Typically, when a 31-year-old player signs for 4 years, $32 million, it is a move that signifies the team’s desire to compete immediately. However, when the Magic agreed to that same deal with Channing Frye today, it struck me as the exact opposite. This is clearly a move for the future of the organization, and one that will foster the development of all of their young prospects.
Frye has been known throughout his career as a stretch-4/5, a big man that can space the floor and knock down jumpers from three-point range. This season was the best of his career, and the Magic do seem to be paying for that. Frye only averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in 28 minutes per, but his 37% three-point percentage and 55.5% true-shooting percentage are well within the lines of his previous three seasons. You should ignore the 43% field-goal percentage, as over 50% of his field-goal attempts this past season were three-pointers. It’s fair to call Frye a spot-up, long-range specialist, because that’s what he does, and he does it as well — if not better than — anyone his size.
While his individual numbers aren’t particularly staggering, it’s his effect on the rest of a team’s offense where he provides his value. The Suns averaged 110.4 points per-100-possessions with Frye on the floor, compared to only 102.5 points per-100 possessions with Frye on the bench, per NBA.com.
Particularly, his presence helped the development of guard Goran Dragic and pseudo-combo forward Markieff Morris. With Frye on the court, Dragic’s shooting percentage rose from 47% to 52.1%, his three-point shooting skyrocketed from 29.1% to 46.7%, and his assist rate rose from 20.4% to 24.1%. Morris’s numbers also skyrocketed across the board with Frye on the floor. His true-shooting percentage went from 55.3% to 58.3%, and Frye’s presence gave him more space to operate in his preferred 15-19 foot area — the area of the floor where he took the most of his shots outside of at the rim — where Morris’s shooting percentage rose from 43.5% with Frye off the floor to 51.9% with him on it.
That sort of development is what the Magic will be hoping for by signing Frye. Prior to signing Frye, the Magic were going to be a team starved for spacing. It’s hard to develop prospects such as Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton offensively whenever teams simply would have been able to pack the paint against them. With Frye in tow, that will bring one of the opposing team’s big men out of the paint, where they will be forced to stay close to the hyper-efficient catch-and-shoot weapon Frye. Especially for a player like Payton who struggles to shoot the ball at this point in his development, having those extra bits of space will allow him more space to get into the lane, and more open driving lanes to attack the defense.
Admittedly, I think the Magic probably overpaid here by giving the fourth year. Even though Frye’s game does tend to project into aging well, he’s still not the level of player that you want to pay ~$8 million to in their age 35 season. I would have liked it better if the team had overpaid for two years — say, with a markup of 2 years, $22 million — as opposed to this. It’s also worth mentioning that Frye suffered from a condition in 2012 that led to an enlarged heart, although multiple doctors have cleared him of this condition. If, for whatever reason — I’m not a doctor, I won’t pretend to know the potentiality of reoccurrence here — this popped up again, this contract could go sideways in a hurry.
But the amount that Frye should help their two new franchise cornerstones develop could prove to be immeasurable, and well worth the amount that they paid. Frye is considered by all to be an excellent locker room presence, and getting a guy like him into this locker room is important to the culture of a developing team. Plus, placing Frye and to a lesser extent Ben Gordon next to the rookies Payton and Aaron Gordon will give the Magic a balanced lineup that features both athleticism when driving to the basket and the ability to shoot the ball from deep. This type of balance both on and off the court is what makes the Frye signing, while a slight overpay, an excellent maneuver for the future.