The Denver Nuggets trail the Oklahoma City Thunder, 3-1, in their playoff series and face elimination once again Wednesday night; a victory Monday ensured their season would continue at least this long. And while an inability to defend Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant--averaging 30.3 points in 41.8 minutes, shooting 45.5 percent from the field overall and an unreal 51.9 percent on threes--stands as the most obvious reason the Nuggets find themselves in this position, we shouldn't ignore another factor, namely the strange disappearance of Wilson Chandler.
The fourth-year forward from DePaul has played miserably in the series, shooting 20.8 percen from the field and scoring 16 points in four games. One might expect that sort of production from, say, the since-departed Renaldo Balkman, but not from Chandler, who averaged a career-best 16.5 points per game this season split between Denver and the New York Knicks.
Chandler's no-show might force George Karl to get more creative with his playing rotation, as it's hard to leave a player whose only reliable skill is scoring on the floor for 20 minutes per game when he's mired in an awful shooting slump. At his best, Chandler breaks his man down off the dribble, then either rises for a jumper or drives all the way to the rim. The Thunder have taken those drives away from him, and as a result, he's miscast as a spot-up shooter launching difficult shots off the catch. Synergy Sports Techonology data show Chandler shooting 1-of-9 on catch and-shoot jumpers this postseason, and 1-of-5 on jump shots off the dribble. In this instance, the ratio between the shot types says just as much about Chandler as his low percentages do.
Win or lose, it's unfair to pin an entire playoff series on one player. Chandler isn't the only reason Denver has strugged against Oklahoma City. However, it's tough to imagine the Nuggets being in a 3-1 hole if Chandler were more effective, as its offense has otherwise been beautifully balanced: six players average double-figure scoring and another, Arron Afflalo, adds 9.5 per game. With more from Chandler, and a better showing against Durant and Russell Westbrook (26.3 points per game), Denver can make this series competitive again.