12:45 pm Aug. 2, 2012
In the 20 years since N.B.A. players began participating in the Olympics, the U.S.A. basketball team has never had a player like Tyson Chandler.
Centers have almost always been two-way threats, providing scoring and defense. The names have ranged from Patrick Ewing and David Robinson to Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning to Tim Duncan, with Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh, a pair of gifted offensive players, holding down the position in 2008.
But with Howard out of the picture this summer thanks to back surgery, the United States has exactly one true center on the roster among the N.B.A. veterans, and it is Chandler.
The choice reflects both the kind of impact Chandler has on a game, despite very little in the way of his own post moves, and the kind of respect he has come to enjoy because of it.
Chandler won an N.B.A. title in Dallas in 2011, but has yet to make an N.B.A. All Star team. As recently as 2011, he failed to earn a spot even on the All-N.B.A. third team, with Howard, Amar'e Stoudemire and Al Horford taking the three center spots.
But Chandler's Defensive Player of the Year award this past season reflected a larger understanding of the kind of impact Chandler has on a basketball game. He won a spot on the All-N.B.A. third team; only Howard and Andrew Bynum finished ahead of him.
Not only did Chandler hold a Knicks defense together essentially by himself, he also shot just under 68 percent from the field. He isn't the kind of offensive player to call for the ball, Ewing-style. He is hyper-efficient when he does get a chance to shoot, however, largely on rebounds or pick-and-roll springing him free right around the basket.
He's being asked to do essentially the same thing on a U.S.A. team with no shortage of players who do ask for the ball. On a roster with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, Chandler's offensive game fits perfectly.
Really, it fits perfectly on any U.S. olympic team, given the number of scorers that populate those rosters. That Chandler, or a player like him, hasn't been part of previous teams is partly due to Chandler's development, partly due to a greater recognition of his talents, but mostly due to Chandler becoming the kind of player who hasn't really been around for a long time.
He ought to be the prototype for the Olympic center going forward, and actually may be. His backup on this U.S.A. team is the recently drafted Anthony Davis, whose defense-first game has been questioned, but who appears to have physical gifts beyond even Chandler's.
For now, Davis serves as Chandler's understudy. And Chandler will be a defensive rock, first for the U.S.A., then for the Knicks.