Channing Frye makes the Suns much better offensively


Steve Nash has been making teammates look better for years, but believe it or not Channing Frye has lifted some of them as well. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

Steve Nash has been making teammates look better for years, but believe it or not Channing Frye has lifted some of them as well. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

By the time I reached the end of my 1500-word odyssey on Suns advanced stats from Thursday, I still could not get over the impact Channing Frye has seemed to make on the offensive side of the ball the past three years, even in a supposed down year this season when the jump shooter shot 41.6 percent.

Andres Alvarez from Wages of Wins reminds me every chance he gets that the Suns could actually be pretty good with a halfway decent power forward. After all, Channing’s WP48 of 0.043 last season led him to rank well worse than an average NBA player in this stat and that result is typical of the last few years for the Suns’ big man who does not shoot particularly efficiently nor rebound all that well (although he is getting better in that department).

By just watching him play and looking at the basic stats, it’s fair to question why the Suns are starting Frye and it’s even more fair to chide them for paying him $19.2 million the next three years.

I also know judging players on plus/minus often isn’t very effective. It’s very noisy and usually variable year to year, and when contemplating unadjusted plus/minus you must consider which teammates the player often shares the court with. For example, Mike Miller will look awfully good if he plays most of his minutes with LeBron James, but at the end of the day he’s still Mike Miller.

But now the last three years the Suns have been a good chunk better with Frye on the floor than when he sits, particularly offensively, and this season and in 2009-10 it’s been by a significant margin.

As I wrote yesterday, the Suns scored 107.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court but just 98.8 without him, according to the NBA’s stats tool. In 2010-11, they scored 108.7 with Frye on the floor and were at 104.1 when he sat. Then in 2009-10 the Suns were an offensive juggernaut with a 115.8 offensive rating with Frye but they were at “just” 108.9 when he was on the bench. This has not held steady his whole career as the Blazers were actually much better when he sat in 2008-09 (112.9-101.2).

Moreover, both Nash and Frye have been better together than apart these past three seasons. The Suns scorched the nets for an offensive rating of 109.0 with Frye and Nash together this past season but were at only 101.5 with Frye but not Nash. With Nash but not Frye that dropped to 100.6.

Two years ago they produced an astounding 117.9 offensive rating together, but that dipped to 111.0 with just Nash and 110.6 with just Frye. The rating dropped to 108.9 with Frye on the bench overall and 107.8 with Two Time taking a rest.

One of the biggest ways coaches can affect a game — and presumably in-house advanced stats gurus as well — is by playing the right players in combination. We all know how important spacing (especially from a big man) is to Nash’s game, so it should be no surprise that he is more effective with Frye by his side, and we didn’t need numbers to see how Nash aids Frye’s game.

I wanted to see the kind of impact Nash and Frye had on other teammates as well to try to see:

  • Whether Frye’s floor-spacing impacts other teammates in a significant manner as well.
  • Which players are aided most by playing next to Nash as well as what kind of player works best in a Nash system.

To reach these conclusions I tabled the offensive ratings for individual Suns’ players both when Nash and Frye individually were in the game and when they sat in 2011-12:

Advanced Stats
YRTMPERTS%UsageReb. RateAst. RatioWP48Wins Produced+/-Adj. +/-
2007-08HOU
16.13
.548
18.4
14.6
10.8
0.114
4.82
-1.85
1.28
2008-09HOU
17.10
.572
17.6
16.9
10.6
0.157
8.16
2.66
-2.34
2009-10HOU
17.22
.550
21.0
15.1
11.0
0.076
4.23
-3.84
-6.32
2010-11HOU
18.43
.538
23.7
14.2
11.6
0.034
1.69
4.55
-0.22
2011-12HOU
15.50
.526
22.6
12.0
11.0
-0.036
-1.56
3.46
-2.80
Stats
YRTMGGSMINFG%3P%FT%STLBLKTOREBASTPTS
07-08HOU823924.7.515.000.6680.70.21.36.41.310.3
08-09HOU828230.3.531.000.7600.80.11.58.71.512.7
09-10HOU828232.6.514.200.7790.80.32.08.62.116.2
10-11HOU747432.6.504.000.7380.60.62.08.22.518.3
11-12HOU666631.3.491.000.7730.50.42.36.42.115.5
Career38634330.2.510.059.7440.70.31.87.71.914.5

Keep in mind how much time the starters spent together (747 minutes) when considering that all the starters played well with both Nash and Frye. As we saw with Thursday’s lineup data, the starters just flat-out worked well together.

