Phoenix Suns '10-'11 Player Evaluation: Channing Frye-The Answer to the Suns Search for an Amare Replacement?

Not Everything Shows up in the Numbers. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

"If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way."
-Mark Twain

Last Summer Channing Frye signed a 5 year, $30 million contract to remain with the Phoenix Suns. There was never much of a question that Frye would leave. Yes, some teams may have kicked his size 16 tires, but Frye wanted to be a Sun. He grew up in Phoenix, played his high school and college ball in AZ, heck even his grandma lived here and shopped at Frye's Supermarket. It was a good signing for both sides of the deal. As the back up 5, no one was going to to take Frye's spot-that of a big who can spread the floor and hit from long range. In addition, Frye was a big part of the Suns potent second unit. With Louis Amundson and Leandro Barbosa already gone, there was no reason to further deplete the cohesion of the Suns bench for the contract Frye was asking for.

Yet there was something else that may have been playing on the minds of both Frye and the Suns FO. Amare Stoudemire had yet to officially leave the Suns, but keeping Frye aboard was an insurance policy should Amare fly the coop. Of course he did, a week after Frye re-signed. No one thought that Channing could take the place of Amare Stoudemire, but to have the flexibility of size and scoring was important. No different than the philosophy of grabbing Warrick, Turkoglu, and Childress, the signing of Frye was on the same level of: "Let's grab some guys, toss them on the floor, and see if we can contend."

Frye was a known quantity to the Suns and their fans. We knew what we were getting, big guy, stretch the floor, 3's, no defense, yadda, yadda, yadda. But something happened along the way from October to April-Channing Frye became the starting 4. He improved on the defensive end, he became a huge piece of Suns offensive output on a squad that lacked a go-to guy, and most importantly, Frye gained mad confidence and popularity after this: 

Channing Frye's Buzzer-Beater (via NBA)

and this

Channing Frye grabs the Grant Hill miss and slams it home (via kakalama12345678)

and this

Channing Frye overtime game winning three vs. Nets (Feb. 28, 2011) (via thehoopscene)

And who could forget the night Channing became a man:

Kevin Garnett punches Channing Frye LIVE brawl (via 2929alligator)

When we consider Frye's '10-'11 campaign, we have to believe that he stepped up and played defense and rebounded at a level most of us didn't think he could. The most notable difference from last season is in the rebounding department. Frye posted 59 games in which he grabbed between 5-18 rebounds. In '09-'10 Frye had 48 games of 5-14 rebounds. Frye played 351 more minutes this season and picked up 513 rebounds, compared to 427 last season. From an offensive standpoint, Frye shot worse this year, in 48 more attempts from beyond the arc, hit one less 3 (171) than last season and shot 39%, compared to last season's 44%.

The modest increases and subtle decreases in Frye's numbers are a bit misleading. But the differences between this season and '09-'10 are most likely due to his increase in minutes, his move to the first string 4 from second string 5, and the fact that a lot of Frye's defensive improvement cannot be captured in a box score. Upon moving to the starting lineup once Hedo Turkoglu was moved and Hakim Warrick proved a one trick pony, Frye stepped in, found the motivation to hit the boards and play above average D.

Say, what the hell was with the Twain quote anyway? Well something about hanging a cat by its tail. Of course I do not condone such acts on animals, but the gist of the statement had to do with being wrong, which I was in my pre-season prediction about the proposed biggest disappointment on the Suns squad:

 "Channing Frye. Cannot find his touch and proves more worthless defensively than a year ago when asked to play PF and hit the rack."

How naive of myself to assume a shooter could go 77 games and not find his touch. How faithless was I to believe that Frye couldn't improve his defensive game? Bad Wilfredo, bad! Not only did Frye get over his early season woes, he became a go-to man for the Suns on the offensive end. He became the ice man of sorts, looking for the ball come crunch time, and went from defensive liability to a strong defender in the Suns front court. The late season non-foul call on Kevin Durant that left Frye with a separated shoulder and on the bench resulted in the Suns losing 4 of the 5 next games during a pivotal stretch of their post season drive. It was clear evidence that the Suns depended on Frye and needed him in order to win.

But is Frye the answer at the 4? In '10-'11 Channing started 64 games, averaging 13.8 and 7. Is this his ceiling? Or can Frye hit the weight room this off-season and put on the bulk to take on the monster 4's of the league? Can he find the big man acumen to post 20 and 10 numbers? Do the Suns need that from their 4? As pointed out in the Dudley pieces, it depends what the Suns can get done in free agency. If the Suns can pick up a scoring 2, Gortat continues his double-double performances, and the bench can do there job, then maybe Frye doesn't have to be an Amare replacement. He can be himself, do what he does best, and improve upon a strong season. 

20 and 10 is a stretch for Frye. Amare he is not. He lacks the explosiveness and athleticism of Stoudemire. His efficiency ((Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) - ((Field Goals Att. - Field Goals Made) + (Free Throws Att. - Free Throws Made) + Turnovers)) ranked 38 in the NBA among forwards, in territory of Andrei Kirilinko, Shawn Marion, and Danilo Gallinari. But Frye proved a serviceable starter for the Suns this season. The questions remains to what extent he can improve and if the Suns find a J.R. Smith type available via trade or FA. Perhaps Channing Frye won't get the shot to prove he's up to the task.

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