Channing Frye under the advanced stats microscope

Channing Frye's big man skills improved a bit but he's still best known as a shooter. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Channing Frye's big man skills improved a bit but he's still best known as a shooter. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

PHOENIX — When the Phoenix Suns went a bit out of their comfort zone to sign Channing Frye to a five-year, $30 million extension last summer, some felt it was an overreaction to a bloated marketplace that featured a handful of middling big men signing sizable deals.

After all Frye did enjoy a breakout season in 2009-10, the exact definition of a “contract year,” and the fear was he was worth $6 million a year in that market but perhaps not in the market yet to come after the new collective bargaining agreement is signed.

Then the season started and Frye proved to be one of the team’s more invaluable players. He ranked just behind Steve Nash in minutes played at 33.0 per game and once logged almost 100 minutes during a back-to-back stretch that featured his 57-minute triple overtime outing against the Lakers.

He drilled a franchise-record-tying nine three-pointers in a late-season win over the Timberwolves and earned a clutch reputation for his late-game heroics while also becaming a better defender, rebounder and post player.

Perhaps his value was seen most during the crucial stretch following his separated shoulder when Phoenix lost four in a row after a win over Houston to essentially drop out of the playoff hunt. The Suns won three of four upon his return but ultimately never could recover from that crushing losing streak.

“I think Channing Frye, to see the improvement that Channing Frye has made overall, not just the shooting part of it,” Alvin Gentry said, “I just think the way he’s improved defensively, the way he’s improved his rebounding I think is a positive.”

But putting Frye under the microscope of advanced stats shows some thorns along with the rosy outlook concerning Channing.

First the good news. The Phoenix Suns were a better team with Channing Frye on the basketball court, 7.51 points per 100 possessions unadjusted better in fact, according to Only Nash himself possessed a greater unadjusted rating, although Frye was only at -1.65 adjusted due to all the floor time he spent with Two Time.

This continues a trend from last year when Frye owned a team-best 5.95 unadjusted plus/minus rating as well as a third-best 3.55 adjusted rating.

Gentry has often talked about the way Frye’s ability to space the floor makes everybody else better the same way an elite wide receiver creates opportunities for his teammates through the attention paid to him. With teams leery of doubling off Frye, that opens up the Nash/Gortat pick-and-roll and the other shooters on the floor.

Plus/minus is far from a perfect stat, but it’s better than anything else at showing something like “ability to space the floor.” The Suns’ offense was 4.77 points better with Frye on the court, and that spacing prowess is a big reason why.

Frye played almost six more minutes per game and took about two extra shots per contest, but he was not quite as efficient as he was in his breakout campaign. Frye’s true shooting percentage declined from 59.8 to 55.8 percent and his PER went from 15.09 to 12.89 as his three-point shooting percentage dipped from 43.9 percent to 39.0.

Despite the talk of a more well-rounded game Frye took about an extra three per contest (5.7 total to rank fifth in the league with 439 attempts) while taking the same amount of shots at the rim (0.9) and going from 0.5 to 0.9 shots per game between 3-9 feet.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Frye scored 1.03 points per play on post-up attempts, 19th in the league; he shot 53.3 percent (49-for-92) and scored on 50.8 percent of those attempts. The one mitigating factor to this analysis is the fact that may of his post-up opportunities came in size mismatches so it’s likely the average player would do even better against such defense.

Frye was assisted on 82.4 percent of his baskets after being assisted 83.9 percent of the time last year, according to HoopData. This isn’t necessarily a gripe — everybody knows Frye is a catch-and-shoot player, not a shot creator — and that’s to be expected when 44.4 percent of your attempts are of the spot-up variety.

The UA product improved a bit on the glass, upping his defensive rebound rate from 17.6 to 20.4 and his overall rebound rate from 11.0 to 11.7. That’s still not great considering he tied Johan Petro for 65th in DRR and was tied for 116th in overall rebound rate just ahead of boarding standouts like Austin Daye and Al Harrington. Frye has a ways to go to be considered a solid rebounder, but this still marks improvement from a year ago.

Defensively, according to Synergy, Frye ranked 303rd overall by yielding 0.93 points per play and 44.9 percent shooting. Frye did a solid job in isolation situations, holding his man to 41.2 percent shooting and 0.79 ppp, but he struggled playing post defense to the tune of 0.96 ppp and 50.3 percent opponent shooting. Opponents scored in the post against Channing 48.4 percent of the time.

Finally, there’s the Wins Produced stat that has never been particularly kind to Frye. Last year he produced 1.3 wins with a 0.029 WP48 and this year was much of the same, with Frye producing 1.2 wins with another below average 0.022 WP48, according to Wins Produced doesn’t take particularly kindly to big men who don’t rebound much and shoot a low percentage from the field (Frye was at 43.2 percent this season).

So what do all these numbers say about Frye and the player the Suns have under contract the next four years in the neighborhood of $6 million a year?

First off, he is what he is. He will never be a low post behemoth but he helps the Suns in ways many of these stats can’t calculate by spacing the floor and drawing attention away from his teammates, although he does need his scoring opportunities to be set up for him.

Channing’s shooting numbers regressed this season, but his percentages have always been terribly variable year to year (always better in even years), and for an “off” year they weren’t that bad.

Finally, his rebounding and post offense/defense have gotten better, but they are still below average for his position.

Thus although Frye makes his money as the kind of elite floor-spacing big man that’s few and far between in this league,  his big man skills must improve for him to fully live up to his contract.

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