For years, I wanted the Cavs to chase after Channing Frye. He is a big man that fits right in line with where the NBA has trended. He can shoot, and he can protect the rim a bit. He doesn't have great lateral quickness, and he doesn't have tremendous size. Were there centers with advanced back to the basket games that fit within modern NBA offenses, it might be difficult for Frye to match up with them. For the most part, though, those players no longer exist.
And so Channing Frye's value exists. He can stretch the floor with three point shooting and open up driving lanes for Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. He can make it harder for help to come to a posting up Kevin Love. He could, you know, make three point shots. Those are worth three points when they go through the basket.
The value has more urgency. Timofey Mozgov, while showing some signs of life recently, has not regained the form one would have hoped. The Cavs Big 3 of Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love are actually getting beat by 5.7 points/100 possessions when Mozgov plays per nbawowy.com. Considering that the group excels when they share the court with Tristan Thompson, it doesn't seem like an issue that simply is on the back of Kyrie Irving or the Big 3.
So perhaps the plan all along was simply for Frye to back up Kevin Love and provide another shooter off the bench. Given his struggles to get playing time in Orlando, it would make sense that the Cavs had modest goals for Frye. But he's been a near perfect fit, and the Cavs are outscoring opponents by 9.4 points/100 possessions when he plays, per nba.com/stats. He's been a productive big, and the Cavs are currently starting a big who hasn't been productive at all.
The easy answer to start would be Tristan Thompson, and perhaps that's where the Cavs will go once the playoffs start. But Thompson has been productive against second units, and incredibly good in fourth quarters when he has come off the bench. He was able to bring that energy while starting last year in the playoffs, but the story this season has been that he's been better off the bench. So why not play Channing Frye with the starters? Why not give him the shot?
And here is where it gets frustrating. Frye has played 374 minutes with the Cavs. Just 27 of them have come while Kevin Love is on the court. 27 minutes. It's fair to wonder about what the defense would look like with the two of them sharing the court. Mobility would seem to be an issue. But is Frye any slower than Mozgov at this point? Per nbawowy.com, the Cavs are outscoring opponents by 26.4 points/100 possessions when they share the court. It's too small of a sample to really mean anything, outside of the fact that they've certainly earned a bit more time together.
Another problem it creates is that you are squandering minutes that the Big 3 play when they aren't successful with Mozgov. Because of the need to stagger Irving and James, the Big 3 are most likely to play together at the beginning of halves and the end of games. That time is largely being wasted on combinations that don't work. By the time Thompson shares the court with them, it's late in the game. This is much more tenable if the starting lineups are actually working. It's not.
To belabor the point: the theoretical positive of Love and Frye playing together, which is largely theoretical because they don't get to play together, is all the more unconscionable in the face of Mozgov's struggles. Keeping Tristan Thompson fresh makes all the sense in the world. Some early skepticism of the impact Frye could make makes sense. 27 minutes of Love and Frye after two and half months does not.