Film Study: Tyson Chandler In The Zone

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY BUREAU — If the New York Knicks wanted to call themselves title contenders this season, they desperately needed defensive help. So they sacrificed Chauncey Billups to acquire Tyson Chandler in a sign-and-trade deal with the Dallas Mavericks in the abbreviated offseason.

That was just Step 1. And the Knicks are still a long way from being a good defensive team.

Through three games, the Knicks are the 25th ranked defensive team in the league, allowing 104.7 points per 100 possessions. It’s a small sample size, but it’s clear that Chandler can’t make the Knicks a good defensive team by himself.

Primarily, the Knicks need more consistent effort on the defensive end from everyone on the roster. But a new game plan could help as well.

Part of the Mavericks’ success last season came from a zone defense, anchored by Chandler in the middle. The Mavs didn’t play zone all that much (11 percent of their defensive possessions in the regular season and 6 percent in the playoffs, according to Synergy Sports), but it was an effective option for them at times.

Having a zone in your repertoire gives teams a different look. It can help neutralize an opponent’s matchup advantage or keep a poor shooting team away from the basket. And if the Knicks envision themselves in a playoff series against the Miami Heat in the Spring, a zone would be a great thing to have in the playbook, especially since they have some weak individual defenders.

Going to zone can also be an effective adjustment when teams are using high screens to draw Chandler away from the basket.

“My guy is always the guy at the top or the guy involved,” Chandler said of playing man-to-man, “so that the ball is swung and I’m away from the rim.”

Here’s a perfect example from Game 4 of The Finals…

PLAY 1: Miami at Dallas, Game 4 – Man-to-man

On this play, Udonis Haslem comes high to set a screen for LeBron James, but James calls Haslem off and calls for Chris Bosh to set the screen instead. That draws Chandler away from the basket and James quickly swings the ball to Mario Chalmers, who takes advantage with a drive-and-kick to a wide-open Haslem on the baseline.

Though the following play results in a score, it’s an example of how the zone allows Chandler to stay near the rim…

PLAY 2: Dallas at Miami, Game 6 – Zone

When Haslem goes to set the high screen, Chandler stays in the paint, with the Dallas guards defending the pick-and-roll. So when Mike Miller swings the ball to James, Chandler is there to stop James’ drive. And when James kicks it to Dwyane Wade, Chandler stops his drive too. But Jason Kidd also helps on the Wade drive, and Wade finds Haslem cutting to the basket behind Chandler.

The following play from the conference semifinals has a similar start and a better result for the Mavs…

PLAY 3: L.A. Lakers at Dallas, Game 4 – Zone

Chandler stays in the paint as Andrew Bynum sets a high screen, and when the ball is swung, Chandler is in position to defend Pau Gasol in the post. Because of their size, the Lakers still have an advantage inside, but Bynum ends up missing a jump-hook over Shawn Marion.

Already this season, we’ve seen teams draw Chandler away from the basket in the Knicks’ man-to-man defense…

PLAY 4: Boston at New York – Man-to-man

Kevin Garnett sets a back-screen on Iman Shumpert and Chandler runs out to defend Ray Allen on the perimeter. Allen quickly gets the ball to Garnett, who feeds it to Jermaine O’Neal for an and-one.

Not many teams execute as well as the Celtics do. And our final example is a play where the Warriors fail to take advantage of Chandler defending a high screen.

PLAY 5: New York at Golden State – Man-to-man

Kwame Brown sets the screen for Monta Ellis. Chandler comes high and, with Amar’e Stoudemire also hedging, there’s a lane for David Lee to cut to the basket. But Lee stays on the perimeter and Ellis overpenetrates. The result is a well-contested 3-pointer that Dorell Wright misses.

Installing a zone is a lot easier said than done in the NBA, because playing it requires a lot more than just standing in an area of the floor. A lot of practice time is needed for a team to run it cohesively, mastering the proper decisions and rotations and always accounting for all five offensive players on the court.

Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said in the preseason that he’s thought about implementing a zone, but that the abbreviated training camp just didn’t allow it.

“That’s something a little bit down the road, I think,” D’Antoni said. “There’s just so much you’ve got to put in right now. If you had a whole month, maybe you’d already have it in. But we’ve got to make sure we don’t water everything down by adding too much and trying to do too many different things.”

And Chandler obviously can’t just stand under the basket in a zone. There is the defensive 3-second rule, and even in a zone, there are times (if the other perimeter players are occupied) when he does need to leave the paint and help out on a high screen.

But Chandler knows that a zone would certainly help his new team.

