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.

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