OK, I admit it. I cheated a little bit.
I started this series with a fairly specific question: Assuming Aldridge re-signs, can the Blazers find an upgrade at center with about $10 million in cap space? That $10 million figure is about how much the team can carve out if they gut the bench but keep Wesley Matthews, give or take a million or two depending on a number of factors.
DeAndre Jordan is not going to sign anywhere for $10 million. Not even close. I included him for two reasons. First, he's frequently mentioned as a target and there's a number of trade possibilities if DeAndre is interested. Second, he's fairly similar to the second guy, Tyson Chandler, which I think will surprise some people. I'm not saying Tyson is the better player, but I hope to convince you the gap between them is relatively small. While Jordan is the latest fantasy of many, fans should be nearly as hopeful to add Tyson Chandler.
On offense, both Jordan and Chandler are one trick ponies. They're very tall, can jump very high, and are coordinated enough to catch the ball and finish in one fluid motion. This, along with an impeccable sense of timing, allows them to make devastating rim runs out of the pick and roll. Zach Lowe outlined how this works for the Grantland Basketball Hour a few months ago.
Chandler's job is fairly simple but the effect can't be overstated. By being a threat to finish at the rim, he draws multiple defenders towards the paint. We all saw the effect Meyers Leonard had drawing people away from the middle and creating openings near the rim. This is the inverse process. Chandler draws defenders towards the rim, creating open shots along the perimeter. Combine the two and you get an offense that's nearly impossible to stop.
They might only have one trick, but it's a pretty good trick. Jordan and Chandler scored 1.36 and 1.41 points per possession (PPP) in the pick and roll last year. Those were nearly tops in the league. Quite simply, throwing the ball to Chandler or Jordan on the roll was one of the most efficient ways to score last year.
This skill is particularly intriguing because of the rest of the Trail Blazers' roster. Damian Lillard is one of the best at pulling up off the dribble from behind the arc. As a result, most teams hedge or at least bring their bigs up near the three point line when defending the pick and roll. This takes away his shot but it leaves them vulnerable to hard rolls. Since the big defender is so far away from the rim, it's relatively easy for the roll man to get behind him for a lob. A defense can cover Chandler or Jordan by dropping its bigs back and keeping them in front. A defense can cover Lillard by bringing its bigs up. But a defense can't cover both without using help from weakside defenders. It would have been much more difficult for Memphis to crowd Lillard if Chandler or Jordan were rolling with the intent to murder the rim.
This is an especially difficult cover with a power forward that can shoot. Aldridge isn't Dirk Nowitzki but he's deadly when left open. Every Blazers fan should smile at the prospect of teams leaving Aldridge open to help on pick and rolls, especially considering how well Aldridge shot the ball from the three point line last year.
In some ways, this is even more true with Meyers Leonard. Leonard scored an elite 1.32 PPP out of the pick and roll last year, mostly by popping to the three point line. Portland had some considerable success running split pick and rolls where Robin would roll and Meyers would spot up. Imagine teams forced to choose between covering Chandler or Jordan rolling (about 1.4 PPP), Meyers popping (1.3 PPP), or Lillard coming off the screen. That's an impossible decision, especially with Wesley Matthews and a healthy Nicolas Batum spotting up around the perimeter.
Besides the pick and roll, Portland's offense also runs through Aldridge posting up on the block. Chandler and Jordan are less helpful here but they manage just fine. Their ability to finish lobs makes it difficult to double because Aldridge could simply throw the ball toward the rim. That's how both Blake Griffin and Dirk have enjoyed impressive success on the block next to these two players.
Tyson Chandler is also a better shooter than I expected. Unlike some people (ahem ahem), he makes his free throws at a decent clip (72%) and shot a higher percentage than Robin Lopez beyond 10 feet. Chandler didn't shoot as often but he can hit a 15 footer when called upon.
Neither Chandler nor Jordan post up at all but the team wants to run through Aldridge on the block anyway. Perhaps this would become an issue if opponents went small, keeping a power forward on Aldridge and hiding a small forward on Chandler or Jordan. However, both players are such good offensive rebounders that this would still be difficult. We saw how much success Tristan Thompson had against Golden State and he's not seven feet tall.
Jordan in particular had an other worldly rebounding year. No matter how you cut the numbers he was far and away the best rebounder in the league. He collected a league leading 73.6% of his rebound chances and the Clippers corralled 7.2% more rebounds with him on the floor, a monster number. Jordan leans into players on the offensive glass, pinning them under the hoop and turning rebounds into a jumping contest. He's crazy athletic and has great hands so he usually wins.
