Last year, over at NBAPlaybook Sebastian Pruiti took a look at players who struggled during the season and looked at whether it was a fluke season or the start of a trend. This year, Sebastian is bringing the series to Basketball Prospectus.
Two years ago, it looked like the Phoenix Suns found gold in Channing Frye. After watching him attempt less than a three-point shot a game for the New York Knicks and the Portland Trail Blazers, the Suns brought him in and turned him into a stretch four. Encouraged to take his game beyond the arc, Frye took 4.8 threes a game, knocking down 43.9 percent of them and posting a PER of 15.1.
This past season, the Suns had Frye shooting even more threes--5.7 per game to be exact--but he was unable knock down shots at the same rate from two seasons ago, and his True Shooting Percentage (TS%) dropped from 59.8 percent to 55.8 percent. Sure, Frye was scoring more points, going from 11.2 points per game two years ago to 12.7 points per game this past season, but he did it with more minutes and more shots, playing six more minutes per game and taking two more shots per game.
Where Did He Struggle?
I went on the record last season to say that Channing Frye's three-point shooting was a fluke and I didn't think it was sustainable. Charles Barkley agreed with me, saying that the Suns were "doing him a disservice" by making him shoot those threes on a number of occasions. What's interesting is that when he was in catch-and-shoot mode, Frye showed everyone that his shooting ability was real. Two seasons ago, Frye was in the top seven percent among all NBA players in terms of points per possession (PPP) when spotting up, scoring 1.191 on 43.8 percent shooting and a 60 percent eFG%. While Frye didn't match those numbers last season, he also showed that they weren't a fluke, shooting 42 percent with a 57 percent eFG% and posting a PPP of 1.132, good enough to put him among the top 15 percent of all NBA players.
So why did Frye shoot worse from downtown overall? He was spotting up less, going from using spot-ups 48 percent of the time two years ago, to doing it just 43.4 percent of the time this past season. Even worse, those possession that got taken away from something he did really well, spot-up shooting, went to something he didn't do nearly as well, shooting off of screens. Frye isn't the most mobile big around, so making him move his feet, catch and shoot on the move isn't something that is going to suit him well. Yet, he went from doing that just 3.7 percent of the time two seasons ago to doing it 9.4 percent of the time last year. While he wasn't awful coming off of screens, shooting 36.8 percent and posting a PPP of 0.888, it isn't even as close to as good as when he is spotting up:
Frye's biggest problem when working off of screens is the fact that he has to move his feet. Frye is moving his feet, getting in position, making the catch, resetting his feet, and then he gets the shot up. For someone who naturally has a slow release already, that's a lot to try to get done when someone is closing out on you. So what happens? Frye starts rushing his shots in these situations, and when someone as methodical as Frye starts rushing things, that will lead to misses. Just look at the difference when he makes the catch and can shoot without having to move his feet:
Just look how easy everything is now. Instead of all the steps coming that were there when he comes off of the screen, it's now just catch and shoot. His feet are already set, and this lets him get the shot off much quicker, leading to makes with defenders in his face and with the clock running down.
Can He Bounce Back?
Will Frye return to the form that he showed two seasons ago? Probably not, as that was an amazing shooting display. However, he did show that he is a capable shooter when his feet are set, and that is something that the Suns need to take advantage of. If they return to using Frye as a spot-up shooting half of the time while cutting back on the amount of time he comes off of screens, I have no doubt that he will have a bounceback season.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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