Over the next couple of weeks, our Cory Hutson is going to take a look at some of the newest Magic men, and how they will replace certain players, or how their styles are different. First, he looks at power forward Channing Frye against former Magic big man Glen Davis.
Glen Davis is, in many ways, the big man that Frye is not. He’s a bruiser; a player that gets by with strength and width more than his height. More importantly, he’s not a shooter… At least not like Frye is. He’s more likely to settle for a shot in the 15-to-20 foot range, rather than a more efficient 24 footer from beyond the arc. Frye is the classic stretch big man, while Davis is the prototypical, if not slightly squishy, mold of the power forward.
The thing is, Glen Davis likes to pretend he’s Channing Frye every now and again:
If you weren’t yet aware of the distinction, Davis is certainly not Channing Frye. Not even a little bit. This is not where he’s going to hurt you, and you can tell just by looking at that picture that all of the Philadelphia 76ers know it. Stay tuned, cause we’ll take a deeper look at this play in a moment.
Frye, who is surely enjoying his 4-year, $32 million contract, brings the promise of a revamped offense. At worst, he’ll be a competent and overpaid long-range shooter, perhaps dragged down by the lack of shooting across the rest of the roster. At best, however, he may very well revolutionize the Magic’s offense. Throughout his career, Frye’s best asset has been his ability to transform his team’s spacing, to distort the other team’s defense. Even the best defenses have to change their entire game plans to account for a power forward or center that hangs out far from the basket. Just ask the Indiana Pacers what it was like playing against the Hawks and their 5-out schemes during the playoffs last season.
His impact is masked, however, because his personal numbers are merely solid. Last season, he shot 37 percent from beyond the arc. A solid number that is above average, but not spectacular. He hit about 82 percent of his free throws, which is nice for a big man, but hardly amazing — especially on only 1.2 attempts per game. He’s not a good rebounder: he almost never gets offensive boards, and his defensive rebound rate isn’t in the top-100 in the league, and his 17.4% usage rate falls squarely into “role player” territory.
The thing is, none of this matters. It’s not what he does with the ball in his own hands that’s amazing…it’s how his mere presence amplifies the talents of his teammates. He is the prime example of why spacing affects more than what kind of shot you’re taking. Spacing is a kind of amplifier for your team’s offense, a multiplier of efficiency. It’s not just that stepping behind that three-point line makes your own shots more efficient, it’s that it makes your teammates’ shots more efficient too.
It is a common expression in the game of chess that the threat of an attack is more dangerous than the attack itself. For example, one player might realize an important piece might get captured, and they take steps to save it. Unfortunately for him or her, it turns out that all those preventative measures put them in a worse place than they started. Maybe an even more important piece is in danger now, or maybe the king is more vulnerable. Clever chess players will use these threats to trap opponents.
Channing Frye, you might say, is the “threat” of a clever NBA offense. Sure, a team can take measures to make sure he’s not making a ton of three-pointers, but this only plays against them, because they’ve only opened up more dangerous problems elsewhere. For the Phoenix Suns last year, that meant the likes of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe getting more space to shoot or drive, or Gerald Green getting more open spot-up looks, or Markieff Morris having more space to himself to operate near the basket.
The impact is easy to see in the stats. The Suns posted their best offensive efficiency when Frye was on the court, racking up 110.4 points per-100 possessions; a scoring rate that was better than the Los Angeles Clippers’ number one overall offense. That offensive efficiency plummeted to 102.5 when he was on the bench. For perspective, that’s like dropping from the Spurs’ regular season offense (6th) to the Bucks’ offense (26th).
You can break it down even more, to see where his impact was felt. When Frye was playing, the entire team shot a stellar 39.3 percent from beyond the arc… They shot a paltry 33.7 percent without him. They generated more assists when he was on the court, and turned the ball over fewer times. Their rebounding was virtually unaffected when he came into the game, and their defense was only slightly worse with him out there. Long story short, he made his teammates better across the board.
Of course, I don’t want to just spit numbers at you all day, so let’s take a look at some actual plays on the court to see how this all worked out. We’ll take a look at both the Magic and the Suns, to see where things got ugly for the Magic, and to see how Frye might liven things up on the offensive end.
