The effects of serious injuries on professional athletes are rippling. Weakness or surgery inevitably means time away from training, practice, and games that often lets related parts of the body atrophy. But when players begin rehabilitation or even return to the playing field, it’s easy to concentrate solely on the specific injury as opposed to connected areas that were also affected by trauma related to it or simply a period of rest to which they’re unaccustomed. Health maladies are rarely a one-off.
Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler knows that first-hand. After undergoing surgery to repair a labral tear of his left hip in April 2012 – a procedure that left him unable to stand for a month – and returning to the court for four games in the earlygoing of the 2012-2013 season, Chandler was subsequently sidelined with lingering pain until mid-January. And though he was able to finish the season and make an impact in the Nuggets’ playoff loss to the Golden State Warriors, issues cropped-up again just a few months later.
Left hamstring soreness kept Chandler from a full training camp and the first few games of the 2013-2014 season. And while he played a majority of Denver’s games in November and December, he was hardly 100 percent. That became obvious when he suffered a groin strain in January that originally kept him out of the lineup for two games. Ever the competitor, though, Chandler fought through his latest setback and returned to play a full slate until late March when it became obviously prudent for him to rest until the final three contests of last season.
Fed up with nagging consequences of hip surgery, Chandler took a new approach to offseason training this summer. He not only worked on strengthening his hip, but also his hamstrings, groin, and glutes. The results have been overwhelming: Chandler says he hasn’t felt so healthy in a long, long time.
The multi-faceted Chandler took time from his busy preseason schedule recently to talk with Dime, and touched on his successful rehab, the differences of playing under George Karl and Brian Shaw, and individual and team aspirations for 2014-2015. Considering his wildly improved health and obvious confidence, let’s just say we wouldn’t be surprised if the 27 year-old Chandler not only helps the Nuggets to the playoffs, but achieves his goal of winning Sixth Man of the Year, too.
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Dime: First off, how’s your health?
Wilson Chandler: My health is actually the best it’s been in years. So obviously I’m very thankful for that.
D: You’ve dealt with a lot of injuries to your left leg in your career: Ankle surgery in 2008; surgery for a labral tear in your hip in 2012; and then lingering hip, groin, and hamstring pain that’s caused you to miss time over the past couple of seasons. Has all of that been especially tough to overcome because it’s come in a concentrated area?
WC: Yeah, I think it’s one of those things where you get a major injury and people tend to focus on that one area [in rehabilitation]. But actually when you have an injury like that and you have surgery, you lose a lot of muscle mass and strength in a lot of other areas on that leg. So when I had the hip surgery I lost a lot of muscle mass and strength in the quads, the hamstring, and the glute. When I came back from rehab I focused more on the specific area I had surgery on instead of the other muscles around it. That’s one of the things I focused on this summer – really building up areas that support the hip.
D: As you began to feel so much better this summer, were there any specific aspects of your game that you worked on?
WC: Yeah. I worked on posting-up because in the offense we have we do a lot of post-ups for the 3-man, so I worked on that a lot. I never was a post-up guy in any other system, so I worked a bunch on post moves. I worked on ballhandling a lot, especially from the standpoint of coming off screens and stuff like that. Mostly ballhandling, my post-game, and really trying to sharpen up my shooting and stuff like that. So kind of everything.
D: You’ve always seemed extremely well-suited as a guy that can come in off the bench and operate as a second-unit’s primary scorer. On a team like the Nuggets that has so many options and really shares the ball, can it get frustrating not to get touches sometimes?
WC: Not really. When you got guys that are playing the right way, you know… Like you said, we’ve got a lot of guys. So sometimes we might have a couple guys that are hot, and if you understand the game of basketball that if a guy is feeling it you want to keep him rolling. And on our team, that guy can be any of us on any given night. If all those guys are playing the right way and sharing the ball, and taking shots when they’re hot, I’m fine with it.
*Click here to read Chandler’s thoughts on playing for Brian Shaw and his personal and team-wide goals for 2014-2015…
D: George Karl played as a small-ball power forward a lot when he was coaching in Denver. Do you miss playing that role and being able to exploit mismatches? Or do you like it more now that Brian Shaw has you on the wing at your natural position full-time?
WC: I actually miss it some because that was the role I played in New York, too, with [Mike] D’Antoni. So I got really used to playing that 4 position. But it’s no problem playing the 3 and playing in Brian Shaw’s system. You just have to get used to it, and I have to get better at my footwork and stuff like that on the perimeter. So it just takes some time to get adjusted to.
D: Speaking of adjustments, going from a free-wheeling, fast-paced like George Karl implemented and really had you guys thriving with is a lot different than what Brian Shaw wants to do – or at least that’s what he said before last season. Do you prefer playing a game that’s more uptempo and read-react than system-based?
WC: Yeah, definitely. But from what I’m getting this year from [Shaw] is that we want to push the ball and play fast-paced basketball. So I’m not really worried about slowing things down or anything like that. I mean, we like to run. So we’re trying to figure out now how to do some of things Shaw wants and be the team that we were.
D: Yeah. It was interesting to me that last year Shaw said in training camp that he wanted to slow tempo and play more in the halfcourt, but you guys ended up ranking third overall in pace. So you actually pushed the ball a lot.
WC: It’s hard with the team that we have – athletes everywhere and fast guards – not to play fast basketball. It’s kinda like our instinct – we just get the ball and push it. So it’s kinda hard not to play that tempo.
D: Right. And I’d imagine that because you’re so deep and factoring in the altitude, it obviously helps if you guys play faster because it’s easy to wear down the opponent.
WC: Yeah, for sure.
D: You guys don’t have that superstar, LeBron James, Kevin Durant type of player. To me, you guys are the definition what a team really is. I remember George Karl saying the past that he used to challenge Ty Lawson to step up and be a leader, and obviously Kenneth Faried had an unbelievable summer with USA Basketball and has kind of turned into a face of the franchise. Has anyone really stepped up and emerged as that vocal leader in the offseason or here in the preseason so far?
WC: You know, we’ve got a few guys. It’s kind of like a free-for-all on our team. We’ve got a lot of equal players. Maybe there are a couple guys above the rest, but for the most part we’re pretty much on the same level. So we’ve got several guys that are vocal. We don’t have one primary leader or anything like that – it’s just a group of us. Everybody just holds each other accountable for different things, and we just push each other. Like you said, I think we’re the real definition of a team. We have guys that lead by example, we have guys that are vocal, and we have guys that do both.
D: Danilo Gallinari played his first game since April 2013 last Friday. How’s he looking in practice, and do you have high expectations for him this year?
WC: I think he’s looking great. I can’t cap what I think he can do this season, but to me he looks like the old Gallo. Who knows exactly what to expect? But from seeing him play a few preseason games and watching him in practice, I think he really will be back to his old self.
D: What are your personal goals for this season?
WC: Personal goals? I want to be more efficient this year, and even shoot at the Sixth Man award, definitely. If I’m going to be coming off the bench I definitely want to have a chance at Sixth Man. That’s pretty much it for my personal goals: Just wanting to be more efficient with my offense, and I think the Sixth Man award is a realistic goal for me.
D: Obviously the West is so, so tough, and you guys actually had a fairly good season last year considering injuries, adjustments to a new coach, and stuff like that. Is the playoffs your goal this season?
WC: Definitely. I think playoffs is like – we have to make the playoffs. That’s like one of our minor goals, actually. I think the playoffs are definitely in our future. The question now is what spot we get in the seeding.
What do you think?
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