandler said. "And that's what I love about the game. When you're playing hard-nosed basketball and you're giving it everything, that's the beauty of the game. And that's all I wanted to bring back here."
In 2010-11, the Knicks ranked 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency, a measure of points allowed per 100 possessions. And this season? Fifth in defensive efficiency, thanks largely to Chandler. In addition, the Knicks improved to 10th in opponent field goal percentage (26th in 2010-11) and eighth in points in the paint allowed (28th last season).
Speaking of Chandler's influence in the paint, according to 82games.com, the Knicks allowed the lowest opponent PER at the center position this season. Opposing centers had a 12.2 PER against the Knicks, well below the league average PER of 15.
Now it's time for Chandler's defense to help prevent the Knicks from entering the losing section of the history books. The Knicks, down 0-2 in the series. face a must-win situation in New York on Thursday. If they falter, the Knicks will have dropped each of their last 13 playoff games, breaking the all-time record (the Grizzlies lost 12 straight from 2004 to '06).
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