By Brian Spencer
There’s a theory that many players flourish or fail because of their coach’s system, be it the offensive or defensive schemes. That if you put a given guy on a different team, or change his coach, any production (or lack thereof) he previously had can be taken with a grain of salt. He’s nothing but an interchangeable part that can be easily be replaced with another guy of similar height, similar length, similar skill set.
Today, that theory is most broadly applied to New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni and the scoring-friendly system he previously installed in Phoenix and is now running in NYC. We’ve heard that Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion all wouldn’t have posted the types of numbers they did with Phoenix if not for D’Antoni; now, it’s Danilo Gallinari, David Lee, and (last season) Chris Duhon benefiting for the Knicks.
It’s not a new discussion and is one that’s been scrutinized and analyzed more than I’m going to do here. As far I’m concerned, there’s some validity to both sides of the argument. Take Nash, for example: clearly, his numbers would not have been the same if he were playing in the type of downtempo, walk the ball up the floor, predominantly half-court offense that, say, Larry Brown prefers. Less, longer offensive possessions means less points; pretty straightforward. On the other hand, there’s no disputing the fact that Nash is one of the league’s elite passers and scorers, and no matter where you put him, he’s going to rack up assists and points. (We still think he’s overrated though.)
So, in very simplistic terms, the “system vs. talent” thing can go both ways. Here’s where I’m going with this: Channing Frye is Exhibit A that systems can indeed go a long way towards making or breaking a career… or at least a few seasons’ body of work.
At 6-11 and 245 pounds, Frye has tantalized with his inside-outside potential but rarely done much with it during his first 4 seasons. Drafted 8th overall back in ’05 by the Knicks, Frye’s best year was his first one, when he played in 65 games and averaged 12.3 points, 5.8 boards, and 47% FG in about 24 minutes a night. He can’t really create his own shot and has never been or will be a particularly fearsome defensive presence–for his career he averages a measly 0.5 blocks per–but he’s always been fairly competent at knocking down spot-up jumpers, and is decent on the glass.
The Knicks (two seasons) and the Portland Trail Blazers (two seasons) both didn’t view him as long-term starter material. He probably wasn’t. So far, though, he’s proving to be one of the season’s most savvy free-agent pickups and at 26 years old finally getting a chance in Phoenix to do something he’d never really had a chance to do up until now: shoot three-pointers at will.
For all the talk about Nash getting better with age and the return of a healthy Stoudemire propelling the Suns back into contention after a few down years, it’s Frye’s ability to stretch the defense and knock down longballs that’s given the Suns’ high-flyers the room to operate that disappeared during Shaquille O’Neal’s failed stint in the desert when he camped out in and clogged up the lane.
Coming into this season, Frye had averaged just 0.2 three-point attempts per game in four full seasons; he’d sunk a total of 20 triple tries. It only took 7 games with the Suns for him to equal what took him 278 games to do in New York and Portland. We knew he could shoot, but nobody knew he could do it from behind the arc at such an efficient clip. Nobody, except maybe himself.
It’s amazing, really, what Frye has accomplished in short time: through 37 games–all as a starter–Frye has already had 5 games in which he nailed 6 triples. He’s gone from averaging 0.2 attempts per over his career to 5.8 this season, good for 7th most in the NBA. His 2.6 makes per has him tied for 4th overall with Rashard Lewis, ahead of established long-range bombers like Chauncey Billups, Peja Stojakovic, and Mo Williams. He’s also 8th overall in 3PT percentage at 44.2%. Along with his lofty numbers from three-point land, Frye’s minutes (31:41), points (13), rebounds (6.1), and assists (1.5) are all career highs too.
Where is this coming from? Perhaps more importantly, why didn’t any of his previous coaching staffs recognize and utilize him like he is in Phoenix? Don’t tell me he didn’t learn how to shoot threes until pulling one his purple Suns jersey… did he? I mean, this guy only attempted one three-pointer during his two seasons as an Arizona Wildcat, so it’s hard to figure out what’s going on here.
I don’t know the answer to this Frye riddle, why Gentry and the Suns are getting three times as much out of him as others have. Why he’s absolutely lighting it up from the outside after never doing so before, or really even having a chance to do so. Credit the Suns for recognizing Frye’s potential and making a high-impact, low-cost addition to their team ($2 million this year, $2.08 next), and credit Gentry for successfully incorporating him into the starting lineup and putting him in the right places on the floor to do some damage.
Credit Nash for his ability to drive the lane, draw defenders, and dish to the perimeter. Credit Frye, of course, for seizing the opportunity and becoming a key player on a Western contender. And, yes, credit the system that, in the case of Frye at least, has made this all possible.
Channing Frye Photo Credit: Icon SMI