clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Activist, Critical Thinker, Reliable Contributor... Is Wilson Chandler the NBA’s Most Interesting Man?

Matt Brooks has gone from film studies to full-on player profiles. And we’re happy about it.

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Move aside, Jonathan Goldsmith. It appears we have ourselves a new “Most Interesting Man in the World.”

Wilson Chandler has made quite a name for himself these past couple of weeks. Between coming up to bat for his superstar teammates on Twitter, to outright predicting the ongoing discussions of fighting systemic racism in the NBA, the 33-year-old combo forward has made his way into the hearts of Nets Nation, approaching that “lovable teammate” territory not seen since the days of Jared Dudley.

None of this should come as a surprise. The man said it best; he’s always been this way, from stateside to international waters.

“I’m one of the soldiers who goes out there for the generals and the captains. I’m on the support team and rightfully so. Whenever they need my help, they know they have a warrior besides themselves.”

Born in Benton Harbor, a community in Michigan that sits 48 percent below the poverty line, Wilson Chandler has witnessed first-hand what many Americans –– myself included –– are just now opening their eyes to: police brutality, gross underfunding of educational resources, and contemporary disenfranchisement.

This upbringing has in large part shaped every aspect of his character –– it birthed a resilience to carve out his own path. Waging his own personal battles with systemic racism has only accentuated Chandler’s innately curious hora, and ample time has been dedicated to researching how these oppressive institutions came into place and how best to oppose them.

As detailed by our own Ajayi Browne, his body –– which contains lyrics from Tupac Shakur and images of Black Panther figures –– has become a sacred place for the leaders he holds close and the knowledge he’s accumulated along his journey.

But his activism stems beyond the ink on his own personal canvas. Back in 2015, while rehabilitating from a preseason hip injury, Chandler told VICE he picked up a book on Kemeticm, a modern-day theology cut from the cloths of Ancient Egyptian scripture. From there, Chandler reportedly “descended into a rabbit hole of history, philosophy, spirituality, and politics.”

Some of the things he’s picked up –– better nutrition and meditation, for example –– he’s tried to pass them on to communities like his. “Especially from where I come from, said Chandler in 2015, “I never met a person with healthy food at all. Not even close.”

As a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, Chandler learned of a four-year-old boy from his hometown of Benton Harbor, Levi Payne, who was diagnosed with a rare terminal brain tumor. Chandler reached out to Levi’s mother, Yasmine, and brought Levi and his family to Sixer workouts, where the young hoops fan “flexed his biceps and did push-ups for (head coach) Brett Brown.

Afterwards, the always-thoughtful Wilson Chandler described his thought process to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.

“Damn, I’m out here complaining about my hamstring. You are complaining about your crib over whatever. He has less than a year to live.”

At the wake of the very first outbreak of the novel coronavirus, while some of us stood by helplessly and worried about the safety of those directly around us, Chandler lent his pensive mind to the Players Tribune to discuss potential issues with testing in the correctional system.

“Even before this virus, there was a prison in Alabama where the prisoners were dying just because of the conditions, just maybe a month ago,” Chandler wrote on March 20 in the second of his two Players Tribune articles.

“So, just from that standpoint, and knowing like even now that there are people that’s on the street — I’m talking people not in prison — that can’t get tested. What are those prisoners gonna do that’s treated like second-, third-, fourth-class citizens that don’t have most of their rights? It gives me anxiety just thinking about those people because, wrong or not, they’re still human beings.”

The guy is different in the best way possible. He’s a growing art collector, a consumer of natural herbs, and a well-traveled athlete who dominated overseas (in his joking words) “like KDwhile acclimating to foreign culture. Most of all, he’s a rarity in this game –– an affluent celebrity who understands the power of capitalism as it pertains to one’s virtues.

“You can’t be conscious and materialistic at the same time,” Chandler told VICE in 2015. “It’s hard in this lifestyle not to be materialistic. The value system, it’s kinda fucked up.

“The cars, the clothes, the shoes ... I might not need the $300,000 car.”

As stated before, you’re looking at the NBA’s interesting man.

But did I mention he can still get out there and hoop?

