The Denver Nuggets are reportedly pursuing unrestricted free agent PF Channing Frye. This is not the first time the Nuggets have considered acquiring Frye. Former Nuggets General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe was quite fond of the power forward following his rookie season with the New York Knicks in ’05-‘06. Considering Vandeweghe’s questionable personnel track record, it remains unclear how much stake to place in his fondness of certain NBA players.
Frye however demonstrated a high basketball IQ during his ’05-’06 rookie campaign. He set excellent screens at the top of the key, cut to the basket well, shot an accurate mid-range jumper, and even displayed above average athleticism when finishing at the rim. Frye was rather lean and lacked strength, but he used his 6’11” height to his advantage when crashing the lane for rebounds, put backs, and the occasional throw down slam. Then Knicks coach Larry Brown, who is known for his disdain for young players, trusted Frye enough to play him 24 minutes per game. Frye responded by putting up promising numbers in 65 games (12.3 pts 5.7 rebs 2.1 off rebs and 47.7% FG).
Unfortunately, his rookie campaign came to an abrupt end when he sprained his knee in a late season game against the Toronto Raptors.
Frye regressed during the ’06-’07 season. He appeared in 72 games and averaged 26 minutes per contest, but he only managed 9.5 points and 1 offensive rebound per game. To make matters worse, his field goal percentage fell by 3% on 49 more field goal attempts. Overall, Frye became a much less efficient player during his sophomore season in the NBA.
He seemed dejected the entire year. Yet, Frye’s slip in production was likely a result of the turmoil brewing within the Knicks organization. You’ll remember that Isiah Thomas staged his coup d’etat during the summer before the ’06-’07 season. Isiah ousted Larry Brown less than 12 months after signing the Hall of Fame coach to a long-term contract, installed himself behind the bench, and turned the Knicks into the laughingstock of the NBA.
Isiah kept Frye in the starting lineup for the majority of the ’06-’07 season solely because he believed Frye would develop into the next Dirk Nowitzki. This was a ludicrous aspiration considering Frye attempted a mere 9 shots from beyond the arc during his rookie season. Frye converted 3 of these attempts, but he only hoisted 9 three-point shots all year! Dirk shot 68 three-pointers during his first year in the NBA and became a perimeter threat the following season by attempting 306 threes. Frye shot 18 three-pointers during his second season in the league (only 288 less than Dirk), and is 20 of 70 or 28.6% on three-point field goals for his entire career.
To say the least, Isiah’s expectations for Frye were absurd. The Great Knickerbocker Dictator tried to make Frye something he is not, which briefly broke the 23-year-old’s confidence and set back his development.
Isiah gave up on Frye in February of ’07. He pulled Frye from the starting lineup and replaced him with a “defensive force” named Jerome James (one of the most overpaid players of all-time). He then traded Frye to Portland that summer as part of the infamous Zach Randolph trade. (Editor’s Note: Thomas is a moron of the first order on and off the basketball court. If you don’t believe me, check this out.)
Frye’s minutes decreased over the course of his next two seasons in Portland. He however became a more complete basketball player under Nate McMillan’s tutelage. Although he played far fewer minutes in Portland, Frye significantly decreased his turnovers while simultaneously increasing his rebounding efficiency. Examine the statistics and it is clear that Frye would be an excellent and affordable fourth big man on the Nuggets.
The Nuggets would expect Frye to play between 12 and 18 minutes per game depending on the health of the team’s frontcourt. It is therefore worth examining the numbers Frye posted during the ’07-’08 season when he averaged 17 minutes per game for Portland. Compare these figures to Frye’s stats from the previous season in New York and you’ll quickly realize that the 26-year-old quietly evolved into a remarkably efficient basketball player once he became a Blazer.
Frye played 26.3 minutes per game for Isiah during the ’06-’07 season, averaging 9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 turnovers. At first glance, these look like solid numbers for a sophomore NBA power forward. Yet, converting “minute per game” statistics into “per 40-minute” statistics provides a more accurate means of rating a player’s efficiency. In ’06-’07, Frye’s stats per 40 minutes were 14.4 points, 8.36 rebounds, and 2.15 turnovers. These numbers look vastly less impressive than his 26.3 mpg stat line for that same season. While Frye remained an average scorer in ’06-‘07, he was an inefficient rebounder and careless with the basketball.
