"Where Have All The Good Times Gone?"
Back in the heyday of lore, when Lil Kev ran free and the Cavs were record-breaking three-point shooters, there lived a spry beanpole stretch five named Channing. His golden touch helped mint win-after-win, until a foul wind blew the ship carrying Frye straight out of the Bay.
The long distance gunner better have a quarter on him (if he can even find a functional pay phone in this day and age) because with under six Finals minutes in two games and just one shot, Frye’s damn near a missing person. Some think it’s related to the case of the Cavaliers offense, which was found badly beaten and comatose in a shitty part of Oakland, and is currently on a feeding tube.
If ever there were a guy to help the team pull it’s mind out of the past and any other backwards facing locales, replanting it in the now, it’s Channing Frye. He’s the kind of fellow that doesn’t even know when he’s the game’s leading scorer.
“I was talking to Richard [Jefferson] about defense, and I was like wow we have 70 pts and LeBron has 9, who’s scoring?” Frye recalls. “He’s like, ‘Channing you have 21.’ I was, ‘Oh crap, do I?’ I don’t know. I don’t pay attention. I’m always into what’s happening now and what is the other team going to do.”
Channing is the loose, in the moment guy you want your son or daughter to date. He’s funny, self-effacing and refreshingly direct. Frye grew up in Arizona and developed a strong bond with fellow Phoenixian Richard Jefferson. Once a perfectionist bundle of nerves, pissed that the Andersons got tickets to the game, Frye found peace through yoga after a health scare almost ended his career.
In 2012 entering his fourth season for the Phoenix Suns, the then 29-year old Frye was told he had an enlarged heart or dilated cardiomyopathy, and would sit out the entire season, during which the defect corrected itself, and Frye was allowed to return. He did so having learned to embrace a new way of life with the help of the time off and yoga.
“I was a super perfectionist. It helped me a lot not to have so much anxiety about things I can’t control,” Frye said. “The year I had to take off because of [airquote] my heart issue [/airquote], for me it helped me just embrace the moment. It helped me just take a second and breathe. I’m kind of a web thinker – I think of a situation and every response I could have to that situation – so for me just being in the moment and being able to focus has not only helped me outside the court but it's helped me in the game.”
Frye was something of a late bloomer, who developed a friendship with Jefferson after his parents asked the older Jefferson if he might mentor their son. He offered some advice and later helped recruit Frye to the University of Arizona.
“They basically kept it real with me: ‘Hey we want you to come here. We see the potential. We think you can be great or very good. But if you don’t do these certain things we’re going to redshirt you.’ So I can and did the work,” Frye recalls. “Coach Lute [Olson] said whatever you give me, I’m going to give back to you 110%. I just saw how they practiced, saw the talent on that team, saw the camaraderie, and I fell in love with the college. It didn’t hurt that Richard was there.”
Frye averaged almost 16 points a game and 7.5 rebounds his junior and senior seasons, and was taken eighth in the 2005 draft by the New York Knicks, the year Andrew Bogut went #1. (Just five people picked before him and four picked after have logged as many NBA minutes.)
Deep in talent and light in character, the Knicks won just 23 games for Larry Brown that first year with a cast that included Tervor Ariza, Jamal Crawfords, Eddy Curry, Antonio Davis, Steve Francis, Anfernee Hardaway, Stephon Marbury, Nate Robinson, Jalen Rose, Malik Rose, Quentin Richardson and David Lee.
“Not that those guys were bad, but together their personalities didn’t mix. You could see on paper where it might work out, but it was too much in that city and there was a lot of pressure,” Frye says. “New York was great for me growing up as a person and enjoying the city. But as a player it was hard for me to get a read on what was expected to win. When you go to a bad team and they just go ‘here’ you don’t know how hard to work.”
Guys like Davis and Malik Rose told him this was not how to be an NBA player, but Frye didn’t really get much guidance until he wound up in Phoenix four years later, after a two-year stop in Portland which saw his playing time dwindle.
