Wilson Chandler Key To Nuggets Success
Wilson Chandler was one of several very good young players the Denver Nuggets acquired in the three team deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in 2011. Chandler, however, was a restricted free agent at the end of that season and ended up playing 32 games with the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions in China because of the NBA lockout. The Nuggets proved their commitment to him with a five-year $31.7 million deal on his return in March. Unfortunately after just seven games Chandler suffered a labral tear in his left hip and had season ending surgery to repair the damage. It was hoped Chandler would be ready to go for this start of this season, but that just hasn’t been the case.
“My understanding from talking to the doctors and trainers, it will be a full year before I get fully healthy,” Chandler explained. “So right now I am just taking a little bit of time. Play a game here, sit out a game there, do some rehab and try to limit everything, like a lot of pounding on it. So I will have a couple of days where I am playing, where I am off and I just wait it out until it gets fully healthy. From my understanding it won’t be fully healthy all this season.”
After trying to play earlier in the year Chandler was forced to give it more time, but he was able to return to the lineup mid-January and in the games he has played, Chandler has made an impact.
“It’s not fully back, but some days it’s better,” Chandler said. Some days I can go out and get 20 points and 10 rebounds and some days I go out and not feel like myself. So it’s hit and miss, but it’s better than not being able to do anything.”
“I don’t think there is any question he has had his good and bad days, but basically we knew that,” head coach George Karl said. “We thought it would be a little faster. The big thing for us is to get him to where he can be a thirty minute player at the end of the season and I don’t think we are far from it.”
In the 12 games Chandler has played since his return he has been averaging better than 10 points and five rebounds, his shooting percentages have been going up and he has been able to slowly increase his minutes. Karl believes Chandler can be the impact player he needs for when the NBA playoffs roll around.
“I don’t think he is playing tonight, but Wilson has done a great job with his leg,” Karl said before the recent road game in Toronto. “I think a lot of our success and enthusiasm is that we think Wilson could be the piece that we need to take that next step to being a top notch basketball team. He’s an experienced guy that can play the two, three and four and does very well defensively and I think our success is going to be predicated on how good defensively we get.”
As Chandler explains, his problems mostly relate to tightness and soreness and will get better with time, stretching and strength work. That full year Chandler has been told it will take to fully recover happens to be the end of April.
The Nuggets play a lot of small ball with speed and pressure which fits Chandlers’ game perfectly and since the start of 2013, the team has only lost five times. The recent success has taken some of the pressure off of Chandler to try force his recovery to go faster. It has also left Karl with some interesting dilemmas once he has a fully healthy roster again.
“My whole career I have been on teams where we play small ball so it’s not tough to transition into that coming back from injury,” Chandler said. “Playing small ball [means] you got to be a little tougher, a little nastier, so right now sometimes I am little weak and it’s hard to grind it out, but it’s not a tough transition at all. [We] have a lot guys playing well. It’s good for me because I can find my rhythm and my way while we are still winning. It’s tough to come back when you are in a losing situation, you still trying to find your rhythm and the team continues to lose, but right now we are in a good place so it makes more comfortable for me.
“We have a lot of guys that are on the bench that could play a lot of minutes and I think it’s frustrating sometimes, but that’s the hand we are dealt. It is how it is and you have to figure a way to compete and play hard.”
At this point, it is pretty obvious that this competition has not hurt the team’s chemistry or their ability to win games. As Chandler describes, it is a friendly competition and the Nuggets have become a better team because of it.
“It’s not like an enemy competition, it’s a friendly competition,” Chandler said. “All the guys respect each other and praise each other on and off the court. So it’s not a thing where you despise someone, it’s a friendly competition and if a guy is playing more minutes than you, it’s because he outworked you and is probably a little better, but you are still probably going to play and you play hard.”
Chandler is slowly working his way back into the Nuggets rotation on a game-to-game basis, but the early results are encouraging. On a per 36 minute basis, Chandler has been putting up some of the best numbers of his career at 16.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks and if he can maintain this pace as his injury heals and Karl ramps up his minutes, the Nuggets will have the impact player that takes them that next step in becoming a top notch team.