You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but an old dog can try to teach itself. At least, that's what New York Knicks All-Star center Tyson Chandler, who turned 31 on Wednesday, has taken upon himself.
According to George Willis of the New York Post, the 7'1" defensive specialist—and let's emphasize defensive—is enthusiastic about his recent development of a mid-range jump shot and its potential to spread defenses, manipulate opposing big men and diversify his own offensive game.
"I've been working on it all summer," the former Defensive Player of the Year explained. "My goal is to consistently work on it throughout the year. I’ll get with the coaches and continue to gain confidence in it. I’ve put in a lot work. I want to come out more aggressive so that when the year starts it’s more natural for me."
The Knicks are hoping, by their Oct. 30 opener, to coalesce in a way that's natural, having brought in many new faces—both malleable rookies (Tim Hardaway Jr., C.J. Leslie) and a cast of veteran characters (Metta World Peace, Andrea Bargnani, Beno Udrih).
New York will work during the remaining training camp and preseason to balance lineup decisions like the outrageous number of power forwards on the roster. Do they slide the 7-footer Andrea Bargnani to the post or the wing on defense, how often do they play him alongside Carmelo Anthony and how do Metta World Peace and Amar'e Stoudemire fit into Woodson's small-ball mix?
They'll hope to resolve whether they can maintain offensive production when they stray from those true-small setups and how they can effectively log minutes for one rough-and-tough point guard (Felton), a veteran floor general with coaching psychology (Udrih) and a crafty pick-and-roll expert and "maestro" (Prigioni).
But according to Willis, Chandler was excused from the rest of the team's five-on-five drills at the their training facilities. Even though his birthday was Wednesday, he was not off to the side blowing out candles.
As Willis explains, Chandler was going through some new motions:
He was working alone on an adjacent court with a training camp assistant. Standing at the corner of the free-throw line with his back to the basket, Chandler took a pass and turned to shoot a flat-footed jump shot. He did it over and over again. Catch, turn, shoot.
He did this too many times to count, moving from one corner of the free-throw line, to middle of the free-throw line then the other corner. He even hoisted mid-range jumpers from the baseline. Catch, turn, shoot.
The most important word here might be "flat-footed." Any Knicks fans who watched Chandler attempt free throws (69.4 percent) last season can imagine him struggling to shed that long, rigid form from mid-range.
It's hard to imagine Chandler possessing the touch necessary away from the rim—even if it is just 10 to 15 feet away. He looks like a badly oiled machine, slowly churning into motion as he bends at the knees, bounces slightly and stands straight up to shoot free throws (for which he ultimately is only using his wrist).
Here's a video in which one is reminded of his scoring tendencies—you know, the ones where he touches the rim instead of floating away from it; the high-percentage shots that accounted for last season's totals of 10.4 points, 10.7 boards and 63.8 percent from the field:
Willis, who watched some of Chandler's shooting drills, admits that "It doesn’t look natural right now. Stiff-legged and without much spring in his knees, Chandler missed more than he made."
As the anchor of New York's defense and hard-nosed collective personality, it's peculiar that Chandler, after 12 years in the NBA, would this summer decide to add to his offensive game.
He sounds more like a college kid prepping for intramurals than an NBA veteran, explaining the effects of the bitter end to the 2012-13 season: "That’s why all summer what I concentrated on was the weight room and shooting jump shots."
After all, the Knicks already have a sizable amount of shooters heading into the 2013-14 season: the defending scoring champion, Carmelo Anthony (28.7); the defending Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith (18.1); Amar'e Stoudemire (14.2); Felton (13.9); Bargnani (12.7) and World Peace (12.4).
While Chandler's offense was no sign of hope versus Indiana, totaling 6.2 points and just six rebounds, many critics would likely point to the larger issue at hand—Chandler's ineffectiveness defending the Pacers' Roy Hibbert in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (13.3 points, 10.3 rebounds), of of the mismatches that saw the ousting of the No. 2-seeded Knicks from the postseason.
"It was very frustrating exiting the way we did and physically where I was at," Chandler told Willis.
The New York Times' Scott Cacciola referred to Chandler as "little more than a traffic cone because of injury and illness" against Indiana. He at first avoided excuses, saying to Cacciola, "When you're on the court, you're on the court," but then continued, "I was battling a lot of things, honestly."
But, according to Cacciola, Chandler has packed on an additional 15 to 20 pounds to help offset the injuries and health issues that come with the length of the NBA season and that plagued him in the final weeks and into the playoffs. He had battled neck problems that saw him miss 16 of the final 20 regular-season matchups and had lost 10 pounds from sickness.
Maybe an old dog can't teach himself new tricks, but he can bolster his health heading into the start of another 82-game adventure on Broadway.
And, perhaps more telling, his scoring aspirations have not fogged his sense of what it takes to win in this league. "We have a lot of guys that are defensive-minded and can get after it," he reminded Willis. “It’s going to be our defense that puts us over the hump."