“I definitely think zone can be effective for us with the guys we’ve got in the back,” he said. “That’s all about us getting together and understanding the way we designed the zone, so I can kind of freelance down there and help keep my body off of guys, challenge shots and cover a lot of ground.”


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.


  1. Jason php says:

    I smell Miami Heat and New York Knicks rivalry again….. Go Heat start winning CHAMPIONSHIP!

  2. Vincent says:

    Zone defense is not used a lot in the NBA because of the defensive three seconds rule. In the European leagues, it is not also used a lot because the players there are such great shooters. I think the Knicks needs a player like Tayshun Prince that would help their perimeter defense.

  3. newyorksteelo says:

    Wow, what a great article and breakdown of the Zone Defense. I totally agree with you here. The Knicks have the talent for sure and the more they play together, the better they will get, but defense is what wins games in the league hands down no question about it.

    The Zone defense would be a great fit for the Knicks and Coach Mike D’Antoni needs to step up and implement a better defense for his team. Not only this, but players like Amare need to focus more on the defensive end. I already see Carmelo playing way better defense than last year, but I also see Amare still stuck in trying to look good as opposed to trying to play better defense. It seems to me that Amare is the weak point in the defensive end of the Knicks and if he can step up his game like Melo is doing, man the Knicks have what it takes to be a contender.

    Last nights game against the Sacramento Kings showed a lot more of the defense I would like to see from the knicks. I also like what I saw in Tyson Chandlers offense, and Toney Douglas becoming a better point guard. Keep up with articles like this as I am sure the Knicks are paying attention.

  4. Jumpshot = fail says:

    Btw is it just me or every player past couple of years go to Hawkeem and literally the next year start playing in the post more with more confidence and playing really well in the post? what is he teaching them jedi mind tricks?

  5. Jumpshot = fail says:

    Zone fails when the opposing team has a post up player. All he has to do is run into the middle of the paint, or post up… and force a double team.

    Example you can never zone on Shaq… It was silly and never worked.

    Btw if Miami Posted Lebron vs the Zone now, the way He has scored in the mid-post is inhuman… it’s like Karl Malone all over again but with faster…

  6. Bkny6978 says:

    Knicks are only giving 96 ppg so far, it is their offense that needs to pick up like they did today. But I agree about the zone and mostly when Amare is in because he goes to far out to defend and cant recover back to the paint in time.

  7. as pointed out before, the key to Zone D is “timing”. too much use will also yield ineffective results.

  8. Zar Knicks Fan says:

    with Melo and Amare NY don’t have to worry about offensive
    give Mike D a chance this year with short season but if NY don’t go in deep like CF or Finals
    NY should get Jeff Van Gundy or jerry sloan
    i prefer JVG one of NY favorite coach and awesome defensive coach

  9. wattatoe says:

    they should have hired dwayne casey? πŸ˜€

  10. lali gill says:

    mike dantoni never had any defense in his phoenix days and its the same thing here knicks need a new coach they should contact jerry sloan mike dantoni is one of the worst coaches ive ever seen

  11. svsdv says:

    who ever thought the knicks were gonna be champs this year is very dumb

  12. GrizzliesRapsLakersFan26 says:

    They shouldn’t have signed TC. The supporting cast in Dallas made him seem better than he actually was and allowed him to play well too (to an extent). Imo he ruins teams’ defenses.

    • QuestionMark says:

      Chandler can hold the paint down, but Mavericks had defenders on the perimeter which made them a good defensive team, players would either be stuck for a tough shot or drive in get a tougher shot. Knicks don’t have a Kidd, a Stevenson, or a Marion.

  13. water says:

    Nicks should watch Hakeem and Rockets.

  14. Phantom L says:

    Let’s keep it real here! the head coach of the New York Knicks should be Mark Jackson without question. Mike D’An-phony was the worst decision for head coach of that team ever. Even worse than Isaiah Thomas… This guy and his seven second philosophy coming to what has been known as a defensive franchise. Now they have no identity. The roster that they have is not built for fast pace play, and the coach wouldn’t know defense if it were being tattooed on his forehead. If the Knicks want to get it done (since Mark Jackson is no longer available and his team beat the breaks off of my squad) They need to rehire Jeff Van Gundy. At least then you could bet on a solid defensive effort. This team can’t even put up points with what is considered an offensive coach. Want to win NY? Then Fire Mike D’An-Phony!