So, back to that Glen Davis play. It might be a misnomer to call it his play, since he really didn’t do anything for the Magic there. On the other hand, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? One major problem with this possession for the Magic is that Davis offers very little threat. Here’s the full play, from the November 27th game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Jameer Nelson brings the ball up the court before handing it off to Viktor Oladipo. Davis comes up to set a high screen:
Oladipo elects not to take it and instead goes away from the screen, pulling Lavoy Allen toward his potential path to block off his route into the paint. That’s probably a mistake on Oladipo’s part, since the right side of the floor had much more space to work with, but it doesn’t sink the play right away. Davis, now freed from both defenders, should be able to roll toward the paint and force a reaction from the 76ers.
Ah. Right. He didn’t roll to the basket. Instead, he pops out behind the three-point line. Allen doesn’t exactly blitz Oladipo, but he comes over far enough to discourage Oladipo’s drive. With four blue jerseys on that half of the court, Oladipo stops pretty quickly and looks to pass out.
Here’s the problem: that release valve doesn’t accomplish anything useful, other than resetting the play once Oladipo picks up his dribble. Glen Davis isn’t really going to shoot that ball when he gets it, because even he knows its not his shot. Lavoy Allen knows this too, which is why he was able to shade so far over, and why he doesn’t really have to close out when Davis has the ball at the top of the key.
In other words, Davis didn’t present any threat to the 76ers defense. The only way he could have done any damage was by rolling into the paint. Popping out like that would work great if he was a legitimate long range option, but as previously discussed, he isn’t Channing Frye. Imagine if this was Channing Frye at this moment:
I will cut Davis a little slack, though, because frankly the spacing by the rest of the team is pretty awful throughout the first half of the shot clock. Davis rolling toward the hoop would have sent him straight toward two more defenders on either side of the paint, and as previously mentioned Oladipo had to abort his drive pretty quickly when he saw how many people were in front of him. Why was Arron Afflalo hanging out by the left baseline? That basically removes both himself and Nelson from the play by crowding that corner.
The end result of this simple action is Davis holding the ball with half the shot clock gone. It’s no surprise that the rest of the play gets nowhere fast. After an ineffective dribble-drive and some lame screens, we end up with an end-of-the-shot-clock desperation three-point try from Oladipo.
Let’s contrast that with a play from Channing Frye and the Suns. Wouldn’t it be nice if we found, say, a high pick-and-pop with their big man and their very athletic combo guard, while their shooters line up across the baseline?
Convenient! Frye and Eric Bledsoe initiate the action at the top of the key, just like Oladipo and Davis. There’s a few things they do different that makes this action a little more effective than the Magic’s equivalent play. For starters, the shooters are spread out better along the baseline, with the two three-point threats on opposite sides and in the corners — as opposed to crowding Nelson and Afflalo on one side. The direction of the pick is the same, but Bledsoe takes the pick, which allows him to drive into more the more open space on the right side of the court.
It also helps that Bledsoe manages to turn the corner and actually get into the teeth of the defense:
Still, the result is the same: the ball handler has pulled all the attention to him, leaving the screen-setter open. The Nets’ Mason Plumlee dips too far in, thinking he can help on Bledsoe’s drive, but this is a mistake that will cost him. Channing Frye is known for his quick release, and he doesn’t need much room to get off his shot. If he were in Glen Davis’s shoes in the Magic’s play, he definitely could have shot that ball.
Then again, having 15 feet of space to shoot the ball isn’t such a bad thing, right? This is the kind of thing Frye and other stretch bigs do, though. They play against the instincts of the forwards and centers that guards them, that are used to playing inside and dealing with pick-and-rolls, not pick-and-pops. With a more traditional forward like Davis at the top of the arc, Plumlee could feel a lot better about abandoning his man to protect the paint. Instead, he leaves Frye open to hit the long-distance bomb, albeit with a funny-looking bounce off the back rim. Don’t worry about that, though, if you’ve never watched Frye play. That’s how he makes all his 3-pointers.
So what does the other team do? They have to key in on him a little more to prevent him from taking wide-open three’s, of course. Plumlee, in this case, could stick to Frye more closely, not help off so much. He might also change how he covers the screen, by not showing as hard on the driver so he can get back to Frye quicker.
Of course, this has consequences. These adjustments might only lead to more problems down the line, and we’ll cover how that can happen next time. Remember, Frye isn’t just a threat here, but the distraction as well. Pay too much attention to him, and you might find out that’s what his team wanted all along.