With eight seconds left in overtime, the Phoenix Suns are losing to the Los Angeles Lakers 118-121. Who takes the shot?
Before the second half of this season, the answer likely would not have been Channing Frye. Heck, before February 27, not many fans would have believed Alvin Gentry if the coach had looked them in the eyes and told them the power forward was taking the shot.
Frye has come a long way since July 2009, when he first signed with the Suns, and an even longer way since he signed a 5-year, $30 million deal last offseason. So much so that every Suns fan watching Tuesday night’s triple overtime thriller knew who was getting the ball with those precious seconds left on the clock.
He didn’t re-enact his February magic, though, when he put the shot up. Instead, Nash had to retrieve the offensive rebound and toss it back to Frye, who was fouled by Lamar Odom and given the chance to tie the game with three huge free throws.
He stepped up to the line, confidently, and made one, two and three.
Frye’s extraordinary development complete.
“He has raised his game to a completely different level,” Suns president Lon Babby said on Sports 620 KTAR’s Doug and Wolf show Wednesday morning. “I had no doubt he was going to make those free throws when he had a chance to tie up the game in overtime and I’m not sure we would have felt that way earlier in the season.”
Despite Tuesday’s game resulting in a heavy loss for the Suns, Frye scored a career-high 32 points to go along with 14 rebounds, further reinforcing the team’s vision of him as a scorer all season long.
“Absolutely Channing has risen to a new level, I think in part because he sees the effort it takes and the work ethic it requires,” Babby said.
A dislocated right shoulder sidelined Frye for two weeks and threatened to limit his production for the team. Instead, Frye worked through the injury and hasn’t disappointed in the three games since his return, averaging 22.7 points and nine rebounds.
When evaluating the way Frye has stepped up this season, most overlook the role models who surround the young player in the Suns’ locker room. The chance to study the ways Steve Nash and Grant Hill dedicate themselves to the game and to their teammates is one that Babby says Frye is lucky to have.
“You can never underestimate the importance of having professionals on your team that set the role model [and] that set the tone,” Babby said. “I think a big piece of Channing’s development is the leadership that he sees from Grant and Steve.”
But, there was still added pressure for the former Arizona Wildcat after signing the multi-year deal over the summer.
Frye’s ability to respond positively to the new contract is one that Babby recognizes not necessarily as an exception, but as the right kind of example.
“Lots of players make the mistake of trying to be something they’re not because they think they have to live up to a contract,” Babby said. “Channing is an important piece of what we do here, we recognize that and I think he has responded with the way you want any player to respond.”
With the Suns still three games out of the final playoff spot in the West, Babby is confident the team will continue to fight all the way to the end.
Based on how he’s been working and performing all season, Frye’s a good bet to continue his recent hot streak and finish the season strong.