Anybody could see that Channing Frye has been a standout of the early season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. What’s jarring about Frye is the way he unlocks the most devastating version of LeBron James.
First, let’s take a look at Frye’s production so far in this young season. Frye has been, well, bonkers for the Cavaliers. In the last two games, he’s gone 11-20 from distance for 41 points. He’s been an insane release valve that pushes teams to their breaking point. When you’re seven feet tall, can release the ball quickly at a high release point and hit at an high percentage, there’s very little defenses can do. Frye is averaging 12.8 points per game in just 18.4 minutes. That’s good for 25 points per 36 minutes, which would blow away Frye’s career highs in his age 33 season.
If you’re looking closely at the above chart, you’ll see the reason for the increased scoring volume. Channing Frye is chucking from three point distance. No player has ever averaged 12.5 3-point attempts per 36 minutes over the course of a season, with Stephen Curry coming the closest in the past two seasons with 11.8 and 11.2, respectively.
Something I think that gets overlooked with Frye’s fit is the exponential difference between having a good shooter on the court and having an elite shooter on the court. Some wondered what functional difference Frye could add over another stretch big on the team, Kevin Love. That ignores that Love is “merely” a good three-point shooter. Frye, is, well, insane when he’s shooting from distance.
Frye currently ranks third in the NBA on spot-up opportunities at 1.75 points per possession, per NBA.com. He’s sitting at an 88.7 eFG% on such shots. That’s good for the 99th percentile in the NBA so far.
It’s the top of the three-point arc and the wing that make Frye so devastating as an LBJ partner. LeBron James, as you may have heard, adores running the high pick and roll as well as the high pick and pop.
If a big guarding Frye stays home on a LeBron-Frye pick and pop, all they’re doing is clearing a runway for James to attack the rim. If the big sticks with LeBron for even a second, Frye’s quick release makes him an easy outlet. Frye said as much after the Cavaliers win against the Raptors on Tuesday night in Jason Lloyd’s always spectacular Final Thoughts column.
Now, we can absolutely expect those numbers to come down. Teams will run Frye off the line with more aplomb as their scouting reports reflect that’s he’s absolutely shredding them, but that additional attention will pay dividends for the rest of the team.
What’s really jarring is Frye’s effect on LeBron James. Normally, it feels like LeBron James is just sort of incredible no matter who’s around him, and it’s his peers that are affected by his presence, not the other way around.
That said, with Frye on the court, LeBron James’ numbers are unbelievable.
The thing that’s wild about this is that it all makes perfect sense. When Frye is on the floor, specifically in lineups that features shooters at all four spots around LeBron, there’s nowhere for the defense to hide. Even if teams send a third defender to try to contain the LBJ-Frye pick and pop, it just leaves someone like Mike Dunleavy or Richard Jefferson wide open in the corner. This untenable decision is likely the explanation for LeBron’s ludicrous assist numbers with Frye on the court. Nobody can find an open weak-side shooter quite like Lebron, and they’re rarely this open on any NBA court.
Frye’s impact is also seen in LeBron’s ability to finish around the rim. Tristan Thompson is insanely valuable, but if he’s on the floor, his defender is in the paint to deter LeBron’s shots. When it’s LeBron against whoever’s guarding him on an island, you see something as crazy as an 80% field goal percentage at the rim.
Really, the only way to slow down the LBJ-Frye pick and roll is to switch the action, something most teams simply don’t have the personnel to do. This is how the Cavaliers play most traditional bigs off the floor in Frye-led lineups. This strategy can be effective for defenses, though. We saw the Warriors play Frye out of the series in the Finals due to their ability to switch and “contain” LeBron or Kyrie Irving without ceding open threes.
The net rating disparity in the graphic above is pretty wild, but it’s important to note that many of LeBron’s minutes with Frye come against second units that literally have no chance to stop the Cavs LBJ-led bench units.
Now for the not-so-fun disclaimer: We’re only 10 games into the season. Frye has never shot this well, and while his percentages may stay great due to more open shots than he’s ever gotten, they probably won’t stay this great. That said, the core message should hold. Frye was always going to be a perfect fit in Cleveland and specifically with LeBron James. There isn’t a dead-eye shooter LBJ hasn’t been able to turn into a “star” role player, and Frye is no exception.
The nice thing for LeBron is that Frye is even taking the King’s game to a new level by making it as easy as it’s going to get for the best player in the world.