clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Channing Frye makes a dominant Cavaliers offense even better

The midseason pickup has taken the Cavaliers to a new level because of his shooting and underrated defense.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It's hard to imagine now, but the Toronto Raptors were actually giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a game at one point in Tuesday's Eastern Conference Finals opener. They got off to a fast start and trailed by just five points entering the second quarter. Less than six minutes later, the Raptors were down 18 and well on their way to an embarrassing and disheartening 115-84 road loss.

A lot went wrong for Toronto and right for Cleveland over that stretch -- runs like this are rarely the result of a single factor. But it's no coincidence that the Cavaliers blew the game open and ran the Raptors off the floor once Channing Frye checked in.

Frye played just under 13 minutes Tuesday night, finishing with eight points, three rebounds and one assist. A fine line but nothing spectacular. That is, until you see that the Cavaliers outscored the Raptors by 17 points in the 13 minutes Frye was on the floor. Once again, Frye's presence -- his knockdown shooting, the threat of his knockdown shooting and his defensive versatility -- served as the fuel to the Cavaliers' unstoppable offensive engine.

Everything with Frye starts with his picture-perfect stroke and lightning-quick release. There just aren't many 6'11 dudes who can shoot the ball like he can. Frye is a career 39 percent three-point shooter and has been lights out thus far in the postseason, connecting on 14 of the 24 deep balls he's launched. He wasted no time cashing in from long range Tuesday night.

This is a simple, yet brilliant set-up from the Cavaliers that illustrates Frye's unique value. Pick-and-rolls involving LeBron James are already hard to stop, especially when he's the screener. What do you do, though, when the defender who's supposed to be sliding over to help on a diving LeBron is also responsible for the deadly three-point shooter spotting up in the corner?

In this case, Bismack Biyombo tries to help on James, figuring there will be enough time to recover back to Frye. Only Frye, instead of remaining in one place, flashes up to one his favorite spots on the wing. That little bit of movement, which we rarely see from big men along the perimeter, made all the difference.

It also implanted a memory in Biyombo's head that the Cavaliers exploited two minutes later. They ran the same exact play, but this time, after getting burned by Frye just a few possessions earlier, Biyombo neglected a cutting James in order to prevent Frye from getting off another three. The Raptors' center made a split-second decision, no doubt aided by the previous play, that taking away Frye's long jumper was more important than keeping LeBron away from the rim.

To quote the knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusadehe choose ... poorly.

Or did he? After all, two points are fewer than three and Frye is hitting on 55 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers this postseason, per NBA.com. What's Biyombo supposed to do in these situations?

These are the kind of impossible choices Frye forces onto opposing defenses. He can knock down open shots, but his ability to space the floor also opens up all sorts of passing lanes that make lobs like the one to James so much easier. The Cavaliers can put points on the board without Frye: they're scoring an impressive 115.4 points per 100 possessions this postseason without him on the floor, per NBA.com. But when Frye does play, Cleveland's offense becomes even more potent, averaging nearly 123 points per 100 possessions. His presence allows Cleveland's attack to morph from great into an unstoppable Monstars unit.

Need proof? Almost all of the Cavaliers' top playoff lineups include Frye. The unit of Frye, LeBron, Richard Jefferson, Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert has outscored opponents by 49 points per 100 possessions in 43 minutes of action, per NBA.com. When Frye and James share the floor, Cleveland has been 30 points per 100 possessions better than opponents. When Frye plays with Kevin Love, that number jumps up to 40.

The time Frye spends playing alongside Love is especially noteworthy. The two shared the floor for just 30 minutes total during the regular season, but have nearly surpassed that mark in the playoffs. Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue was hesitant about pairing the two in the regular season because neither are known for their on-ball defense or rim protection. In theory, a Love/Frye frontcourt is suspect defensively.

But in the playoffs, that simply hasn't been the case. The Cavaliers' defense has actually been seven points per 100 possessions better with Frye on the floor, per NBA.com, as lineups with him and Love are holding opponents to less than 94 points per 100 possessions. Part of that is a result of Frye spending most of his minutes alongside James, whose combination of strength, quickness, power and IQ can erase all sorts of holes.

But Frye also deserves credit for being an underrated defender. Frye may not be much of a deterrent at the rim -- opponents are shooting 58 percent against him there this postseason, per NBA.com -- but he often makes up for it in other ways. In Game 1 against the Raptors, for example, his pick-and-roll coverage was excellent and he seemed to relish the assignment of keeping the relentless Biyombo off the offensive glass.

Frye struggles at altering shots once they're already deployed, but he's still adept at using his length and relatively quick feet to deter opponents as best he can.

Frye's presence will be key going forward if (okay, when) the Cavaliers make the Finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder have become a team that relies on their size and length, so Cleveland will need Frye in order to spread all those long-limbed bodies out and create lanes and space. The Golden State Warriors prefer to go small, so Cleveland will need Frye to maintain his defensive effort to match all that speed.

The Cavaliers have transformed into one of the most explosive teams in league history during the playoffs. Frye's not THE reason, but he's certainly a major one. He's only going to be more vital as the Cavaliers march on.