Filling in the blanks: Wilson Chandler

Filling in the blanks: Wilson Chandler
Jun 16, 2007, 11:12 pm
Emptying out our scouting notebook, we continue our series examining under the radar underclassmen that played for non-NCAA tournament teams. Wilson Chandler, a fairly anonymous name in college basketball, is in this year’s draft for good despite having an extremely inconsistent season and not being assured of a spot in the first round. Is he making the right move?

Chandler is a raw, but extremely promising hybrid forward with prototypical tools for the next level. Standing somewhere around 6-8, he passes the eye test and then some, with an awesome combination of size, length, and athleticism. He has a fantastic frame and unbelievable explosiveness, being able to make at least a few plays in each game that almost no players in this draft are capable of.

Not having scouted him all that seriously this past season (no one really expected to declare for the draft, let alone keep his name in), it was hard for us not to come away from watching his tapes recently feeling like he has more potential than anyone outside the top dozen names or so in this draft, and that we may have seriously slept on him these past few months.

The main attraction we found revolves around his unbelievable athleticism. Chandler runs the floor like a deer, with great quickness and big, long strides, being capable of getting off his feet for highlight reel caliber dunks with the great of ease, either in alleyoop fashion or for a thunderous putback dunk. DePaul in fact utilized a backdoor alleyoop play as a regular fixture in their playbook just for Chandler’s sake, and his guards knew that throwing the ball in his general direction around the rim would usually result in an easy assist.

Chandler is not a great finisher in terms of his post moves or finishing off the glass, something that gave us a great opportunity to check out his terrific second and third pogo-stick-esqe bounce off his feet for offensive rebounds, which would usually end up being converted in an eventual basket. Chandler is not quite as athletic as a super-freak dunk contest participant like Tyrus Thomas for example, but watching him on tape, he doesn’t really seem that far off either. Had he played for a program like LSU and made the Final Four the way Thomas did in 2006, we might be talking about him as a borderline lottery pick rather than as a borderline first round pick.

Regardless, you might be asking yourself why Chandler is such an unknown quantity in this draft as far as his hype is concerned. There are a number of reasons for that, with the main one being the team he played for. Chandler played in an awful college system as far as his style of play is concerned, a dreadfully slow, Princeton-type offense focused on moving the ball around the perimeter methodically in search of a backdoor cut for long 35 seconds, until it came time for someone to jack up an off-balanced three-pointer as the shot clock expired. We’re obviously exaggerating, but had he played in the type of up and down, run and gun system that best suits his style of play (think Arizona, Washington, North Carolina), we would obviously be talking about him differently, especially if he had a real point guard next to him.

Instead, he played for the team with the 4th least amount of possessions of any player projected to be drafted on our board, or as you can see here one of the most methodical teams in the entire country. The excellent Ken Pomeroy ranks DePaul as the 296th fastest team in the NCAA.

That hardly tells the entire story, though, as a good amount of the blame for his lack of production has to fall on his shoulders as well. For most of his basketball career, the biggest knock against Chandler has always been his tendency to coast through games and not assert himself. He’s an extremely reserved, quiet person off the court, and this unsurprisingly lends itself perfectly onto the basketball court as well. Too often he will just camp outside on the perimeter and wait for the game to come to him, rather than make a commitment to utilize his awesome physical tools to make things happen inside.

Part of this has to do with DePaul’s style of play, but it’s not hard to notice the influence of his personality on his game as well, particularly on the defensive end, where he often looks tentative and not quite as active as you might hope. Unfortunately these personality traits--as we’ve too often found out in the past--don’t tend to change once a player becomes a pro. That doesn’t mean that he can’t go on to have a long, productive NBA career, but it very well can lessen his ceiling from being considered to have star potential to “just” projecting as a solid role player—which there is obviously nothing wrong with.

But enough about his mental makeup…what about his skills? From what we can tell, he has a long ways to go to reach his full potential here too. Mostly playing the power forward or even center position in college, Chandler projects as a SF/PF combo in today’s NBA—similar to the role Shawn Marion, Andrei Kirilenko or Tyrus Thomas will play once he reaches his full potential. While the combo guards are getting all the media love when discussing the future of the NBA, we think the combo forwards will be playing a big role in the transformation the league is making and will continue to make in the future too. Chandler has the physical tools to play this role as well, after a year or two of seasoning in the D-League, even if his skill-set still has a ways to go.

As a jump-shooter, Chandler has the touch and elevation part down fairly well. The problem is that his otherwise nice mechanics can get sloppy when he is forced to shoot under duress (or even sometimes when he isn’t)—as he doesn’t always fully set his feet or square his shoulders when getting his shot off, which causes his body to flail, and hampers him from achieving a consistent release point. Further hurting him is his poor shot selection, which combined with his sloppy footwork, lowers his percentages considerably. Even though he only hit 33% from behind the arc and 65% from the free throw line, Chandler regardless has a good base with which to work off of as a jump-shooter, and can very likely develop into an adequate NBA 3-point shooter with his feet set if he continues to work hard.

