Through ten games to start the most anticipated season in years for the Los Angeles Lakers, trends had begun to form. A disappointing 4-6 start was buoyed by close losses to playoff-caliber opponents but it was clear that the purple and gold had visible weaknesses that could last the course of the season.
The most apparent of those weaknesses through the early stretch of the season was something many predicted. The lack of depth at the center position had become an evident problem for a small Lakers team relying heavily on JaVale McGee. While the two-time NBA champion had started the season on a tear, he was playing extended minutes for the first time since the start of his career in the league, something that was demonstrably not sustainable. More importantly, the Lakers struggled mightily when McGee was off the court, giving up points at a league-worst pace.
As it stands, the Lakers may have fixed that issue before it could impact the entire season. On Wednesday in a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tyson Chandler made his debut with the Lakers, having signed with the team earlier in the week after securing a buy out from the Phoenix Suns. He did everything the Lakers could have asked from him.
With only one practice under his belt, Chandler played 23 minutes in front of his hometown crowd, closing out the game over his counterpart. He only scored two points (1-4 from the field) and grabbed nine rebounds but Chandler’s effect could be felt clearly on both ends of the floor.
Defensively, Chandler was part of the effort in holding Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns to only 13 points on 5-16 shooting (including 0-9 in the second half) and six turnovers, especially with his strong defensive plays in the post against the talented big man. With his athleticism having cratered at this point in his career, Chandler is no longer the rim protection threat he was in his prime, but his solid defense in all aspects makes up for his lack of playmaking.
Not only was the former NBA champion contesting shots at the rim, but he was also getting out to the 3-point line. That’s something McGee is not comfortable with so Chandler’s ability to step up in pick-and-roll scenarios and contest shots is a much-needed change of pace for the squad. For the game, the newcomer contested seven 3-point attempts, tied with Lonzo Ball for most on the team.
Perhaps most importantly, Chandler was closing out those defensive possessions, securing four rebounds on that end and recording seven box-outs, the most on the team according to NBA.com.
While he was clearly not fully comfortable alongside his new teammates, Chandler made his mark offensively, as well. The big man led the team with four screen assists, using his big frame to open up teammates for shooting opportunities both in pick-and-roll situations and on off-ball screens.
In the final moments of the game, he recorded two offensive rebounds and one “team” rebound when he forced the Wolves to knock the ball out-of-bounds, effectively making the Lakers’ penultimate possession last 57 crucial seconds.
It remains to be seen how effective Chandler can stay for the rest of the season but his debut was a promising sign for what the Lakers and their fans should look forward to. Of course, there will be struggles with implementing him, namely in how his defense of pick-and-rolls affects teammates’ responsibilities, and he will be called for fouls on a ton of screens and loose balls but the early returns show that it should mainly be positives from here on out.
The Lakers don’t need the Tyson Chandler of old this season, but the hustle plays and solid defense that he exhibits joining McGee’s stellar play thus far this season provides 48 minutes of non-liabilities at the center position. That’s something the Lakers could not say they have two days ago. Chandler could be the key to turning the season around, especially with a favorable upcoming schedule.