Channing Frye is something of a poster child for the spacing revolution. After being pigeon-holed for the vast majority of his career as a low-post big, Frye developed a three-point shot and completely changed his game.
For the first four years of Frye’s career, he averaged 0.3 three-point attempts per game while hitting 28.6 percent of them. He posted a 50.4 percent true shooting percentage while earning a 23.5 percent free throw rate.
When Frye went to Phoenix, everything changed. In the 8 years following, Frye’s profile flipped. In 24.1 minutes per game, Frye jumped his three-point attempts to 4.4 per game on 39 percent shooting from distance. After his profile change, Frye’s true shooting percentage skyrocketed to 56.7 in the eight years following and he fundamentally stopped playing in the post — his free throw rate dropped all the way to 12.7 percent.
He operated as part of one of the best pick-and-pop duos in the NBA with Goran Dragic before eventually landing as yet another devastating weapon that opened up room for LeBron to rumble to the rim with little-to-no resistance and hit open shots whenever they were generated for him.
Frye’s value was outrageous. He dragged plodding big men out of the paint and forced them to defend in space, and given his talented partners in the pick and pop, Frye opened up opportunities that extended well beyond made shots.
As they tend to do, defenses have started to catch up. As offenses like the 2014 San Antonio Spurs ravaged defenses by forcing them into rotations until they broke, the schemes had to change. Teams like the Warriors (and even the Cavs in the 2016 Finals) started disrupting this beautiful-game offense by loading up on like-sized wings that could move and switching everything.
It’s not hard to see why this presents a problem for a guy like Frye, who wasn’t the most mobile on his best day. The space that was once generated by a pick-and-pop is replaced by a simple switch. Frye still has gravity, but defenses that were once destabilized by his mere presence have gotten better at staying intact.
Switching defenses can be beat, but they rely on bonafide stars in isolation or in the post to cook their mismatches with regularity. Frye just isn’t that person. In his last full season with the Cavaliers, he only averaged 0.6 post-ups per game. He did an okay job, scoring 0.96 points per possession, but you’ll never build an offense around exploiting mismatches in the post with Channing Frye.
If Frye’s not that kind of guy, then that means he’s forced to still hang on the perimeter, but what had become a steady diet of wide open shots started to dry up as teams were more willing to switch on him.
Last season, 50.9 percent of Frye’s field goal attempts were three-pointers that were defined as “open” or “wide open” by NBA.com (two three-point attempts per game). That sounds pretty good, right? Not when you compare them to 2016-17.
A jarring 61.4 percent of all of Frye’s FGA in 2016-17 were three-pointers that were defined as either “open” or “wide open” by NBA.com (4.2 three-point attempts per game.) He played five less minutes per game last season, but that doesn’t account for such a significant drop in volume from distance.
Frye’s three-point rate has actually dropped year-over-year as the league has gotten better at defending players like him.
It’s not that Frye can’t shoot anymore — he’s simply being run off the line by strategies that don’t allow him the space to thrive.
Ultimately, this isn’t as devastating as it seems. Only the best defenses and rosters are able to throw out enough players to completely take Frye out of a game plan. At 35-years-old, Frye is ultimately going to be a mentor and a role model for the young Cavaliers at this point in his career. When he gets onto the floor, he’ll do his job at his best.
Unfortunately, the winds of change come for us all, and this particular change was not kind to the Cavaliers big man.