  15. Jason kidd is great at rebounding says:

    What the knicks need is rondo, he has played with the big three in celtics and would be great with the big three of the knicks.
    Rondo is a great defender

  16. Otis Fifth says:

    haha, melo is a solid defender? Go look at the game they played against the warriors and what melo did against a give and go by david lee to monta ellis. Haha, Carmelo turned his back to the opposing rim and ellis goes by carmelo, after the play was over carmelo was still trying to play defense, when the rest of the team was running back on offense, because the dude didn’t realize ellis had scored. That’s pretty bad. This idiot doesn’t understand the ABC of defense, you never turn your back so that you can’t see your defensive player. Against derrick rose in 2010, rose drives to the basketball, melo is running back, he stops the play by tippy toeing in front of rose and moves his hand side ways to block the shot. Rose was at the rim with two dribbles, and melo was off balance. Mike Dantony is the best coach for this system, if a defensive coach comes you have to have defensive players to play good, KG, Rondo, Perkins, Dwight, Lebron, wade, kobe, but def not melo. Only way New York wins is if they just flat out, outscore opponents, and not by stopping them. But We do have other guys that can score even more efficiently than melo. For example, kobe, bron, wade, rose, durant, griffin, etc.

  17. Rick says:

    I want to see the Knicks fail. Melo and Amare should have stayed with their original teams. Star players should never leave their team until they are at least 35 and winding down their career and even that is questionable. I also hope the Heat find a way to lose every year. Not likely – but I can hope.

    • QuestionMark says:

      You do realize a league that dictates where players go will ultimately make things worse. It would be the samething as how Turkoglu played in Toronto. Players won’t work as hard, players won’t play as hard. That won’t be the same for every player, but players like Melo and CP3 who asked for a trade.

    • Rockets says:

      I totally agree with you I hope heat always lose. I liked Lebron on Cleveland but then he went to Miami and I really hate him.

  18. Nba intelligence says:

    Who in God’s Green Earth says Baron has to be the player he was 5 years ago? Fans are retarded. Last year he was extremely solid for the Clippers and Cavs, he busted up New York a few times, and as a result, Cleveland did NOT want to get rid of him because they felt he would be an Excellent Mentor to Kyrie Irving. Instead, Davis got “hurt” and Cleveland got rid of him as soon as they were sure he was NOT going to end up in Miami. What I am trying to say, New Yorks defense is bad, because I hate to admit it, But Amare is much more of a wing player than he is Power Forward. So if I were New York, I would either think about moving Amare to the wing and playing a huge lineup with Melo at the 2…and just run zone the whole time they are out there, or you seriously have to start treating Amare like everybody else, and hold him accountable because he is the reason why New York cant defend. Melo has played solid on both ends. Amare at the wing sounds dumb, but Amare is a faceup jumpshooter who only goes in the post when a smaller man is on him. He has been hanging with Carmelo too long, now hes shooting 3’s and Mid-range jumpers only, and his footspeed is quick enough to keep up with alot of the wings in the league! He just hates contact though. Sekou, what do you think?

  19. tapk69 says:

    yes.. the problem is the defense ,,, so mike d antony has to go.. we already know his teams dont play defense

  20. PUNI5HER says:

    The problem here is Tyson Chandler is an excellent rim defender but in front of him at Dallas last year there were excellent perimeter defenders in Marion, Kidd, Stevenson, with extra effort from Dirk and others….so when the were beaten then Tyson was there to block/alter shots etc…..At the Knicks the only player who has any defensive credibility is Landry Fields and he is a 2nd year guy….Amare i think wants to be a good defensive player but otherwise there horrible defensively!! Coach Dantoni is an offensive coach as well…..Carmelo is a top 10 offensive player in the League but is probably in the top 10 worst defenders (which is why he can’t be a top10 current NBA player)….So no matter what defensive scheme they play there going to be a weak defensive team because of their personel….which ultimately leads to a 2nd round playoff exit to the Heat or the Bulls

  21. wdf says:

    love jesus

  22. The Angry Buddhist says:

    It makes no difference what defense or lack thereof that the Knicks play. A’mare can play with anyone but Carmelo needs his own ball and basically is a loser. Marshmello head faking and 4 guys watching is not an offense though it is offensive.

    The starting backcourt is the WORST in the league and Baron Davis will never be the player he was 5 years ago. The bench is pure D-league. I pine for Timofy Mosgov.

    The number one factor is the dead karma that James Dolan has inflicted on this franchise and everything else he touches.
    I was at the 1970 Chanpionship game and I doubting if I will live long enough to see another.

    • HeatWave says:

      The owner for NY is just interested in ticket sales. He gave away guys that could have turn the Nicks into title contenders and for what? A superstar brat to make Spike Lee happy. Now he thinks one defensive minded player will get them further than last year.

  23. Taylor says:

    So basically the Knicks should copy the Mavericks defensive approach from last year?