Fast forward to the ’07-’08 season…
In 17.2 minutes per game, Frye averaged 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and .7 turnovers. These numbers appear quite pedestrian. It looks as though Frye took yet another step backwards after arriving in Portland. However, his per 40-minute stat line tells a different, more fulfilling story. Per 40 minutes, Frye scored 15.8 points, brought down 10.69 boards, and only turned the ball over 1.62 times. Plus, his field goal percentage rose from 43.3 % in ’06-’07 to 48.8% in ’07-‘08. The numbers do not lie. Frye’s game flourished at 9 less minutes per contest in Portland.
Channing Frye achieved impressive numbers as a reserve power forward during the ’07-’08 season. He could play a similar role for the Nuggets this upcoming season. Frye fulfills exactly what the Nuggets need off the bench for approximately 15 minutes every game. At 6’11” and 245 pounds, Frye would add necessary size to the Nuggets roster. He is also extremely coordinated, which allows him to run the floor well in transition and increases his defensive potential. Frye offers the Nuggets offensive prowess in the post, a solid jump shot, above average rebounding abilities, and versatile athleticism. He is also good at setting high screens, which would give Chauncey, JR, and Carmelo better looks from the perimeter.
Frye’s greatest shortcomings are on defense. He does not average nearly enough blocks (.5 blks per game in his career), and he should be more active in passing lanes at the defensive end given his mobility. However, Frye is only 26 years old and possesses quite an upside as he enters his fifth NBA season. Furthermore, Frye’s offense would complement Birdman’s defensive skill set, and the Nuggets could potentially sign both players using the Mid-Level Exception. The Nuggets are attempting to backload Birdman’s new contract, meaning he will likely earn approximately $3 million next season. This leaves at least $2.5 million available to sign Frye, who earned $3.1 million last season in Portland.
If the Nuggets are unable to sign Frye using a portion of the MLE, they could acquire him in a sign and trade by offering Steven Hunter’s $3.6 million expiring contract to Portland in exchange for Frye at $3 million per season. The salaries match and both teams win in that trade.
It actually benefits the Nuggets to acquire Frye in a sign and trade because the team would unload Steven Hunter for a big man who actually plays. The Nuggets could then use the remainder of the MLE to offer Matt Barnes a backloaded contract, re-sign Dahntay Jones, or save the cap space to make room for Linas Kleiza’s $2.7 million Qualifying Offer. In the ideal scenario, the Nuggets trade for Frye, re-sign Jones with the remainder of the MLE, and also complete a sign and trade with Phoenix for Barnes by packaging Renaldo Balkman’s expiring contract and a 2011 draft pick. The Nuggets could then offer Kleiza the QE to keep him around for insurance purposes or to use as trade bait come February*. Assuming the Nuggets re-sign Anthony Carter at the veteran’s minimum, these moves give the Nuggets a strong and long 12-man roster for under $80 million.
I therefore retract my previous desire to see Indiana C Jeff Foster in a Denver uniform. There is no reason to pursue Foster and his richer contract with a hidden gem like Channing Frye left on the market.
Frye improved steadily under Nate McMillan’s direction in Portland. McMillan played for George Karl as a member of the Seattle Supersonics during the 1990s. In fact, it was Karl who coached and mentored McMillan into a smart, efficient NBA point guard. Karl and McMillan share a bond and are similar coaches. Each respects the game and demands perfection from his players. Both men emphasize the importance of defense, are occasionally tough on their players, and love to log long hours in the gym. Yet, Karl and McMillan also trust and respect their players. Players, in turn, respect them.
Thus, it only seems natural that Frye would quickly build a solid relationship with Karl, allowing his game to further expand in the Mile High City. If Frye even marginally improves defense, he could fit into the Nuggets’ long-term plans. Hopefully Warkentein takes swift action and acquires both Frye and Barnes at bargain prices.
*Note: There is a variation of this chain of events that could also work. The Suns might find Linas Kleiza a more appealing player than Balkman. Therefore, the Nuggets could sign Kleiza for the QE and then promptly use him instead of Balkman in a sign and trade for Matt Barnes. Balkman is a nice defensive insurance policy, and the Nuggets would no longer need Kleiza’s offense with Barnes coming off the bench. Trading Kleiza and keeping Balkman also saves the Nuggets about $600k. Just a thought.