Although it was Nate Robinson who earned most of the plaudits for his single game heroics on Saturday, it was another Knick rookie that took a step forward in his burgeoning career. This weekend Channing Frye was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in his career. Frye adjusted well to the transition, scoring 21 points on 57% shooting, and turned the ball over only once. Since Knicks coach Larry Brown changes his lineups as often as he changes his underwear, it’s uncertain whether Frye’s performance will earn him a permanent spot in the starting 5.
Many Knick fans were uncertain what to expect from the number 8 pick in the draft. Despite raising some eyebrows with the strength portion of the NBA Pre-Draft work outs, the power forward out of Arizona never shed the soft label from early on in his college career. Frye didn’t earn a spot in the Knicks’ rotation with a weak summer league, including one game where he amassed 10 fouls. Coming into the season I wrote this about him:
“I?m still not sure what to expect out of Frye. His frame resembles that of Marcus Camby, but he lacks Camby?s high flying theatrics. On the other hand Frye has a nice touch from the outside and should make a fine partner for Marbury on the pick & roll. With the depth at power forward and Brown?s predisposition towards rookies it?s hard to tell exactly who will see playing time.”
Looking at his last 5 games, my comments are laughable for die hard Knick fans whose faith in Frye never swayed. In that span, Channing has roughly averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block. However, I don’t feel so bad about my concern over the rookie power forward considering that the New York coach didn’t have much faith in him either.
Frye was a DNP for the Knicks’ opening season loss to Boston, and was played sparingly afterwards. After his 19 point outburst in as many minutes on November 13th, Brown kept the rookie on the court for only 11 minutes the day after. In that game, the Knicks struggled to beat a shorthanded Jazz squad. New York managed only 73 points, and they could have benefited from Frye’s scoring touch. Instead they used Antonio Davis (22min, 0pts), Malik Rose (19min, 7pts), and David Lee (12min, 2pts). Maybe that performance prompted Brown to give Frye more minutes over the last 5 games.
On the offensive end of the court, Channing Frye’s outside touch is reminiscent of Kurt Thomas. His slender build doesn’t make him as good of a pick and roll partner as the former Knick, although he’s accurate with the jumper facing the hoop from at least 19 feet. Instead Frye takes advantage of opposing big men fearing the unfamiliar confines outside the paint. Channing is not devoid of an interior game and he can hit a jump hook from inside the paint. The statistics back up Frye’s offensive performance, as he is leading the Knicks in scoring per minute (23pts/40) and shooting percentage (51.2% eFG).
Aside from his scoring prowess, Frye’s rebounding has been a pleasant surprise. Coming into the season, the Knicks had lost their three best rebounders in Sweetney, Thomas, and Jerome Williams. Additionally Isiah’s two main acquisitions, Jerome James and Eddy Curry, were notoriously bad in that regard. However Frye has the second best rebound rate (14.7) among the Knick regulars. In fact Channing is showing a well rounded game, averaging 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes.
Unfortunately for Frye rookie card holders, his status in the near future is uncertain. Due to Eddy Curry and Matt Barnes’ injuries, Brown has been forced to move Antonio Davis to center and Malik Rose to small forward. When both players are healthy, Channing Frye is going to have more competition than just Maurice Taylor, David Lee, and Jackie Butler. My guess is that when that time comes, Frye is going to feel the crunch as Coach Brown continues to rotate his players in order to gain some knowledge of their skills and keeps them prepared to play. Curry will hold onto the center spot, even if for only 24 minutes a game and Antonio Davis will stay on in his role as captain of the defense. Frye will be the primary big man off the bench, and he’ll see extra minutes on nights that Curry or Davis are plagued with foul trouble. Barring injury and considering Brown’s fondness of Davis’ defensive ability, Frye’s ceiling his rookie year might be a spot alongside Davis for the Knick fourth quarters.