Chandler's numbers aren't quite as elite but they aren't that far behind. Dallas' rebounding percentage increased by three percentage points with him on the floor and he collected 14.1% of the available offensive boards. For reference, Jordan's offensive rebounding percentage was 16.2% and Robin's was 12.7%. Both players would be an upgrade on the offensive glass and it would be difficult for opponents to go small against them.
Add it all up and both these players would change the offense in significant and positive ways. The Blazers would likely run fewer post ups and more pick and rolls. These plays would be much more threatening and it would open up the floor for Lillard, Aldridge and the rest of the team's shooters. This potential should be especially appealing after watching Memphis focus so much of its attention at Portland's stars during the last playoff series.
Change would also happen on the defensive end. Both guys are much more mobile than Robin Lopez. DeAndre Jordan is perhaps the most mobile center in the league and the Clippers have him hedge pick and rolls well beyond the three point line. This skill would give the Blazers some much needed versatility when defending pick and rolls.
However, more important than hedging is the ability to meet the ball handler even with the screen. Hedging traps the ball handler but puts incredible stress on weakside defenders. The Blazers have had considerable success keeping those weakside defenders at home. By moving their bigs up closer to the pick, the Blazers should be able to maintain their weakside principles while improving their ability to defend ball handlers. Robin doesn't have the mobility to do this but Tyson Chandler does.
Here Tyson Chandler is defending a Beno Udrih pick and roll. He's stepped up taking away Udrih's mid-range jumper. This is exactly the type of versatility the Blazers lacked against Memphis.
In fact, Chandler's numbers defending the pick and roll are actually better than Jordan's. Chandler allowed 0.83 PPP compared to Jordan's 0.94 PPP and Robin's 0.92 PPP. Some of this can be chalked up to scheme. It's much harder to defending a rolling big man when you're 30 feet from the rim trapping the ball handler. However, Jordan wasn't as disciplined as Chandler in the games I watched. He's sometimes a step or two out of position. This lack of consistency undermines his ability to protect the rim as well.
Jordan has often been labeled as a hollow stats guy, collecting blocks but not demonstrating the game changing reliability of Marc Gasol or Roy Hibbert. Jordan has greatly improved these past few years but there is still a grain of truth in that reputation. Nylon Calculus' rim protection stat, which aggregates how many shots a player contests and how well they contest them, ranks Jordan just about average. Opponents score just 0.18 fewer points per 36 minutes due to his presence at the rim. Robin Lopez outshines Jordan in this category, preventing 1.45 points per 36 and ranking in the top ten league wide.
Out of all the players I've considered in this series, Tyson Chandler fell behind Robin and Hibbert with 0.85 points saved per 36. He contested more shots than Lopez but allowed a higher field goal percentage. He doesn't square up oncoming drivers and often tries to block the shot from the side. However, he's all over the place and I mean that in a good way. He'll come across the lane to challenge shots, bump cutters, and do the little things that are so critical to a team's defense. He may not be as good as Lopez right in front of the rim or be able to venture as far out as DeAndre, but on the whole, I think he's the best defender of that trio.
Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan are the first players we've looked at that would make the Trail Blazers better on both sides of the ball. They aren't complete players but their skillsets complement the rest of the roster and would offer the versatility the team has lacked.
The main reason DeAndre Jordan will get a max offer and Tyson Chandler won't is their age. Jordan will be 27 next year and has played in every game the past four years. Chandler will be 33 and has struggled with injuries off and on for his entire career. While they may be fairly similar players on the court, the likelihood that they take the floor is not similar at all. Teams will try to sign Jordan for a deal as long as possible while I would hesitate to give Chandler more than three guaranteed years.
But if Chandler is interested in a contract for a reasonable length, he would be an absolute home run. Portland shouldn't mortgage its entire future for next season but should have no qualms sacrificing some flexibility to maximize the next two to three years. Considering his success last season, Chandler is likely to be good that long and the Blazers should absolutely pursue him aggressively.
Getting either of these players will be challenging. DeAndre Jordan would require a trade and the asking price would probably start with Batum. Neil Olshey has a relationship with DeAndre but even so this remains a long shot.
Tyson Chandler's situation is much more difficult to predict. Dallas is expected to shake up its roster and make a run at Jordan and/or Aldridge. Assuming they strike out on both, it's unclear what they will do. Chandler made over $14 million last year. He's likely to take a pay cut given his age but the new TV deal might entice some team to offer him even more. Again, a trade is the most likely option but Olshey should absolutely consider gutting the bench if Chandler agrees to a reduced contract.
With the final article in the series next week, we evaluate the "Bluelight Specials," Kosta Koufos and Tiago Splitter.