Who Would You Want: Tyson Chandler, Nene Or Marc Gasol?

Okay, so this summer’s free agency isn’t as exciting as last year’s apocalypse. There aren’t Hall of Famers available. No one is trying to team up. The Decision will just be the decisions this time. But that doesn’t mean very good players aren’t out there. And three of the biggest free agents are, quite literally, three of the biggest, a trio of centers who all have different strengths: Tyson Chandler, Nene & Marc Gasol.

All three are available to anyone interested. Gasol is just a restricted free agent (Memphis can match any offer made), while Chandler and Nene are unrestricted. There are already rumors that teams (Toronto, Sacramento) will be stepping up to the plate soon with massive offers. But if you had the choice, who would you pay? Chandler and his athleticism and shot-blocking? Gasol and his youth, brute strength and touch? Or Nene and his toughness and talent?

We argue. You decide.

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Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler is the honey badger of the NBA. If you don’t know what that means, watch the video. If you don’t want to watch the video, just know that honey badgers have been given the title of most fearless creature in the animal kingdom. In short, they’re not the king of the savannah, but that doesn’t matter. They eat cobras, fight lions and are generally just nasty. Honey badgers don’t give an “ef.”

And that’s why Chandler is the best free agent center prospect if we ever figure out this whole “flock route” thing. He’s now been the center on a national team and NBA squad, all because he’s about winning, using all six of his fouls if need be and generally causing uncertainty when opposing players bring the ball into the paint.

While Nene and Marc Gasol are better options offensively as far as big men go, it’s Chandler who has the characteristics of a winning centerpiece (no pun intended) for a title squad. In a Ron Artest sort of way, Chandler is not one to be judged by numbers. Here’s where the honey badger parallels come into play.

Chandler won’t complain about minutes or touches, and he knows that his role and success of it depends solely on how he plays on the defensive end. He’ll take the stings of losing minutes to Ian Mahinmi if the reward is a title, just as a honey badger will take the stings of bees if it means he’ll taste the sweetness of their honey. So if you’re going to build an NBA team that has the right pieces for a championship, Tyson’s your man.

Though I say he’s not a numbers guy, the stats still make a case for Chandler. Both Gasol and Nene had their highest scoring seasons in their careers at 14.6 points per game (Gasol in ’09-10 and Nene in ’08-09), but would you take that four-to-six-point gain on the offensive end when you know that Chandler could save you that and more on defense? And even though he’s been in the league for a while, he’s a month younger than Nene and rebounded at a better pace than both of the other guys – in less minutes nonetheless.

Chandler will get the job done no matter the obstacles, just as a honey badger will confront a fierce jungle cat after attempting to steal its antelope meal from a tree. Sure, sometimes it won’t work out, but it’s not for lack of trying. For a team, that edge could be the difference between a solid season and an NBA Championship.

The big knock on Nenê Hilário has always been that he is injury-prone. Well, in the past three years, he has been fighting to get healthy again. He has put together three seasons in which he played 75, 77 and 82 games. This summer, he chose not to play for the Brazilian National team to focus on his NBA career.

Now as many teams know (especially the Portland Trail Blazers), picking up injury-prone players is a high-risk, high-reward decision. But why not take that risk? Nenê is the free agent this summer with the highest upside. He is 6-11 with elite athleticism and a great post game. Centers have a tough time guarding him because of his unique game and we haven’t seen what he is capable of at the power forward position much either.

While he’s not the defender that Chandler is or the rebounder that Gasol is, Nenê’s offense and consistency is a rarity among big men in the NBA these days. He can score at will. Few people realize that Nenê actually led the league in field goal percentage this past season.

His only issue as of right now is staying in the game. Nenê averages 3.2 fouls per game. This has always been an issue. He has a tendency to go for up-fakes and make unnecessary fouls. It is not about a lack of effort; the issue is that he is putting in too much effort on the defensive end.

As we saw in the NBA Finals, having an offensively talented big man that can create mismatches can be a game-changing asset. Obviously, Nenê is no Dirk Nowitzki, but that type of player makes the offense run smoother and allows them to focus on defense. Let’s be honest, there were plenty of players on that team that are past their prime, but when it came to the Mavericks’ defense, you may not have remembered that. Some could say that’s a testament to Tyson Chandler’s defense, but I argue otherwise and say it was a result of easy offense.

Nenê needs to land on a team that focuses on improving his defense. Or perhaps, that will come with more experience. Whenever Nenê learns to play smart on both ends of the floor, he has the potential to be an All-Star in a league that lacks quality big men. To land a potential All-Star-level center is a risk that all NBA teams should be willing to take.

Marc Gasol
Out of the three players in question, Marc Gasol has the undeniable advantage in efficiency, toughness and – hear me out – experience.

In his first three seasons in the Association, Gasol has played in an astonishing 94% of his team’s regular season games. In their first three seasons, Chandler and Nene played in 73% and 86% of available regular season games respectively. While being mocked for being out of shape during the 2007 Draft, the Spanish ‘other brother’ has shown his incredible durability while being labeled as a banger.

Although he’s only two years younger than Chandler and Nene, Gasol spent his formative years away from the toughest league in the world, reducing the overall wear on his body. Chandler and Nene are no scrubs, but any team considering signing either of the two veterans has to consider their injury history as a factor. Nene has played in just 71% of regular season games in his nine years in the league. Likewise, Chandler has played in 80% of regular season games in ten seasons and just 69% in the last three.

As a teammate statistically, Gasol outshines both of them. Though his individual PER lags behind both of his compatriots, Gasol’s net efficiency shines brighter than that of both players. According to statistics from 82games.com, Memphis’ production from the center position had a net PER of +4.0 in the 2010-11 season. I’d be hard pressed to be convinced that’s the work of Hamed Haddadi and not Gasol. Compare that to Denver’s net PER of +1.9 and Dallas’ perplexing -0.4 and it’s clear that individual numbers aren’t everything. Gasol gives you more at the position for his team than do the other two candidates.

Perhaps most interestingly, Gasol is set to be one of the first big signings of the post-lockout CBA. Whichever way you split it, the new agreement will include a lower, more restrictive salary cap. The expiring contracts of Chandler and Nene are products of the last CBA, and the frequency of over-inflated Andrei Kirilenko-esque salaries will most assuredly be reduced, if not eliminated altogether. Gasol will have to deal with that reality without ever having the painful-yet-lucrative memory of a contract – like Chandler and Nene – from the old CBA. While I still expect him to be paid well, Gasol will put up much less of a fight for a cheaper contract than will Chandler or Nene and he will end up being a bargain in comparison.

It should be said that both Nene and Chandler are excellent players and if the new CBA allows teams to get them at a sensible price, signing them won’t be too hard to swallow for any fan. Despite that, Gasol is the undisputed cream of this free agent crop. Now, the real question will be if Memphis can keep him.

What do you think? Who would you want?

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