Therefore, some of the impressive duo numbers between Nash and a starter and Frye and a starter surely has to do with the entire unit, but still I feel some of these differentials are impressive nonetheless since the differences take into account non-starting lineup time.

I was interested to see that seven players were at least 4.9 points per 100 possessions better with Frye and five with Nash. Three players were double digits better per 100 with Frye with a fourth at 8.4 whereas only two such players were double digits per 100 better with Nash.

However, Nash makes Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat better than Frye does any individual player. JD produced a 108.8 offensive rating with Nash that’s an astounding 17.8 points per 100 possessions better than his rating without the Suns’ point guard.

This works both ways, as Nash produced a 108.8 offensive rating with Dudley by his side but just a 96.0 without him. However, the last two seasons Nash was about the same regardless of whether he was running with JD whereas he’s been appreciably better with Channing the last two seasons as well.

Likewise, the Suns recorded an offensive rating of 107.1 with Nash and Gortat but just a 94.0 with Gortat but no Nash.

Clearly both players fed off and relied on the former MVP in a serious way, and it’s worrying to think what kind of decline they could be in for without him permanently since they are probably the Suns’ next two best players. It’s easy to see all the easy buckets Nash creates for Gortat (he was assisted on 79.6 percent of his buckets) and although it’s to a smaller degree Nash has turned Dudley into a passable starting two guard.

Interestingly enough, Gortat is also much better with Frye in the game with a 12.7 better net rating. That certainly makes sense from the standpoint that Frye leaves the middle completely clear for Nash-Gortat pick-and-rolls, so it should be no surprise that The Polish Hammer thrives with both of those teammates on the court. He has said as much in previous interviews.

It’s also noteworthy to point out that Hill’s offensive rating is 12.5 points per 100 better with Channing but only 5.0 better with Nash.

Everybody knows that Nash makes everybody better and has for years, but I did this research to see how much Frye impacts his teammates as well on the offensive side of the ball. Of the eight common teammates analyzed, five were better with Nash and three with Frye (although one in the Channing column, Morris, was pretty equal so only Hill and Michael Redd were significantly better with the former Wildcat).

Nothing in the NBA is quite so important as fit. Gortat may not be a borderline All-Star if not playing next to Nash and Frye. Frye may be a below average player in other systems, but as a big man spacer for the Nash/Gortat (or Nash/Amare for that matter) pick-and-roll he’s a very valuable offensive player. When players are synergistic like this, that’s how “whole greater than the sum of their parts” seasons ensue.

So as we begin to ponder roster upgrades the Suns can make in the coming months, one key factor to consider is how these new puzzle pieces will fit together. Perhaps the Suns can acquire another Frye who struggled in a previous situation that would be an ideal complement in the Suns’ system.

Statistical support provided by NBA.com.

Tags: Channing Frye Steve Nash

  • Kevin

    Good analysis. It would be interesting to tease out how much of the Sun’s early struggles were due to his 3-ball not dropping, and how important it is when Channing does or doesn’t rebound well.

  • Scott

    Shouldn’t we expect to find these results?

    Frye is a perimeter shooter that teams know they must respect. So when he’s on the court, it’s less likely his defender is going off to help on someone else. Ergo, the other scorers who play with Frye find it easier to get their shots off.

    Likewise, if a player is a marginal scorer and they are on the court with Frye, the team is more likely to get the ball into Frye’s hand for a shot than it is to end up with Childress, Lopez, Telfair, Warrick, or Morris. So they have comparatively lower ratings than the other more offensively capable players.

    Separately, it’s good to see that both Lopez and Warrick had negatives when Nash was on the court, as that supports my impression that last season Nash was ignoring them on offense, choosing to favor other players.

