None of the six first-time All-Stars this year has had a longer road to Houston than Tyson Chandler. A 30-year old in his 12th season in the NBA, Chandler is one of the oldest and most experienced players to ever make an All-Star debut. He's the quintessential late bloomer, a big man still picking up steam long after his contemporaries' careers have wound down.
Chandler, along with Eddy Curry, Kwame Brown and DeSagana Diop, was one of four 7'0 high school teenagers taken in the 2001 NBA lottery. All four were years away from helping an NBA team, but that didn't stop all four from going within the first eight picks. As the old saying goes, you can't teach height.
Brown, an inside-out big man, had the most intriguing combination of skills. Curry was the most advanced low-post scorer and Diop had the best combination of size, speed and strength. At the time, there was no way to know that Chandler, a skinny beanpole with no feel for the offensive end of the floor, would have the most accomplished career.
When they were drafted, they were all upside. However, getting from point A (potential) to point B (production) proved more difficult than anyone realized at the time. In a league chronically bereft of big men, the 2001 draft class stands out for the amount of blue-chip talent that was wasted.
So where did Chandler go right and his peers go wrong? As it turns out, you might not be able to teach height, but you can't teach desire either.
Curry and Diop have combined to make over $100 million in their NBA careers, yet neither bothered to keep himself in game condition. Curry ate his way out of the NBA; Diop would have joined him were it not for the six-year $32 million deal he signed with Dallas in 2008.
Brown is remembered as one of the most famous busts in NBA history, yet he was averaging 10 points and 7 rebounds a game on 49% shooting in his third season, fairly respectable numbers for a 21-year old center. Unfortunately, that was where his career peaked.
Chandler, on the other hand, never stopped adding to his game. He never became a low-post scorer, but he steadily turned himself into one of the most efficient offensive players in the NBA. He's the best career free-throw shooter of the four, which speaks directly to his superior work ethic. And because he's kept himself in such phenomenal shape, he's still an exceptional athlete who can soar far above the rim, unlike his floor-bound peers.
This season, he's averaging 11 points and 11 rebounds on 67 percent shooting, all while anchoring the Knicks defense. There are a handful of centers who can score more points, but none who can match the reigning Defensive Player of the Year as a rim protector or post defender.
Chandler's unparalleled impact on both ends of the floor was the missing ingredient in the Mavs unlikely title run. Dallas lost in the first round the year before he came and the year after he left. In his time in New York, he's been the unsung hero of "Linsanity" as well as the primary reason why Carmelo Anthony has been able to thrive as a small-ball power forward.
He might have had the lowest ceiling of any of the four 18-year-olds who walked on stage at Madison Square Garden and shook David Stern's hand over 12 years ago, but he was the only one willing to put in the work necessary to be as good as he could be. In 2013, he's finally being rewarded for it.