Channing Frye's career with the Cleveland Cavaliers didn't start with Frye coming in and playing right away. He played just nine minutes in his debut vs. the Pistons and picked up two DNP's in-between games where Frye played less than 10 minutes. Early on, perhaps because he had not picked up the nuances of the Cavs' offense, Frye didn't have a role with the Cavs.
That changed over the course of four days and two games in Los Angeles. On Thursday against the Lakers, Frye started in place of a sick Timofey Mozgov, played 24 minutes, scored 21 points and made 5-7 triples. On Sunday, Frye played 20 minutes and scored 15 points all on 3-pointers while playing a key role the Cavs' three-point onslaught.
Frye's role in the past two games is the one he was expected to fill when he was acquired at the trade deadline from the Orlando Magic: a big who basically shoots (and makes) threes, plays within the flow of the offense and plays adequate defense.
Frye is an ideal fit for this Cavs roster. With LeBron James and Kyrie Irving dominating the ball, off-ball shooting is perhaps the best skill a role player can have; this is why Kevin Love, the Cavs' third star and a player who in the past was been the center of a top-10 offense, is taking the last majority of his shots without dribbling and from behind the arc.
It's a fact that Cavs coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged after the Cavs' win Sunday per ESPN's Dave McMenamin:
"Well, the style of basketball we play, with LeBron and Kyrie pretty much making all the plays for us, guys are going to get open shots and open 3s," said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. "You got to be able to make them.
"That's the way we're going to play, that's the way we've been playing and guys need to step up and make shots."
Frye has historically been a very good shooter.
For his career, he's shooting just under 40 percent from deep and is fairly consistent from game to game. Frye also happens to be good at the type of 3-pointers - the zero dribble, catch-and-shoot variety - that'll he'll have the chance to take a fair amount of with the Cavs. For the entirety of this year, Frye is shooting 42.5 percent on 3-point attempts where he doesn't dribble. That number has jumped to 50 percent since Frye joined the Cavs. By comparison, Love is shooting 35.1 percent on the same type of shots.
Overall, over 80 percent of Frye's shot attempts have been catch-and-shoot attempts. It wouldn't be shocking if that number stays roughly that high.
Frye's simply a naturally gifted shooter, and his presence has juiced the offense. Per David Locke, the Cavaliers have scored 120.2 points per 100 possessions.
Unsurprisingly, the best way to maximize what Frye does so well would likely be to play him with LeBron as much as possible. At his best, LeBron is doing his best work inside. Whether it's post-ups or drives, LeBron commands the attention of the rest of the defense and creates space for others outside.
As the clip shows, this isn't a particularly complex set. All LeBron does is set up shop in-between the left elbow and left block and the entire Clippers defense shifts towards him. To exploit this, all LeBron does is pass to J.R. Smith who passes to Matthew Dellavedova who makes a three.
Frye doesn't touch the ball on this possession, but he's there at the top of the key, ready to shoot if the ball happens to end up in his hands. Sets like this should create open looks for Frye, who will likely be the safety valve opposing defenses have to account for. Lineups with Frye, LeBron, Smith, Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson would offer the Cavs simple, yet effective, ways to frustrate opposing defenses. The next level option (one the Cavs could use in the fourth quarter if they wanted to) would be to sub in Irving for either Dellavedova or Thompson (the Cavs could either go small or make simply opposing defenses defend another creator depending on the matchup) and create even more simple chaos.
The biggest question about Frye's spot, however, is how he fits next to Love. The Cavs' offense might be at its best if they can play Love and Frye together for a few minutes a game. Frye, while not the best defender, is a decent, smart defender and won't kill a defense by being on the floor. In fact, when he played for the Suns in 2013-14, he was the starting center on a team that had the 15th best defense in the NBA.
If Frye can play at or close to that level, it means the Cavs can play him with both Love and Thompson and unlock a variety of theoretical lineups. It also might mean that Mozgov's place in the rotation may be at risk. He hasn't been nearly as good this year defending the rim as last per Nylon Calculus' rim protection stats, which admittedly aren't up to date for this season, and he simply isn't anchoring the Cavs' defense in a meaningful way anymore. It doesn't help Mozgov's case that he can't make and take threes in the way Lue talked about wanting to do off the openings LeBron and Irving create.
In theory, Frye isn't a meaningful defensive downgrade and an important upgrade on offense. If that holds up in practice over the final portion of the season, Frye could push Mozgov out of the rotation. He's even more at risk of being bumped out of the rotation if LeBron sees extended minutes at the four with Love sliding down the five for longer stretches.
Frye's not going to ever be the type of rim protector Mozgov was last year - and Cleveland might need Mozgov were they to play the Spurs or Thunder in the Finals - but they don't necessarily need that type of rim protection against every team they'll face in the playoffs.
Frye's fixed role, whether he comes off the bench for 15 minutes a night, starts and plays 20 minutes or something else entirely, isn't yet clear. What is known, though, is that there is a role for him to fill.