“I went to Portland and really figured out how hard it was to earn minutes and be on a good team and what it took and from there it was just being appreciative of the opportunity to play,” says Frye. “Alvin Gentry [of Phoenix] called me [as a free agent] and said ‘We need you here. We want you here. We feel you could help us,’ and when I got there he was like, ‘Take a step back, shoot those 3s as much as you want; if you miss, I’ll get in trouble, not you. Just keep shooting.”
Champ In Your Ear
It’s a big thing for any young player coming into this league to feel wanted and to have a role. But even before that there’s a lot to be learned about how to do the job. Like any workplace there are a lot of norms and mores to negotiate, which makes a sage voice like James Jones’ that much more important. That first year in Portland, Jones was the voice of reason.
“He was huge. When I was in Portland I still hadn’t discovered who I was as a player or what I can do consistently,” says Frye. “They had a certain style they wanted to play and it was hard for me to fit in at times in that style, so James said, ‘Stick to doing this; this is what you need to look at as a shooter,’ because he saw what I could do in practice. He said, ‘you need to continue to work on this.’
“James was always in my ear about things that I needed to do and how to be professional and when I went to Phoenix I remembered everything that he had told me, like ‘stand here because Steve likes this,’ or stuff like that,” he continues. “It helped me with the transition, and between him and Quentin Richardson, those were two guys that really helped me shooting the shots that they shoot in that system.”
The big thing about the transition from college to pros, according to Frye, is mostly mental.
“It’s more about consistently what you’re supposed to look at, how you’re supposed to approach each day with your mental attitude,” he says. “The season is long and when you’re young you always think I’m supposed to play great every single game. But really there are only 2-3 guys that play like that every single game. Say you play 4 games in a week. You play 2.5 games good, your bench should help you out for a game and a half. Or someone else should help you out. When you think about it like that it takes off some of the pressure.”
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How NBA Ballers Develop Their Skills
One of the more fascinating discussions we’ve been privy to in the locker room was one between old heads Jefferson and Frye, and young buck Jordan McRae, talking about Kobe’s handle. Essentially Frye and Jefferson slapped McRae down telling him that at this point, Kobe doesn’t need “moves”, he can just do what he does or counter.
“By my [4th? Year],” Jefferson told the rookie, “I’d get the ball and go. I was a straight-line driver. There were no ‘moves.’” (Or something to this effect.)
This got us wondering how players develop their games and how do they prune their repertoire. Is it that as players get older they learn to simplify their games?
“It’s not necessarily simplified, it’s when you’re younger you have to establish your tendencies and your strengths,” Jones says. “As a player you have to build a body of work you have to be effective and some things long enough to put people on their heels where they can’t take away your signature strength.”
As that body of work develops, strategies develop to limit what you want to do, and you must necessarily develop counters. But it doesn’t start that way. In the beginning you have to know what you’re good at.
“It’s about developing a bonafide strength,” he says. “When you’re young you’re trying to find your move. Your identity as a player. And so you need to have options. So there’s 3-4 things that you work on in games, because all of it is centered around doing it against the best competition. You can work on it off the court you can work on it in practice but until you get it into the game and it becomes fluid, you’re constantly searching for what your strength is. So you’ll try 3 or 4 things until you find two that stick and those two may work hand in hand or they may need combos. Or they may be two totally distinct skills.”
Once you start to understand who you are as a player, you also start to see how teams want to stop you, and it all starts to come more quickly. Ideally, you’re acting before the defense because you can anticipate what they’ll do, rather than responding to it.
“You see the way they cover you, you know the spacing, you’ve seen the rotations and so you’re no longer trying to process and make a move, you’ll process simultaneously to making the move because you’ve seen it before,” he says. “You become more efficient. You try to be as efficient as possible. Teams start to show their hand. They know you’re a great right hand driver, so they start shading you to your right and you start straight-line driving to the left — moves and counters.”
But it’s not only about how you can beat the man across from you, it’s also about how you fit with your team as well.
“Once you get into the NBA and see what teams try to take away from you, you work on those. You work on that aspect of the game a lot in the offseason,” says LeBron James. “Also from a team aspect you see where you need to be out on the floor to help the team as much as possible, so you start to work on that as well. From a basketball aspect as well as a cerebral mindset of the game as well, you just try to hone in on a few of those skills a little at a time, and for the most part, if you put in enough work, it will come.”
