Dunk of the Week: Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler are NBA 'Goofus and Gallant'
On one alley-oop, the differences between two players is laid bare
Here is a video of Tyson Chandler, grinding away on the Suns in his, like, 800th year in the league, catching a lob pass from young Tyler Ulis, throwing it down near a few defenders, landing on two feet, shoulder width apart, and yelling “AND ONE.”
Chandler, is now a 35-year old man, seven years past his title-winning heyday in Dallas. He’s been swinging around the league on weird teams, being paid like a guy who is still young and athletic, and these days finds himself a mentor type on a team full of young dudes cruising toward a terrible record.
He’d probably rather be somewhere else, but hey: in this moment, his hands juuuuust wrapping around that ol’ steel rim, this dude doesn’t seem to mind that the Suns are owned by Robert Sarver. Tyson’s been in weird situations before, he's farted away on bad teams, been an early young failure who got traded too early, and resurrected himself. In other words, he has lived.
Chandler managed to fashion together a career as an ultra-role player who will live the rest of his life in comfort and wealth, respected and fondly remembered by most, a ring and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy on display in his living room or library. His career has been an act of pure hoops aestheticism, an extraordinary achievement he pulled off by staying in excellent shape year after year, gutting everything in his game that wasn’t useful to a team, and also being easy to work with. He probably won’t make the Hall of Fame or anything like that, but that’s okay. Economy is his excellence, catching that pass, drawing that foul, letting out a mild celebration.
But for every Gallant, there is a Goofus, and our Goofus makes an appearance at the bottom of this Tyson Chandler dunk video. There he is, on the floor, looking up at our hero, looking beaten, exhausted, washed to his core. There he is, the NBA’s perennial loathed man: Dwight Howard.
Dwight, unlike Tyson, fulfilled a lot of his promise early, bringing his big-ass arms and spectacular frame to bear almost instantly, and became the best player on a Magic team that found itself in the playoffs almost immediately. Early in his career, coaches told him to focus on defense and learning to post up. He became a perennial DPOY contender and a fabulous pick-and-roll player, but the post-ups…they weren’t always there.
The reasons are myriad, of course. Dwight wasn’t a dancer, a beauty, an improviser. He was amazing working in vertical space, but his feet just didn’t work too well on an axis. He was strong, certainly, punishing weaker defenders in the post, but never quite figured out how to make his hands do what he wanted around the rim. And, of course, he was short, shorter than he let on, and his height didn’t allow him the kind of leverage Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Shaquille O'Neal or whoever could get whenever they wanted.
Even though he was clearly the best defensive player in the league, swamping pick-and-rolls left and right, putting up 20 a game, and managing a Finals appearance seemingly YEARS ahead of schedule, Dwight caught shit. Shaq, exacting revenge for Dwight copping his “Superman” nickname, was particularly ruthless. He set arbitrary high scoring totals he thought Dwight should hit, made sure to slander him in whatever mic got stuck in his face, and generally used his new platform on Inside the NBA to be a dick whenever he got the chance.
Even if Dwight could have become Hakeem Olajuwon, the league was shifting to a new truth: post-ups were isos, and isos were inefficient. In 2011, while Tyson and his merry band of pace-and-space shooters were blasting through the Lakers and THEIR shitty iso-based offense in the Western Conference semifinals, Dwight sat around at home. His squad got blown up in the opening round by the Hawks, who single covered him with future Civil Rights Hero Jason Collins, who was at the time, mostly a dude who was kind of fat, defended the post well, and seemed to truly enjoy fouling the shit out of people. In the face of that single coverage, Dwight just tried and tried and fucking tried over and over, posting good personal totals but fucking up the Magic’s shooting percentage by posting up without drawing doubles.
The tragedy is that, while he was screwing his team on offense, he was the IDEAL pick-and-roll defender, working brilliantly in space and shutting down spread offense penetration as a matter of course.
But it was never enough! He just. Kept. Listening. To. Anyone. Who. Dragged. Him. And so, instead of being like Tyson, stripping everything away, living team to team, never looking to sip from the perfect golden chalice, he obsessed over touches, became a colossal locker room problem, amped his brand more and more, opted into extensions because of guilt, forced trades, blew up in L.A., brought his malaise to the Rockets, desperately signed with his hometown Hawks—the only people left who could even FEIGN love for him—got traded from THERE, and became an NBA drifter, plying his sad trade for whomever had his rights.
And while Tyson has taken to whatever role and done what he could wherever he went, Howard has worn anxiety on his shoulder like a tattoo of a crying puppy. Everything he does now reeks of onions, the futile efforts of a man who overplayed himself anywhere he went, always craved more and more and more, and could never just ACCEPT what the universe had given him—which was so much! He is a man driven by cravings for greatness, where Tyson, humble, accepting, is driven by the practical solutions to the problems that sit in front of him. It’s tragic.
Oh and, uh, also: Giannis fucking jumped over a dude holy shit.
Oh my god this is terrifying. Kill me before Giannis does. This is actually Dunk of the Week now. Sorry about all that.