We already see a raw ability at times in being able to come off a screen and elevate nicely for a mid-range jumper, or even create a shot on his own and pull-up from 16 to 17 feet like a true wing. At times he’ll look very smooth doing so, executing the move like an NBA small forward and knocking down the shot beautifully, while in others he’ll barely graze the front of the rim or even air-ball the shot completely. Once again, though, the upside is clearly there, it’s really a matter of refining his skills from a technical standpoint—often easier said than done.

Continuing with his perimeter skills, we find Chandler’s biggest weakness—his ball-handling. Chandler is a poor ball-handler right now any way you slice it, looking out of control trying to create his own shot and make his way all the way to the rim. He lacks complete control of the ball and therefore is slowed down by it substantially, which nullifies what would otherwise be a fantastic first step. With a clear path to the rim, he can take a long stride or two and come up with a highlight reel caliber finish, but anything more advanced than that—particularly with his left hand—is out of his repertoire for the most part. That doesn’t seem to stop him from trying, though, resulting in some bad turnovers after dribbling the ball out of control with his head down right into a brick wall. No one has probably ever accused Chandler of having too high of a basketball IQ, at least from what we could tell.

In the post, Chandler is fairly limited as well, not possessing any real moves with which to finish with on a consistent basis besides his freakish quickness and leaping ability. If he’s to play some small forward at the next level, it’s important for him to learn how to use his size better in the paint, as that could be an excellent source of production when being defended by smaller guys.

As a rebounder, Chandler is fairly solid, averaging 9.2 rebounds per-40 minutes pace adjusted, which makes him the 6th best rebounding small forward in this draft. That’s not spectacular, but it isn’t bad either, especially when you consider that he really doesn’t make too much of an attempt to box out his opponents, and he’s not naturally the most aggressive or active guy in the world either. Most of his production comes from his excellent physical tools—in particular his quickness, wingspan and above average strength.

Defensively, Chandler will at times look great, and in others look completely average. He didn’t get much of an opportunity to defend the perimeter while playing so many minutes at the 4/5 spots for DePaul (who also play a lot of zone), but when he did step out, particularly in pick and roll situations, it seemed like he lacked some awareness and footwork to stay in front of players laterally—even if he does have the quickness to do so and then some.

If you’ve reached the end of this article, you might be wondering why Chandler decided to keep his name in the draft considering how raw he seems to be right now. Part of that we’re assuming has to do with the system he plays in, which is obviously better suited to a mid-major team like Richmond or UNC Wilmington, where Chandler’s ex-coach Jerry Wainwright worked previously, and who still run virtually the same system that DePaul does.

Having committed initially to Dave Leitao (now at Virginia) before he jumped ship, Chandler never saw eye to eye with Wainwright according to numerous reports, even being suspended for two games at one point for “time management issues.” When Chandler began exploring the possibility of entering this year’s draft, Wainwright reportedly implied to him that he will not have time to both test the waters and keep himself academically eligibility, and therefore told him to decide very early in the game between going pro or staying in school. Chandler surprisingly decided to gamble on going pro and hiring an agent, and DePaul is now facing the prospect of an even worse season than they had this year.

As far as Chandler is concerned, he could be caught in a pretty tough spot too. He decided to pass up an invite to play in the NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando, but then suffered an ankle injury and is yet to conduct even a single workout at this point. This past week he cancelled workouts with both the Portland Trailblazers (on the 14th) and the Chicago Bulls (on the 11th), and is yet to reschedule working out for either team. Instead, he is scheduled to conduct 7 workouts in 9 days, starting Monday-- leading up to the draft.

A few NBA teams we’ve spoken to have expressed some frustration with being unable to get Chandler in for a workout themselves, and have quietly began to wonder whether an NBA team has already promised him a spot somewhere in the first round—causing him to shut down his workouts because of the alleged “injury.” One media report had him sitting out with a shoulder injury, while others instead cited an ankle injury.

The person that is widely regarded as the source of the promise already warned the media that he plans on being a "Gamblin' Man" in this year’s draft, saying that he can afford “take a flier on maybe somebody people aren't expecting you to pick." That “Gamblin’ Man” would of course be none other than New York Knicks GM Isiah Thomas, who proved that he is not averse to bucking trends and shocking the world last year by taking Renaldo Balkman with the #20 pick.

This year, not everyone at least would be shocked to see him do something similar with Wilson Chandler at the #23 pick. He’s got the upside to warrant being selected that high, but does he have the intangibles to reach his full potential? Stay tuned.

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