Frye from Deep
The Suns center has rejuvenated his career and helped restore the franchise’s swagger.
by Chris Deaton
Imagine for a moment that the Phoenix Suns signed a sharpshooter in the 2009 offseason—a sharpshooter in the real sense, a player whose residence is 22 feet and out. His year’s box scores have read, “3P: 4-8, 2-9, 3-7, 1-3, 6-8,” so on, so forth.
Surely this guy has proven himself as one of the League’s gunners, but no — prior to October 27, he had only attempted 70 treys in four years. Then, surely, he’s rediscovered some collegiate quality, but no. Of the 1,257 field goals Frye shot from freshman to senior, less than a milky two percent of them were from three. He’s not a wing, but a center, and he’s not Manute Bol; he’s not a Bird, but he hopped a plane from Portland to replace Superman.
Channing Frye, where did this come from?
“It was just a matter of me having the confidence to shoot it.”
Flash back to the fall of ‘01 in Tucson, AZ. Frye, the lanky but accomplished big from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, having earned statewide Player of the Year honors from the Arizona Republic just months before, was a clean slate. “I think when he entered Arizona as a freshman, he was 6-10, wasn’t really strong inside and hadn’t really developed a perimeter shot,” recalled Stanford Assistant Coach Rodney Tention, who served on Lute Olson’s staff from 1997-2005.
It was no matter. Frye displayed an early propensity for busting it in practice, seldom missing an opportunity to improve his play some way, somehow. “He had an unbelievable work ethic. Just unbelievable,” Tention said. “He liked being coached—just about the fundamentals, something [the coaching staff] harped on.”
As his game improved, so did his stroke. By the time his college career had entered its twilight, he had established his face-up ability, his range had increased, and his willingness to use both had shown itself, notably in his senior year’s final game against Illinois. He rode the success to a high pick but the wrong town in the 2005 NBA Draft—a lottery selection that sent him to the Knicks, a degenerative franchise that ultimately wouldn’t accommodate his skill set.
DraftExpress called him “finesse,” with “a very narrow frame that will likely not be able to carry too much weight.” Considering New York’s post rotation of Eddy Curry, Antonio Davis, Jerome James, David Lee and others from 2004-2006, a crew that did most of its business on the glass and around the basket, Frye was drawn toward a game not quite his style. Whatever trajectory toward “perimeter threat” he carried into the pros was slowed by a lack of opportunity on game night—slowed, but not stopped.
“I always had to work on it,” Frye said of his jumper, realizing that even then, despite a less than ideal fit, it would someday be his calling card. “I figured it was my niche in this league.”
He went to the Blazers. His playing time dwindled. Joel Przybilla received top billing at center for the majority of the ’07-08 season, and once Greg Oden arrived a year later, a timeshare was Frye’s best-case scenario—he saw the court just 11.8 minutes per contest. But he kept working and working and working, polishing his midrange game and moving outward.
Portland wouldn’t be the beneficiary. On July 14, Frye, a free agent, was welcomed to his old desert stomping grounds of Phoenix to play for the hometown Suns.
“It is basketball heaven on this team,” he said. As part of the NBA’s most balanced offense, a unit in which seven men average 9 or more a night but not one gets more than 20, he’s found a system that thrives on hitting the open man. “With this team, everyone has the green light.”
Considering the effort Frye’s put toward bettering his shot—effort that’s showed “no matter where he’s been,” Tention said—he was ready for the opportunity. The Suns have doubtlessly reaped the reward, considering that last year, Phoenix hit only 7-18 from beyond the arc per night. Through 12 games this season, that number is a torrid 10-24. “We’re not playing out of our minds,” Frye said of his team’s hot start. “We’re just playing Phoenix basketball.”
And the opposition couldn’t be more rocked.
“They really put you in a position when they have four three-point shooters out there,” said Paul Pierce after his Celtics dropped a 110-103 decision to the Suns on November 6. “I think Channing Frye being a center is unusual. He really stretches the defense.”
And because he’s found that confidence, all signs indicate he’ll continue to do so. Hitting six from deep one night may be a fluke. Hitting another six two nights later may be fortunate. Hitting 19 during a six-game stretch to follow it up confirms a trend: Channing Frye, at 35-76 from three-point range on the year, is officially a sharpshooter.