When CBSSports broke the news that Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat had been traded to the Washington Wizards for an injured Emeka Okafor, the belief that the Suns were committed to tanking was summed up as follows: “Focus on young talent, clear more salary space, and focus on next June’s draft. Lock them into the No. 2 spot in the lottery right now.”
After the team acquired Eric Bledsoe, many believed they would seek to simply play their young talent as much as possible and explore the possibility of moving their other point guard, Goran Dragic. No one thought that new head coach Jeff Hornacek (former Jazz assistant) would be able to lead this young core and get them to buy in. No one thought that Dragic and Bledsoe would be able to share time on the court (let alone effectively), and no one believed that the team would be able to get productive contributions from the likes of Miles Plumlee (9.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.8 BPG) and Gerald Green (12.9 PPG).
Defying the odds, the Phoenix Suns are living up to their new social media mantra, Ignite The Future, with a 17-10 record. The style that Coach Hornacek has gotten his group of young players to commit to is predicated on many of the things that Coach Nick analyzes, namely floor spacing via pick and pops and efficient three-point shooting, while being able to attack the basket with two quick, penetrating point guards. This is a team that scores 103 points per game and attempts the third most threes.
The wheels on the bus take the form of veteran Channing Frye.
This year, with injuries to Dragic and Bledsoe, Frye leads the team in minutes, points, and field goal attempts. He is averaging 11.3 PPG for the season, but has shown improvement as he shakes off a nagging shoulder injury. After a forgettable first eight games where he only broke double digit scoring once, Frye has shot better than 50% from the field and from three. His role in the offense is that of a pick-and-pop big, and he is emerging as the premier example of just how devastating a three-point threat can be as the screener in the team’s go to action.
Want some evidence to support his involvement as a pick-and-pop big? Of his 118 attempted threes, only nine have come from the corners (per NBAwowy). On top of this, 35% of his shots come from catch and shoots. The Suns starting unit, Frye-Plumlee-Tucker-Dragic-Bledsoe scores 101.1 points per 48 minutes while only allowing 95.7 points.
As evidenced by his shot chart, Frye is lights out when shooting wing threes (44.1% for the season). The part of his game that the Suns are the most excited about is that Frye can put the ball on the floor and be deadly close to the rim with an awkwardly-useful pull-up jump hook. His stellar role in the offense and heady shot selection yield a true shooting percentage (a metric that scales to the value of threes as well as including free throws) of 61.2%, another category in which he leads the team. When Frye is mixing up his play by occasionally rolling to the basket, slipping screens, he creates that half-step of hesitation from the defender when he does decide to shoot a three.
Although the Suns have burst onto the scene as a competitive bunch, it still remains to be seen what their long term plan is. With an extremely hyped draft inbound, the Suns may be looking to move Frye to a team in need of a stretch forward (the Rockets, Pacers, and Clippers come to mind). The nature of the business could become that Frye’s stellar play actually makes him more likely to be traded come the deadline, with the same going for point guard Goran Dragic. But as it now stands, Frye’s skillset allows him to create mismatches on a nightly basis, ushering a new trend in basketball that invests in three point attempts and attacking the rim.