Mar 16, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Phoenix Suns forward Channing Frye (8) during their game against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Suns beat the Raptors 121-113. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns: Why Channing Frye Loss Really Hurts

I’ll be completely honest with you here — I watched every Phoenix Suns game last season and when I heard that Channing Frye was going to be heading out of town, I didn’t feel like it would make a huge difference. Don’t get me wrong — Frye was a good guy, easy to talk to and generally stuck to his strengths, but I figured it wouldn’t be a huge deal replacing him in the lineup. The numbers don’t agree with my eye-test and it appears there’s a bigger problem on the horizon.

As it stands, we’re likely to see the Suns turn to Markieff Morris as the starter at the power forward position. There’s an outside chance that Anthony Tolliver starts there, but more likely than not we’re going to get Markieff. Take a look at the Suns 5-man lineups that played more than 101 minutes together from last season:

Net (Per 100 Poss)
Rk Lineup MP FG% 3P% eFG% FT% PTS ORB% DRB% TRB%
1 G. Dragic | C. Frye | G. Green | M. Plumlee | P. Tucker 525:28 +.024 +.023 +.052 -.110 +0.8 -2.3 -2.3 -1.9
2 E. Bledsoe | G. Dragic | C. Frye | M. Plumlee | P. Tucker 435:46 +.047 +.024 +.064 +.012 +12.4 +1.4 +1.4 +2.3
3 G. Dragic | C. Frye | G. Green | M. Morris | P. Tucker 144:29 +.014 +.030 +.034 -.024 -2.2 +4.9 +4.9 +6.5
4 E. Bledsoe | C. Frye | G. Green | M. Plumlee | P. Tucker 102:27 -.042 +.060 -.018 -.152 -11.3 -4.2 -4.2 -3.4
5 G. Dragic | C. Frye | G. Green | M. Morris | M. Morris 101:00 +.015 +.083 +.047 +.176 +14.6 -12.9 -12.9 -13.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2014.

Notice any constants there? First off, Frye was in every single one of those lineups. He was the only Suns player to start in all 82 games and only Gerald Green and Marcus Morris appeared in all 82 games. That’s a lot of production that needs to be replaced. Frye’s raw numbers were respectable, but not off-the-charts by any means. Take a look at Frye from last season, along with his likely replacement in the starting lineup.

Player G MP FG% 3P% 2P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Channing Frye 82 28.2 .432 .370 .509 .821 5.1 1.2 0.7 0.8 1.1 3.0 11.1
Markieff Morris 81 26.6 .486 .315 .512 .792 6.0 1.8 0.8 0.6 1.8 2.9 13.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2014.

In terms of raw numbers, they’re remarkably similar. Morris played inside more often than Frye did, which explains the difference in field goal percentage and rebounding. The problem that the team is going to run into is the spacing that Frye afforded them, with his better-than-average 3-point shooting. It may not feel like the difference between 37 and 31.5 percent is that much, but in the defense’s eyes, it’s the difference between being able to clog the lane as opposed to having to stay a few feet closer to the 3-point line.

In terms of their shooting preferences, they’re polar opposites:

% of FGA by Distance FG% by Distance
Player 2P 0-3 3-10 10-16 16 <3 3P 2P 0-3 3-10 10-16 16 <3 3P
Channing Frye .445 .117 .093 .068 .166 .555 .509 .615 .458 .547 .450 .370
Markieff Morris .872 .288 .174 .220 .191 .128 .512 .658 .401 .478 .429 .315
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2014.

Frye lived beyond 16 feet, whereas Morris was much more willing to take it to the basket. While Morris was no slouch, he’ll never be able to spread the floor in the same fashion that Frye did.

NBA

Apr 14, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) dunks against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half at US Airways Center. The Grizzlies won 97-91. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back at those top lineups, you’ll notice that the most successful lineup was when Frye was able to slide into the center position, with the Morris brothers ad the forward spots. The least successful lineup featured Frye at center, Markieff at power forward and P.J. Tucker at the small forward. The Suns are going to be looking at a similar package often next season, with Miles Plumlee or Alex Len filling Frye’s spot.

Despite the fact that the Suns will have the best point guard trio in the league, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas need room to maneuver. That room is created by the offense making outside shots, which in turn keeps the defense honest. Anthony Tolliver shot 41.3 percent from the 3-point line last season, but he’s a very one-dimensional player at this point in his career and hasn’t played more than 21 minutes per game since 2009-10.

Whichever way the Suns go, they’re going to need to find a way to duplicate the success they had with Frye. The problem is — they don’t have the proper talent to make it happen. They’ll need to use a platoon-type system to replicate Frye’s one-man show. That’s a recipe for disaster and those numbers just don’t quite add up.

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Tags: Phoenix Suns

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