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Expectations: Channing Frye

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Today we're taking a look at the ever-quotable Channing Frye.  But before we do we should take a moment to realize that we're well into this project of covering each player's expectations for the upcoming season and we still haven't run out of significant players to talk about.  That shows as much about the difference in this year's team from teams past as anything.

Anyway, on to Frye...

It's hard to argue with the acquisition of a guy who was an 8th overall pick two years ago.  That doesn't happen unless the guy is a complete bust or a near-criminal headcase.  Channing Frye shows no real signs of being either.  He's a 6'11", multi-faceted forward who should have a nice career in this league.  He has decent range on offense though he probably needs to develop a bankable move or two to be a legitimate threat.  His post scoring has always been a question mark but his frontcourt mates should be more than capable of handling the paint, leaving less pressure on him to be a beast...which is good because he's not.  

Two years into his career Frye still hasn't put a ton of weight on.  Nor is he noticably quicker than he was coming out of college.  Nor is he tougher.  This is part of why Knick fans got frustrated with him last year.  He has skills and height but doesn't seem to use either consistently.  The mental/emotional side of his game was under heavy fire before he played a single minute in the league and the shells are still falling.

One look at the stats from last season shows the rest of the reasons why he was on the sports talk barbeque last year.  His minutes went up but his stats all went down.  His .477 shooting percentage his rookie year was only adequate for a 6'11" guy.  He sunk to a near-unchartable .433 last year.  His scoring average tanked.  He drew less than half as many fouls.  Even his free throw percentage went into the toilet.  All this from a player whose offense is considered the strong part of his game.

However there are some caveats, most having to do with the fact that he was a Knick.  Their post-heavy offense pushed him outside farther than he needs to go.  Their lack of cohesive team play in the backcourt also handicapped him.  As for defense...while it's generally true that Frye is too slow laterally to guard power forwards and too small to guard centers the Knicks don't guard anybody.  It's nearly impossible to gauge the effectiveness of a big man's defense when he's playing alongside guys like Eddie Curry, Jamaal Crawford, and Stephon Marbury.  Those guys will ugly up anybody's game.  One of the interesting subtexts of the season for Frye will be whether his defense and energy pick up with more hands pulling together.  I doubt he'll ever be as effective as Lamarcus will probably turn out to be but he doesn't have to be a complete liability either.

At this early point in his career the best word to describe Frye's game is "indistinct".  You don't know what you're going to get from him on any given night.  You don't know where he's going to score from.  You don't know who and how he's going to defend.  You don't know if he's going to be streaking down the court or lagging behind.  My expectations for him this season revolve around earning some distinction.

My first couple expectations involve Frye benefitting from the rest of the team.  I expect both Oden and Aldridge to make the defensive game easier for him.  I expect him to be able to channel opposing big men one way or another and receive help instead of being left out to...well...fry one on one.  I don't figure he'll have to guard first-team forwards all game long which will help.  Second, I expect Nate's offensive plays to include defined roles and court positions for Channing and I expect the team will run those plays most times down the court.  In that sense he should automatically have an easier year and hopefully bounce back.

I also have a few individual expectations.  First, if he's going to be an offensive player I want to see some consistency.  I want defined moves and shots for him to fall back on even if his game remains varied as a whole.  It's fine to be a Buffet of Goodness but there still needs to be a signature dish or two in there somewhere.  Second, I'd like to see him concentrate on areas of the game that don't draw attention.  I'd like to see him start setting good picks and blocking out his man so our main rebounders can get the ball off the glass.  I want to see some consistent energy running the floor both ways.  He may not be the best lateral defender but he can join the team-wide commitment to vertical speed and be among the first guys down at both ends.  Third, I want to see him draw more fouls and convert those free throws at the 80% level he achieved as a rookie.  That alone would make him a dangerous weapon.  Finally I want to see him give good energy in limited minutes instead of drifting through wide swaths of time on the floor.  He's likely to be playing behind Aldridge and Oden.  He needs to accept that role and determine that people are going to know he's on the court every time he steps out there.

I really have no idea what to expect statistically because our samples are short and radically varied.  It's not a good sign when your production takes a precipitous drop but with the right situation and attitude I can easily see Frye getting enough minutes to score 15-16 points per game.  He'd be a valuable bench weapon if he did that.  If the attitude or teamwork go south we could be looking at another miserable shooting season and low double-digits.  If that happens you know his defense and intangibles will suffer as well.  The danger point for Frye will be that we have enough super-talented youngsters and competent veterans at his position that if he gets in a listless funk he may well find himself the forgotten man.  There's always going to be someone in Nate's doghouse.  It wouldn't surprise me if there's a little bowl with Channing's name on it close by.  Either way I get the feeling that Frye is either going to be great or completely non-descript this year.  Let's hope for the former.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)