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Channing Frye and the value of open jumpers

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What’s behind Channing Frye’s recent struggles and is there reason to be optimistic going forward?

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Channing Frye opened this season like he closed last year’s playoffs: on fire. The veteran big man’s sweet stroke from downtown buoyed the “LeBron + Bench” units and covered for his declining lateral quickness on the defensive end.

Since the calendar flipped to 2017, Frye’s regression on both ends of the floor has been a major issue for the Cavs as they try to stay afloat when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love take a seat. Here’s a look at the Cavs offensive, defensive, and net rating with Frye on the floor compared to when he sits:

SHOOTING

The single biggest reason Cavs GM David Griffin acquired Frye at last season’s trade deadline is his ability to shoot the basketball. As a “stretch-five,” Frye provides the spacing necessary to draw opposing centers away from the paint and open driving lanes for James and Irving.

When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, Frye was shooting a blistering 45.7 percent from three. His expert marksmanship was especially effective from straight on, where he attempted 34 percent of his three-point attempts.

Since the calendar turned to 2017, Frye has traded in nearly one-third of those straight on attempts for corner threes and has seen both areas wane in effectiveness. The sharpshooter has already attempted corner threes in his past 19 games than he did in his first 25.

CATCH AND SHOOT

All 86 of Frye’s made three-pointers this season have been assisted, making the catch and shoot jumper the most important play in his arsenal. In January and February, Frye is attempting nearly one more catch & shoot threes per game, while shooting them at a worse percentage.

The most important change to note here is the change in the quality of his attempts. While Frye is actually shooting a better percentage on unguarded catch and shoot threes, these shots make up 12 percent fewer of his attempts.

After taking nearly 65 percent of his three-point attempts without a hand in his face in the first 25 games, the split is nearly 50-50 since January.

This means more of these types of shots:

And fewer of these types of shots:

As Kyle Korver becomes more comfortable in the offense and the Cavs rotation begins to normalize, expect Frye to see more open looks from behind the arc. In an optimized situation, the shooting of prowess of Frye and Korver should combine to create wide open looks for both players as Cleveland enters the final months of the season.

PLAYING WITH LeBRON

One of the most impressive aspects of Frye’s hot start was his 62.3 percent-point percentage on passes from LeBron. Every time LeBron found a waiting Frye on the perimeter felt like a bucket waiting to happen.

That trend has reversed in the New Year.

In 2017, Frye is shooting a mere 32.7 percent on passes from LeBron and is actually shooting 13 percent better on passes from all other teammates. This includes a 50 percent clip (4-8) on passes from new teammate Kyle Korver.

While one would expect this trend to normalize and Frye to find a rhythm with James once again, it remains a storyline to watch down the stretch.

DEFENSE

One of the biggest drawbacks of Frye cooling off from behind the arc is the strain it places on his already negative defensive value.

In the month of January, every single two-man unit that included Frye had a negative net rating.

One of the largest reasons is his struggles to defend the pick-and-roll. When the Cavs “Zone Up” the pick-and-roll, Frye’s foot speed prevents him from challenging guards too high—giving them space to hit the midrange jumper.

But this knowledge can also put Frye on his heels, like Seth Curry does here to get an easy layup.

On the season, Frye is allowing opponents to shoot 59.1 percent at the rim on 3.4 attempts defended per game. The Cavs are 9.1 points per 100 possessions better on defense when Frye is on the bench. Tristan Thompson is the cause of some of that, but Thompson’s defensive rating is 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse in the 160 minutes he has played with Frye.

REASON TO BE OPTIMISTIC?

As Frye and the Cavaliers attempt to put January behind them, the first four games of February do provide some potential for hope.

Frye started against Minnesota in Kevin Love’s absence and played one of his best games of 2017, pouring in 18 points. Although he has only played 44 minutes alongside Irving, James, and Thompson this season, more minutes with the starters could give him more open looks. Playing alongside Thompson also allows him to guard the other team’s worse big man, keeping him out of so many pick-and-rolls.

For the first time since Dec. 31-Jan. 8, Frye has made at least one three in each of the past 5 games and is shooting 41.4 percent from behind the arc over that span.

Finally, the addition of Derrick Williams on a 10-day contract should help limit Frye’s minutes as the Cavs near the playoffs. Coach Tyron Lue seems to have already started cutting back the past few games—including back-to-back 11 minute outings. Prior to February, Frye played at least 18 minutes per game in every calendar month.

While Frye has struggled so far in 2017, there are certainly reasons to be optimistic about his value going forward.

He is still knocking down unguarded threes at a blistering 52.6 percent clip and should see more open looks as Korver settles into the offense. More made three-pointers also lead to fewer transition opportunities for opponents, allowing Frye and the rest of the Cavs defense to get set in the half-court.

Frye’s success down the stretch will be essential to the Cavs as they try to repeat as NBA Finals Champions in 2017 and getting him back on track should be a key focus over the last few months of the season.