Wilson Chandler filled an important role with the Nuggets this season, providing veteran leadership and checking some of the best wing players in the league on defense.
Chandler played in 74 games for the Nuggets, but avoided a major injury until the end of the season, where a head injury forced him to play with a protective mask to avoid further damage. In what is, to me, the essence of Chandler’s play, I can’t think of a single thing that really stood out about his season. He showed up, day after day, and did his job. It’s hard to ask for much more than that from your veterans.
Key Stat - 12.2 points per game
In February, when the Nuggets were without Mason Plumlee and Michael Malone was forced to play Chandler at power forward, the Nuggets offense took off. The Jokic-ball that seemed so successful during the 2016-17 season returned, and the Nuggets played great basketball during the month of February.
At this point in his career, Chandler is not a small forward. He’s going to continue to slow down, his lateral mobility is going to decrease, and his rebounding should play at power forward. He’s able to stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting and ability to drive into the paint and finish.
One of the games that stands out to me was the Nuggets game back in November against the New Orleans Pelicans, when they scored 146 points on a game that was broadcasted on ESPN. Chandler had 15 points, but grabbed 11 rebounds. Anthony Davis had to leave because of an injury in the third quarter, but the Nuggets already had a decent lead at that point. Getting that many rebounds against a big front-court in Davis and Cousins was impressive work, and that was a fun game to watch.
Areas of Strength
Rebounding. Chandler had between 5 and 9 rebounds in just under half of the games he played in this season. He’s a crafty rebounder, showing resolve to box out and make the right play. He’s not as explosive of a jumper as he used to be, and he doesn’t have an above average wingspan. He has to rely on the fundamentals to get boards, but he shows a commitment to it as a small forward.
Perimeter shooting. Chandler had one of his best shooting seasons of his career in terms of efficiency. While he doesn’t have a quick trigger, Chandler is a decisive shooter, capable of knocking down a jumper or two each game.
Areas to Improve
Transitioning to a bench role. There’s an obvious need for the Nuggets to upgrade at small forward. Chandler is becoming more of a small-ball four with each passing day, and they need someone to play at small forward that helps keep the ball moving, can get to the free throw line, make perimeter jumpers, and defend.
Expectations for Next Year
Will Chandler opt-in? Chandler has a player option for the next season. If he wants to be a starter, there’s a really good chance that could happen with Denver. They don’t have anyone else the coaching staff trusts to start at small forward. He could also look to get a multi-year contract from a team that gives him financial security for the next few years. He’s reached his peak in the NBA - now he has to figure out how to descend from that peak gracefully.
48 minutes - zero points. A season of consistent play is commendable, but we can’t go an entire article without mentioning the historic achievement Chandler had in the Nuggets final game of the season. Chandler is one of three players in NBA history to play 48 minutes in a game and score zero points. The Nuggets had to win in order to get into the postseason, and while the team played well against the Timberwolves, Chandler finished without a single basket.
Veterans are expected to help teams win games. They’ve learned what it takes to close out a game, to make the right play, and do what needs to be done to claim a victory. In the biggest game of the Nuggets season, Chandler didn’t score any points.
If he returns, he’ll need to be better when the Nuggets really need them.