Interestingly in our profile last month on Richard Jefferson
he said the exact same thing about weaknesses yielding to continued work.
Cavaliers Pregame Thoughts
To be honest, we’re not so much worried about tonight’s game. We feel pretty confident that the Cavs will pull it out, or they are much bigger dogs than we anticipated. A loss pretty much guarantees new next year locales for a half-dozen players, led by Kevin Love.
It’s a hard trade-off between building chemistry and blowing up an obviously dysfunctional lineup. We’re not so cocksure that James is a power forward, unless we can go back to pre-2004 rules. Everyone calling for Love’s dismissal seems to believe either that James will be able to overpower most stretch 4s or shoot 3s effectively himself, both questionable assumptions given what we’ve seen.
Indeed, our take away from the first two games is that Head Coach Tyronn Lue spent too much time chasing the Warriors moves and trying to adapt, with far too little focus on making them adapt to the Cavaliers. In real life terms, that means you either stop the 3s, penetration or brutally beat them on the boards. So far the Cavs have failed at all three.
But it’s a lot harder to be tough guys on the road team’s floor. The Cavs will be the benefactors of home cooking (Read: Less Moving Screens?), which will hopefully translate to better physicality. Too often the Wine and Gold weren’t just beaten to the ball, but hip checked out of the way.
The Cavs were a much better team than they showed in Golden State almost all season, but Lue had them on a strange team’s court doing things they’ve hardly ever done all season. (Two lineups had seen less than ten minutes of time all season, including the ill-fated Jefferson/James frontcourt from the third quarter.)
The Cavaliers must get back to doing them, and stop trying to match the Warriors who've had two years to learn how to play that way. And by Grabthar's Hammer, can we stop all the switching off the ball? It's simply killing the team, especially in these cases where LeBron calls for unneeded switches and nobody listens
. (Please don't watch this clip if you're prone to violent outbursts. Don't say we didn't warn you.)
We remember back in 1984 – the last time the league had the 2-2-1-1-1 finals format – when the Celtics took a 2-0 lead and the Lakers held serve at home only to lose in Game 7. We believe the media hasn’t paid enough attention to the difference between the old 2-3-2 format and the new/old format.
We feel the old format made a split absolutely essential for the visiting team. How hard is it to win three home games in a row against a team with a better record? And if the visitors don’t, they have to win both Game 6 and Game 7 on the road. Consecutive road wins to close out a team is a pretty tall task. Some food for thought.
We’re hoping the team diversifies offensively. We haven’t seen a single horns attack (double pick above top of key), or any of the dribble hand-off offense. We saw maybe one elbow action for LeBron, which we think got a score, but never reappeared, and we’d like to see some pick and roll action in the middle of the floor rather than always on the wing where the defense can load up one side.
Movement like constant screens, slipped screens, back cuts and slices through the lane from the weakside should be a signature off-ball of any possession. It’s almost as beneficial for offense as breathing. They watch the Warriors do it all game, so the only question is, do they think they’re above it?
We’d like to see more big rotations and expect to see a lot more of Channing Frye with Love likely out on concussion protocol. We hope not to see much of Iman Shumpert (particularly at the "3") who has been the team’s worst defender during the series judging both from DFG% and +/- metrics.
We think the Cavaliers will win. If they don’t the series is over. We believe they have enough pride to stop that from happening, if nothing else. From there it’s one game at a time. The Wine and Gold must attempt to build a bridge to the next game rather than a hole to hide in.
They must find something that works and not spend all their energy trying to stop the Warriors. They must make the Warriors feel the Cavs from a physical, stylistic and mental point-of-view. Anyone can get hit in the mouth. Even twice. We judge a person by how they respond.
We’ll be at the Q tonight extra early to join Brad Russell for a live broadcast on WAKR-1590 at 5:25pm. During the game you can find live video, analysis and snark. You can follow along on Twitter @CRS_1ne
and read our analysis Thursday morning here in the Scene & Heard section.