The Philadelphia 76ers’ depth has been a long-standing concern and the team’s Christmas Day clash with Boston highlighted its importance. T.J. McConnell looked helpless defensively when matched up against Boston’s guards (Jimmy Butler’s exceptional two-way performance boosted McConnell’s plus-six plus/minus), and Mike Muscala’s subpar December continued. While backup wings Landry Shamet and Furkan Korkmaz didn’t immensely struggle last night, head coach Brett Brown opted for Wilson Chandler’s two-way game.
Chandler finished with 15 points on 5-for-11 shooting, adding five rebounds and three assists. Additionally, Chandler displayed moments playing stout man defense. Against Boston, defensive situations take on a bigger meaning than when playing the NBA’s middling or bottom-tier teams.
Defense is the first side of the ball we’re going to address. Against a Celtics team rife with wings, Philadelphia needed neutralizers. Star wing Jimmy Butler was absolutely tremendous on the defensive end, which indicates he can be relied upon for point-of-attack defense against a deep Boston rotation. While Chandler wasn’t on Butler’s level Tuesday, the 31-year-old forward flashed why he can stick on the court against Boston.
Chandler isn’t incredibly mobile, but he hustled and can affect some looks with his 6’9” height. Chandler picked up Terry Rozier in transition, forced a kick-out to Al Horford then contested Horford’s shot. Rozier is a blur with the ball in his hands, and taking Chandler to the basket might’ve resulted in a different outcome. However, Chandler played his role by limiting Boston’s transition offense here.
The sequence below illustrates how switching and hedging above screens can disrupt pick-and-rolls. Chandler slides to prevent Rozier from attacking off the dribble. He then takes an ideal angle while using his right shoulder to thwart Rozier’s momentum. Rozier defers to Horford, who’s denied at the rim by Joel Embiid. Chandler playing down positions is vital for Brett Brown’s defense.
Finally, Chandler had the unenviable task of guarding offensive stud Kyrie Irving on an island. Boston set two high ball screens on Butler, forcing Chandler to man Irving in space. Chandler slid and prevented Irving from turning the corner with his left hand. After Irving adjusted with a behind-the-back dribble, Chandler mirrored Irving’s movement towards the basket to prevent an easy layup for Boston’s superstar.
Chandler’s season-high 15 points contributed to all five Sixers starters posting double-digit scoring outings. Below, T.J. McConnell dumps it to Chandler along the perimeter and instead of attacking Morris en route to the basket, Chandler jab steps into a fadeaway jumper. Nearly at the free throw line and comfortable taking an off-balance shot, this mid-range look could be something Chandler turns to when defenders close out on his three-point attempts.
Chandler also isn’t timid when taking open 3-pointers and can sink them in a pinch. He is a prime candidate for ball swings when he’s along the perimeter, and can be a trailing outlet when Simmons pushes tempo and scans for an open teammate. With Mike Muscala and Jonah Bolden both shooting a woeful clip this season, pressure mounts on Chandler to be another floor spacer until reinforcements arrive later this season.
Chandler provided input on who can be playable against Boston and other Eastern Conference contenders in a potential playoff series. His man-to-man defense, rather than offense, really highlighted how he’d fare against Rozier, Irving to an extent, and smaller players. While he wasn’t locking down Marcus Morris at a needed rate, Chandler’s defensive footwork shined. If he can consistently knock down jumpers, he’ll be an important role player on a team currently devoid of them.