PHOENIX — This year’s rendition of the 3-Point Shootout features veteran NBA gunners in Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups, young natural shooters who may have been shooting threes since they left the womb in Stephen Curry and Danilo Gallinari as well as last year’s defending champion, Daequan Cook.
So why should anybody give much of a chance in tonight’s Shootout to a guy who had hit a mere 26 three-pointers in his previous eight seasons of NBA and college ball coming into this season?
Channing Frye has had that kind of first half, ranking third in three-point makes (120) behind only Gallinari and Aaron Brooks and 10th in three-point shooting percentage (43.3 percent). He’s the only NBA player to appear on both top-10 lists.
Some believed it was ridiculous when Steve Kerr said he thought Frye would hit 100 three balls with the Suns this season. Now it seems ridiculous that Kerr expected him to only reach the century mark.
But the question remains, does taking his place among the top shooters in the league on All-Star Saturday Night validate Frye as a legitimate three-point shooter?
“It’s going to sound bad, but I think the hundred and something I made already kind of validates me, this is just acknowledging,” Frye said. “But, you know, I was just thinking about it. Just think about where I’ve come from not playing at all to being in the three-point contest and really trying to be a great threat on the floor just to score. For me I’m just going to take this and just add this and continue to make steps, and I’m getting there. I know some games it’s a little rough, but I’m getting there.”
Frye’s talking about the fact that he was a bench warmer for the Blazers last year who averaged 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game. Portland thought so much of him that they chose not to make him a qualifying offer, freeing him to sign with the Suns.
His career had been on a downward slope since a solid rookie season before this fifth-year breakout in Phoenix. Not that some people with Portland didn’t think this was possible.
“Steve Blake and all the trainers and all them were like, ‘Hey, go win that for us. We knew you could shoot last year,’” Frye said Wednesday after the Blazers beat the Suns.
What’s even more amazing is Frye’s evolution from a low-post college player into a three-point shooting big man in the NBA, a change that started when Channing was traded from New York to Portland after his second year and realized the only way he would stick in the NBA was by developing a reliable long-range jumper.
So Frye, who had good touch on a mid-range shot in college, hit the gym. At Media Day he said he forces himself to hit 450 jumpers a day of all varieties to make the long jumper a natural part of his game. That day I asked Frye if he would win a big man shooting contest against Amare, who is proficient at the mid-range J, but Channing said that was too easy, proclaiming he could out-gun any Sun but Nash or J-Rich.
It was hard to believe then, but now the question is if Frye can take on the top gunners in the league.
To Frye, his biggest competition tonight will be sweet-shooting Stephen Curry, my favorite as well. It will also be interesting to see how Frye reacts to the repetitive set shooting involved with this contest, being that he’s at his best spotting up and hitting a three off a Nash pass.
But Frye is planning on just not over-thinking it.
“For me it’s just going out there and having fun and enjoying the moment,” he said. “When the big lights go on you’ve just got to shoot. If you’re a shooter, you’ve got to shoot the ball.”
And if Frye has proven anything during the first half of the season, it’s that he is most certainly a shooter.
Nash vs. the kids in Skills Challenge
2005 winner Steve Nash will join a trio of young guns in the latest carnation of the Skills Challenge.
Nash, who turned 36 last Sunday, is definitively the elder statesmen of a group that features 2008 winner Deron Williams (25), late entry Russell Westbrook (21) and rookie Brandon Jennings (20).
But if Nash has proven anything this year it’s that age is just a number and that he’s had no issue running circles around guys a fraction of his age all season long.
Dallas fans still love Nash from his time with the team, so expect him to be the fan favorite of this group.