By Brent Gomer
Trade rumors in the NBA are inevitable as the trade deadline approaches. Speculation and imagining different scenarios is enjoyable, but the moves NBA GMs make have implications. The little activity we witnessed on deadline day can be attributed to many factors. Certainly Golden State paranoia, the expected salary cap hike, and smarter front offices contributed to the reluctance we saw from GMs. The nineteen players traded at this year’s deadline was a fairly average amount, the twelfth-most players in the past 29 years, but the significance of most trades was nothing more than jockeying for position this summer.
Aside from the opening trade which sent Tobias Harris to Detroit, I believe the most significant trade was Orlando sending Channing Frye to Cleveland. Trade details were as follows:
CLE Receives: Channing Frye
ORL Receives: Jared Cunningham, 2020 CLE second round pick
POR Receives: Anderson Varejao, 2018 CLE first round pick (top 10 protected in 2018 and 2019)
On the surface, Cleveland obtains a veteran player that will help space the floor. To what extent he moves the needle moving forward remains to be seen. However, I suspect that he will be more impactful than many expect. To begin, Frye is moving to a more talented team where he will only be expected to take good shots. I anticipate his % of FG attempted from 3-point range to remain around 70%, which is the same number as Orlando, per Basketball Reference. The quality of his shots should also drastically improve. Frye has proven over many years to be an excellent three-point shooter and hovers around 39% from deep for his career.
What goes unnoticed is the breakdown of his three-point percentage by defender distance. SportVU data collected by the NBA can be broken down to show how players fared on various shots. According to NBA.com stats, Frye shoots 26.3% on threes attempted when a defender is within 2-4 feet, 28.6% when a defender is within 4-6 feet, and 52% when a defender is 6 or more feet away. That final number ranks fourth in the NBA amongst qualifying players. Basically, if he has space, Frye will make you pay over the course of a game. Fortunately for Frye and the Cavaliers, he will only be expected to take wide open shots.
The synergy created by adding Frye simply cannot be understated. His height combined with his three-point shooting ability will create space for his teammates to operate. Putting him at center will usually force the opponents’ best rim protector away from the paint, leaving LeBron and Company an open lane to the basket.
This advantage goes away if Frye was to play the four with Mozgov or Thompson also on the court. But playing Frye at center also comes with downsides in form of defense and rim protection. Pairing him with Kevin Love in extended minutes seems disastrous. He might be marginally better than Kevin Love around the basket. In terms of rim protection, opponents make 52% of their shots around the rim when defended by Love and just 47.6% of their shots against Frye, via Nylon Calculus. That is not a small difference, but it’s also not guaranteed to continue.
In this backwards NBA, a player on a long-term deal has value. Frye is locked up on a front-loaded contract through 2017-2018. With the cap expected to increase to upwards of $100 million, Frye will only take up 7-9% of the total cap. This number is very similar to what the Cavs would have paid Varejao, and actually saved about ten million dollars in luxury tax savings.
Barring any major catastrophes in the form of injuries, chemistry, or The Decision Part 2, the future of the Cavaliers is still bright. The core of the team minus LeBron is under contract through 2018. When LeBron inevitably becomes less dominant, Kyrie will be entering his prime. Kyrie is still only 23 years old, which might surprise some people. Giving up a 2018 first rounder is steep, but it makes it easier when you have an arguably top five player at his position. I could see the Cavs doing something similar in 2017 to what the Spurs did when they traded up for Kawhi Leonard in 2011 (Cavs owe 2016 first round pick to Phoenix). Trading up for a mid-first rounder in 2017, rumored to be a deep draft, could net a player that contributes way past LeBron’s retirement.
Frye may just be a backup, but he has the tools to potentially make the difference in a tough playoff series for years to come.
All stats per NBA.com, basketball-reference.com, and nyloncalculus.com