Green: Frye's game evolves, improves
Six years into his NBA career, Channing Frye has remade himself as a basketball player. Of course, he did the same in his fifth year, and for a guy whose career was heading south it could not have come at a better time, for him and his team.
The Suns, middling along at 27-27, have picked up their play of late. Winners of seven of their last 10, the playoffs are back within sight, and Frye's play in the month of February has been a major reason why.
"He's done a good job for us defensively, which has helped tremendously," head coach Alvin Gentry said before the team's game with Dallas last Thursday.
Defensively. Now there's a word you don't expect to hear in reference to the Phoenix Suns, and especially not when talking about the lanky Frye. He is, after all, a 6'11", 245 pounder who took 392 three pointers last season, making 172. But, Frye said, he does not want the three ball to be the only thing he does.
"I don't want to pigeon hole myself as a player, I feel like, you know, if we need a couple post ups let me get a touch down there," Frye said. "I'm not going to shoot it every time -- I like passing, I like assists, so for me I just challenge myself and continue to try to use the skills I learned in college and high school and while I was in the pros and just use them all."
Frye has honed his skills during various stops in his career, many of which have been in the state of Arizona. A St. Mary's High product, he spent four years in Tucson playing for Lute Olson and the University of Arizona, where he is second all-time in blocked shots, third in rebounds and 10th in free throws made, while taking a grand total of 17 three pointers in four seasons. Not exactly numbers that one could have used to foresee a role as a three-point shooter at the next level.
"Yeah, Coach O was no joke," Frye said. "It was like boom; get one block, this side and no baseline shots. You know the three thing came along, I started shooting jumpers and that was kind of my thing."
Frye, who said he knew he wouldn't always be bigger than whoever he was matched up against, figured his niche would be as a stretch-big who could help space the floor. However, after being drafted by the New York Knicks 8th overall in 2005 and then traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007, his role was as undefined as it was unsuited to his game.
Thus, a guy who was selected to the All-Rookie team and averaged nearly 11 points a game in two seasons with the Knicks saw his role - and production - diminish in Portland. Frye, a starter 73 times in his first two seasons, did so just 21 times for Portland, averaging fewer than six points a game in less than 15 minutes of playing time.
However, when the Suns offered him a two year contract, with the second being a player option, he knew the Valley of the Sun could offer the perfect opportunity to showcase his skills, which were left unused in The City of Roses.
"In talking to [former Suns] James Jones and Quentin Richardson - guys that have played here in this system, they were like ‘Man, you fit in well,' and they would tell me little things," Frye said, "so when I came in here it was just like OK, if this is how we're going to play let me see if this works.
"And it started working."
Boy did it.
Frye and the Suns got off to a fast start in 2009, with Frye's shooting stroke taking the league by surprise. A starter early in the season, Frye earned an invitation to the All-Star Weekend Three Point Shootout, and finished the year by making nearly 44 percent of his three point attempts while scoring 11.2 points per game. He thrived as a compliment to Amare Stoudemire's inside game and, while he had his struggles in the postseason, the Suns seemed convinced there was a long-term future for the 27-year-old in Phoenix.
So, after Frye voided the second year of his contract to become a free agent, he re-upped with the Suns for five years and $30 million. Then Stoudemire left and the Suns failed to sign any true big men in the offseason. That left Frye as one of two centers on the roster, even if his style of play was not conventional for the position.
Then, given the turnover the roster went through over the summer, the team got off to a slow start, with Frye struggling to regain the form that he showed the previous year. There was talk about him feeling pressure from the new contract, but he said that wasn't really the case.
"I think the first couple weeks [the contract] was pressure and then coach was like ‘Come on man, you earned that, and just continue to work hard and do what you have to do.'," he said.
Instead, Frye said his early struggles could be attributed to having to re-learn how to fit in with his teammates. A December trade made that even more difficult, but lately things have been looking up for the team and their new starting power forward, as he is putting up career numbers in the month of February.
"I think now you're noticing my shots getting up, but Vince's shot attempts are down, Grant's are down, so everybody goes through a different month," he said. And true, Frye's average of 14 shots per game this month is roughly four more than he has averaged for the season, but he's making nearly 45 percent of his attempts - from two and three - en route to a 16.3 points per game average.
However, not everyone gets their points in the various ways Frye does. As it happens, after practice he spent time shooting three pointers from all around the arc, and then followed that by working on his low post game. He said, when it comes down to it, it's all about what the defense gives him.
"I've got no problem shooting layups," he said. "If you're outside playing at the Y, playing in the yard, you're not going to let some little guy play you."
But, while the scoring is nice, it is Frye's work on the other side of the court that has people talking. Averaging a career-best 6.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, Frye's improvement - this month and this season - has not gone unnoticed.
"I think he's rebounded the basketball probably better over the last ten, 12 games than he has since he's been in the league," Gentry said.
Of that, Frye said it was important to be able to hold his own on the glass.
"I don't want to be that guy that gets like 15 and 2, 15 and 3, and it's just, that's just embarrassing," he said. "I feel if I'm in a game that long I should be getting between seven and 12 rebounds a game, and I think for me it's just about energy."
At the end of the day, though, Frye said it's important that whatever he does, he does well enough to help the Suns win.
"I'm not saying I'm freakishly good at any one thing - other than maybe shooting," he said with a smile. "So for me, if I could be just good at a lot of things and awesome at one thing I think I can really help the team out," he said.
So whether that means being a scorer or a defender, an outside shooter or a rebounder, a low post threat or a shot blocker, Frye said it doesn't matter as long as he's helping the victories pile up. But, he cautioned, when the game is on the line you'll know where to find him.
"When it all comes down to it, when it's crunch time, you know where I'm going to be at," he said. "I'm going to be trying to get a bucket, I'm going to get on the glass and give the team a bucket any way I can."