  • Tony

    @Scott,

    seriously?? You really believe Nash ignored Lopez and Warrick when they were on the court together? Careful Scott, you’re approaching A-Rock status! ;)

    What do you suppose was Nash’s motivation in deliberately ignoring giving Lopez or Warrick the ball?

  • https://twitter.com/#!/True_Rys Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Those numbers are great, but even with the story told, Channing was a major reason for the teams’ struggles especially in the first half of the season.

    He can space the floor all day, and he does. When it comes time to hit the shots though, he struggled constantly.

    In any case, the problems for the Suns is not one of offensive power. They can get it done on that side of the floor every year.

    The problem is defensively and limited transition buckets. I won’t go into the heart of this problem because you all already know my thoughts on it.

    Moving forward, I’d like to see that addressed as the identity of the team shifts. Hard to envision how that’s going to be done as I expect major personnel turnover this season, but hopefully the guard on-ball defense, weak-side help, and rebounding along with SPEED transitioning from defense to offense is greatly improved.

    Shooters / spacers aren’t a problem. Gentry’s system will attract them for as long as he coaches in the valley. The other areas are of far more importance.

  • A-ROCK

    Tony your a buster!

    Scott has the right to his opinion too.

    Who are you?

    D@mn right he was ignoring them because he didn’t want to increase his turnover rate! ha

  • Scott

    @A-ROCK -

    I don’t know why Nash would ignore Warrick and Lopez on offense, but I assume it’s because whoever else was on the court with Nash was better at getting open, was more likely to score, or Nash just wasn’t feeling it with Warrick and Lopez, two players he rarely teamed with in the last season.

  • PennyAnd1

    Too bad Frye is very inconsistent. I think anyone who can contribute to scoring would’ve made the Suns better offensively, regardless who that player is. We live & die with either Brown or Frye, when they score or not. That’s why it’s important to get a true scorer, who loves to score not just by throwing up shots but finds it through penetration. I bet you having JJ Harden or Eric Gordon in place of Brown or Frye would’ve made the Suns a very good team.

    I’m glad Suns offered Nash 20 mill even though Nash might not take it, but atleast it showed some respect to Nash.

    If I had it my way, I would spend cash only to get JJ Harden/Ibaka or Eric Gordon. Other than that, I’d trade Gortat while his value is high for LMA or Kevin Love, assuming Robin Lopez stays to play as center. Then I’d get Hill & Nash back alongside Redd, Telfair, Morris & Dudley. I’d try trading the rest for Josh Smith, and take my chances on signing Greg Oden for less cash to back RoLo, or swing for a big man on draft day.

    Nash
    Hill
    Gordon/Hardy
    Josh Smith
    Rolo

    Telfair
    Redd
    Morris
    Dudley
    Oden

  • PennyAnd1

    I forgot to add on that list either Kevin Love or LMA

  • https://twitter.com/#!/True_Rys Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Didn’t love just sign that nice extension and went on record saying he’s happy with the Wolves?

    In any case, I don’t see Love or LMA in the valley. Both players are under contract, and I don’t see a package of any combination of Suns players who are also under contract being nearly attractive enough to even get Portland or ‘Sota’s attention.

    Oden will be out pretty much all of the coming season, and I’m no longer sold on J Smoove. He looked awful in that playoff series.

  • steve

    Aldridge and Love would be long shots, especially Love. And I am in the doubter camp when it comes to Josh Smith as well. A TS% of around 50% with his size and athleticism is pathetic. His WS numbers are pretty average, and he just cannot seem to figure out he’s an awful perimeter shooter. He is what I would consider to be the exact opposite of a cerebral player.

  • Scott

    @Penny -

    My apologies for re-stating the same positions all the time, but I realize not everyone reads every comment on these boards.

    My observation is that Frye plays his best offense as a center. When he plays at PF his shot is challenged more, he doesn’t create the same mismatches, and he struggles. It was a problem in Portland before it became a problem in Phoenix. Frye’s offense is just more successful at C, both personally and for the team.

    If the Suns have a better option at starting PF, then I believe Frye would best serve the team by playing center.

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