Always a team-first guy, Tyson Chandler had one individual goal.
He finally won that Defensive Player of the Year award he coveted Wednesday, rewarded for his part in turning the New York Knicks from one of the league’s worst into a solid defensive team.
”I think that’s a lot of why I’m getting the recognition, is because I’m kind of able to change the culture. I’ve been able to change the culture along with my teammates and coaching staff,” Chandler said.
Chandler beat out Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka and three-time defending champion Dwight Howard of Orlando to become the first Knicks player to win the award.
The Knicks ranked in the NBA’s top 11 teams in both opponents’ field goal percentage and points allowed. They gave up an average of just 94.7 points, an improvement of 11 per game from the 105.7 they surrendered in 2010-11, when they tied for 27th in the league.
”To me, it’s really a team thing. I know I’m here to accept as an individual, but it’s definitely a team award,” Chandler said at a press conference at the Knicks’ training facility.
Chandler received 311 points, including 45 first-place votes, from a panel of 121 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the US and Canada, fulfilling what he called a ”career-long dream.” Ibaka, the league leader with 3.65 blocked shots per game, had 41 first-place votes and 294 points.
”I never set out for individual goals except for this one, because I felt like Defensive Player of the Year, you’re changing something and you’re helping win ballgames,” Chandler said. ”So, to win it, I was speechless when coach told me.”
Howard finished third, while Miami’s LeBron James and Boston’s Kevin Garnett rounded out the top five.
Chandler helped Dallas win its first NBA championship last season, but became a free agent when the Mavericks opted to save salary flexibility for the upcoming summer. He became the top big man on the market and signed with a Knicks team that was ready to make the commitment to defense after scoring often while rarely stopping opponents without a big man in the middle during Mike D’Antoni’s first three years.
Chandler averaged 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots, but his biggest change was joining Mike Woodson, now the interim coach since D’Antoni’s resignation, in making his teammates accountable on the defensive end of the floor.
Chandler learned the value of defense as a rookie 11 years ago in Chicago, playing under Bill Cartwright and with Charles Oakley. Your shots won’t always go in, they told him, but there’s another way to make your presence felt.
”You never have to have a bad defensive game,” they said, according to Chandler.
Chandler’s had plenty of good ones since becoming the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft out of high school, but recognition only came recently. Being the defensive anchor for an NBA champion, followed by his impact in New York, made it impossible not to notice him.
”I think throughout my career I was always known as, ‘He’s a good defender.’ I think when you win a championship, people go, ‘Oh wait, there is something behind this,”’ Chandler said. ”People recognize the ultimate. And when we won a championship last year, people recognize that, and I really feel like that’s the reason why I won the award this year.”
The award is sponsored by Kia, which donated a new Sorento CUV on Chandler’s behalf to Art for Life Foundation, which focuses on creating programs to help children use art as a way to work through physical, emotional or mental illnesses.