Coming into the 2019-2020 season, I’ll be honest… with Wilson Chandler, I really didn’t know what to expect. His 2018-2019 campaign was an odd one: After a strong start to the year in Philadelphia, Chandler was sent packing to La La Land in the blockbuster bundle for Tobias Harris… only to promptly fall out of the Clipper rotation. Shortly after, Chandler inked a 1-year, $2.5 million deal with the Nets. With just a hair below 20,000 total regular season and playoff minutes under his belt, Wilson’s tenure in the gritty borough of Brooklyn was anything but a sure thing. I found myself wondering, does he still have it?

Those waters only grew murkier when the DePaul product tested positive for PEDs on August 29, 2019, prompting a 25-game suspension to begin his inaugural Brooklyn season. Not a great first impression.

Chandler finally made his Nets debut on December 15 ––– fittingly against that same 76ers team that had sent him packing just a season ago. Two days later, during a victory against the New Orleans Pelicans, Chandler made a quietly impactful imprint on the stat-sheet: seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, five rebounds and two assists in just 18 minutes of play.

A specific aspect of his game leapt off the page almost immediately.

I mean seriously, how does one accurately explain these oddball cross-body not-really-sure-how-he-even-found-the-angle finishes? To see this 235-pound absolute beast of man drive away from the basket only to toss up Charmin ultra-soft runners broke my understanding of gravity and inertia as I once knew them. This is a power forward possessed by the ghost of D’Angelo Russell’s silkiness, an NBA veteran flashing twelve years of professional seasoning with the coolness of Prince –– no, not that Prince –– himself. I mean, shoot, the guy makes this free-throw line push shot look grade-school easy.

Oh yeah, and sometimes that dastardly Wilson Chandler, he’ll even –– quite literally –– add a bit of a twist.

Fear not! The numbers support these admittedly lofty claims. Per Cleaning the Glass, Wilson’s 48 percent shooting in the “short midrange” ranked within the 82nd percentile at his position. Of course, he wasn’t exclusively efficient from this specific area of the floor. Chandler’s accuracy only grew as he stepped farther away from the hoop, scoring with 97th percentile efficiency on “long midrange shots.” It’s worth mentioning, as a corner three-point specialist, his 39 percent success rate sat in the 56th percentile among NBA forwards.

That reliable floater game quickly became the hallmark of Chandler’s offense in Brooklyn, but it wouldn’t be what it is without his balance as a strong interior presence. Never one to hallucinate a driving lane, Chandler picks his spots guilefully as a downhill cruiser, retrofitted with mental toughness to finish strong with either hand at 56th percentile efficiency in the restricted-area.

You may notice that his overall shooting numbers (40 percent from the field and 30 percent from three) aren’t exactly sterling. The explanation is fairly clear-cut: Nearly 50 percent of his total shots were characterized as “non-corner threes.” On these attempts, Chandler came away a happy dude just 28.1 percent of the time. Perhaps playing next to certain pair of fellow Roc Nationers will give Chandler the spacing he requires to redistribute his shot chart appropriately.

Defensively speaking, we didn’t get much of a feel for Chandler’s total 3-and-D package until the tail-end of the season. As he slowly found his footing underneath him, certain attributes of his defensive integrity bloomed –– a stupidly solid ability to close out to shooters and allow just 0.94 points per spot-up possession, a switchable skillfulness while containing pick-and-roll ball-handlers with 62nd percentile efficiency, and the ability to hound all types of players should they dare to isolate against him.

It all came together during perhaps the biggest victory of the season against the Los Angeles Lakers. I wrote about the game itself pretty extensively and you can read that here. The main takeaway? Two players led the charge as noble warriors in new head coach Jacque Vaughn’s flashy switching coverage: DeAndre Jordan and, yes, you guessed it, Wilson Chandler. The two savvy veterans do-si-doed on coordinated switches like an America’s Got Talent dance number.

Resilience is the name of the game when it comes to Wilson Chandler. It’s how he built a career for himself all the way from Benton Harbor, Michigan. It’s how he grew into a commanding team leader and bona fide superstar in the Chinese Basketball Association, only to transform into a crucial contributor on a playoff team in Denver. And now, twelve years in, he’s overcame ample obstacles to become an integral part of Brooklyn’s postseason-bound rotation.

May the NBA’s “Most Interesting Man” continue to prosper.