The NBA preseason is three games old, and we have yet to see Wilson Chandler.
Chandler was brought to Denver as a part of the deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York in February 2011, but he hasn’t even played thirty games. But, as a former first round pick (taken 23rd overall by the Knicks in 2007), I believe he can and will be a huge key to the Nuggets’ success this season. Upon arrival in Denver, he quickly became a thirty-plus minute per night guy and also caught the eyes of Nuggets fans in the process.
In the 21 games he played in during the 2010-11 season (after the Melo deal), he averaged 12.5 points and five rebounds per game, shot 81.0% from the free throw line and 41.9% from the field.
The following year, the NBA was locked out and didn’t return to action until Christmas, and by that time Chandler had already signed with the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions in China. We all know the talent in China is inferior to the NBA, but Chandler still averaged a double-double for the Lions with 26.6 points and 11.6 rebounds per game in just 32 games.
Chandler returned to the Nuggets after his short stint in China, signing a five-year deal worth nearly $37 million. Unfortunately, he would play in just eight games in 2011-12 because of a labral tear in his left hip.
Surgery would end Chandler’s season early after he missed more than three months of the year while he was in China. Chandler has not been taking part in the scrimmages taking place at Nuggets training camp, but he is working with the team in other drills.
So there’s the background, but why do I think he’ll be a big part of this year’s team? It has less to do with his talent or on-the-floor ability, and more to do with Danilo Gallinari. Gallo signed a four-year, $42 million dollar extension last year and was expected to be the guy that could carry this team before Andre Iguodala was acquired this summer.
I am still a little skeptical when it comes to Gallo. The talent is there, but I want to see it translate into a full season of on-court production. He averaged 14 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists last year.
If Gallo struggles early in the year, the Nuggets could find themselves behind the eight ball since they’ll have to play 17 of their first 23 games away from Pepsi Center. On the other hand, if Gallo plays the way he did on Monday night against the Warriors, he will be the star that Nuggets fans crave. Having a 6-10 small forward and a 6-8 small forward that can both score the ball is a good problem to have, but it becomes complicated when both men offer the same skill set and neither separate themselves from one another.
George Karl can and will find a way to use both players, until one stands out over the other and even then, Karl is going to find a way to use both of them. As I said above, both Gallo and Chandler can put the ball in the basket. Plus, with the losses of Arron Affalo and Al Harrington in the Iguodala trade, the Nuggets lost two of their best three point shooters on the team. That’s where Gallinari and Chandler can separate themselves from one another. Chandler has a career average of 32% from behind the three-point line over his career, while Gallo has shot 36% from three. It may come down to whoever shoots the ball better from beyond the arc.
If Chandler can step onto the floor in the regular season and make an immediate impact on both sides of the ball, I believe he’ll challenge Gallinari for minutes, and possibly, the staring small forward role on this Nuggets team.