It's understandable when the Suns are having another disappointing season that fans look for scapegoats. With the team clearing cap space for this offseason, any opportunities to shed excess salary are being explored, including the obvious choices of Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick, two players who have been out of the rotation for large chunks of the season.
Channing Frye is another player who's been a favorite punching bag for frustrated Suns fans, as he's struggled with his shot for much of the season and is miscast as a starter. The problem, of course, is that the Suns don't have a better option at starting PF right now and probably won't for the balance of the season unless rookie Markieff Morris, who's in a shooting slump of his own, can grow up in a hurry.
As a starter, facing opponents such as Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki, Frye simply doesn't stack up. But it's not fair to compare him to those players. Frye's on a middle class NBA salary of $5.6M this season. Let's see how he stacks up against other NBA big men in his pay grade, after the jump.
Last month, I broke down dollars per win share among current Suns players. Marcin Gortat shined by this measure as did Markieff Morris, who has the benefit (in this case) of a small salary due to his rookie contract. Channing Frye placed a respectable 4th, to go along with him being the Suns:
What these numbers say to me, along with watching Frye play for the Suns these last 2+ years, is that he's an excellent bench player, lackluster starter and overall average player. He sometimes plays terrible, sometimes plays great, and sometimes both in the same game (i.e. his 2-18 shooting, 14 rebound, outstanding defensive performance vs. Blake Griffin) and it averages out to, well, average.
His $5.6M salary this season is also remarkably close to the league mean average salary, which was reported to be $5.15 last season. So, we all agree that Frye will never be a star and isn't compensated like one. Let's take a look at a group of players with whom he can be fairly compared. The following is NBA centers and power forwards who are making annual salaries within $2M of Frye's this year.
I avoided players under rookie contracts because they're paid under rookie scale and not on their open market value. These players above, living solidly in the middle class just as Frye is, were paid their fair market value. And there is Frye, right smack dab in the middle of a list of middle class big men. We can find better producers for less and worse producers for more, but Frye's contract isn't out of line.
The important point here is not just to properly value Frye, but to realize that if the Suns get rid of him for the sake of cap space, they're as likely to end up with a Kwame Brown as they are to end up with a Samuel Dalembert. In other words, a crapshoot.
Shedding salaries for cap space is great, but eventually you have to sign players with that cap space. The Suns will always have a need for a backup PF/C, one who can space the floor but also has a little versatility is better and Frye fits the bill at a reasonable, market value salary. That he's a good teammate and solid citizen helps too.
This isn't to say he shouldn't be traded if needed, but to dump him just to dump his salary? That doesn't make any sense. Lots of things are holding the Suns back from being a contender this season. Channing Frye and his average production for his average big man salary doesn't register as one of them.
The Phoenix Suns have had the "soft" reputation since before acid washed jeans were considered cool. In the past, their defense has been insulted on national TV by certain individuals and well, the proof certainly is in the puddin'. The game plan of nearly every Suns opponent has always included attacking the rim.
But this season the Suns have shown inconsistent signs of being a quality defensive team. Which is much better than being awful all the time. It helps having Grant Hill as a lock down guy whose game consistently emulates the moniker.
But what of the Suns bigs? Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, and Robin Lopez all have some shortcomings defensively. But size and conditioning are not one of them. One would think that 3 players sizing at or north of the 6' 10'' region should be challenging and blocking shots.
Gortat and Channing Frye are both averaging over a block a game, and if we go per 36 minutes, Robin Lopez tops the Suns at 2 per game, while Gortat, Frye, and Markieff Morris average 1.7, 1.5, and 1.2 respectively.
Blocks Per 36 Minutes
Blocked shots helping Phoenix Suns' defense reach new heights: Paul Coro/AZ Central
"We have size, and the size can move. On the first two days of training camp, I'm looking at our (big men) and thinking, 'These guys can run the floor. They're agile. Nobody's overweight. Body fat is low.' It's all the athletic features that make up a basketball player. I knew there should be some rim protection there."
Elston Turner's defensive philosophy in the paint is what we all clamor for while watching a game. In my terms (which could be Turner's terms on the practice floor), is "knock a guy on his a**" instead of letting him have an easy shot or dunk. That's not rocket science, but it does tend to get the bigs into foul trouble when the Suns perimeter defense can't contain their men. Nevertheless, the message is loud and clear, and for the moment, being heeded by the Suns big men.
Another basic defensive concept are the rotations inside. Said Lopez: "We've been concentrating more on being there on the help side and having each others' backs on defense...I'm getting more comfortable and more rhythm."
The current defensive numbers in the past several games indicate positive trends for the Suns. Phoenix has limited their opponents to under 100 points in 5 of the last 6 games, while averaging 6.6 blocks, good for #3 in the NBA. Further, the Suns +5.40 rebounding differential in the past 5 is good for 4th in the NBA.