Frye Appears More Agile and Aggressive to Start This Season

By John Denton
Oct. 15, 2015

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – As first cousins and Orlando Magic teammates Channing Frye and Tobias Harris took their spots at Thursday’s NBA Cares event, the younger forward had a pointed message to the 32-year-old power forward.

``You’re not teaching them layups; you’re teaching them dunks,’’ Harris playfully barked at Frye. ``You’re a dunker now, so I want you to show the kids that.’’

The reference was to the thinner and noticeably more agile and aggressive Frye soaring high above the rim to ram in a wayward shot last Sunday night against the Houston Rockets. Frye’s thunderous dunk not only propelled the Magic to a win, but it brought his teammates up off the bench for a raucous celebration.

``I can’t remember the last one,’’ Harris said on Thursday when asked about the last dunk of Frye’s that he remembered. ``He kept saying in training camp that he was getting old. And I told him that he had to stop saying that because once you say it, you are going to believe that you are old. He really did stop saying it and now he’s dunking more. It’s working for him.’’

If Frye has seemed much more involved in the Magic’s designs this preseason, it’s because he has been in a variety of ways.

Signed to a four-year free-agent contract in July of 2014, Frye was used almost exclusively as a 3-pointer shooter and rarely did he stray inside for anything else in Jacque Vaughn’s offense. New Magic coach Scott Skiles made a point not long after he was hired in May to tell Frye that he had much higher expectations and demands for him. In addition to demanding that he show up to camp in great shape, Skiles has had Frye posting up smaller defenders, acting as a facilitator off dribble-hand-off action and crashing the boards for the occasional follow-up dunk.

Being used differently and being expected to do more than last season when he referred to himself as, ``a lamp,’’ Frye said it has energized him to be better at every facet of the game. And once again, the always loquacious Frye seems to be having fun playing basketball again.

``I definitely feel like I’m having more fun playing this way,’’ Frye said from the steamy Clube de Regatas do Flamengo gymnasium in Rio. ``I really worked hard in the summer and I heard what Scott Skiles is like and what he wants. A lot of people were like, `Well, Channing Frye is not going to fit in here because of his style.’ But I agree with 99 percent of everything that (Skiles) teaches. I feel like there is a lot of freedom and he wants you to be a great player. I respect that and I’m taking advantage of the opportunity.’’

Skiles gave the Magic Wednesday off from practice following the team’s OT defeat of Miami and the 8 ½ hour flight to the sports-crazed Brazil. Many of the players on the team took advantage of being in a new country, playing fut’volley on Copacabana and traveling up to see the famed statute of Cristo Redentor.

Thursday, however, was all about basketball. To prepare for Saturday night’s exhibition game against Brazilian powerhouse Flamengo, the Magic got in a 90-minute practice that was somewhat cut short because of the stifling humidity inside the gym that made the floor slippery and dangerous. Skiles has been pleased with his team’s effort all camp, and he said the same was true on Thursday.

``It was good because we got a little work in. We couldn’t do everything because the floor was slick because it’s hot in here and guys are sweating, so we cut it short,’’ Skiles said. ``I haven’t had to (stress the business nature of the trip). This is one of those things that occurs and you have to adjust to it. With some of our young players, it’s about realizing that there are always distractions whether it’s here or Orlando and you have to be ready to get to work. We were a little slow today, but we got it together after awhile.’’

Skiles is intrigued by the way Frye has gotten it together following a first season in Orlando where he averaged just 7.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in 75 games. He shot a respectable 39.2 percent from 3-point range, but he proved far too one dimensional as 71 percent of his shots (346 of 487) were from beyond the arc. In 1,870 minutes, he had only 31 free throws and just 12 baskets from within 5 feet of the rim.

``We wanted to give him other opportunities and Channing has even talked about that he was pretty embarrassed by last season. That’s pretty strong wording and I don’t know if I would have gone that far,’’ Skiles said. ``But he came back in great shape and we like him doing more things on the floor. … He’s played very well and he hasn’t had a bad day yet. He’s been good in the games and good in practice. He’s shot it well, moved around well and passed it well, so I’m excited for Channing. He’s bought in and he’s more than likely going to have a good year.’’

Giving Skiles that hope is the fact that Magic have actually been better thus far with Frye on the floor than when he’s been on the bench. That was rarely the case last season as Frye struggled to defend more physical forwards. In four games this preseason, Frye has averaged 9.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 46.7 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from the 3-point line.

In Sunday’s game where he had the big follow-up dunk, Frye gave the Magic 14 points, four rebounds and three assists and the team was a plus-17 in his 26 minutes on the floor. And he played well again on Tuesday with another 12-point, eight rebound effort.

``I see a lot of difference in Channing because he’s moving the ball a lot more on offense, he’s a great shooter and even when we use him as a decoy he helps us because teams have to stay close to him,’’ said Magic power forward Jason Smith, who played against Frye last season while a member of the New York Knicks. ``With defenders staying close to all of us (power forwards), that’s just going to create driving lanes for our guards, dran-and-kicks and wide-open shots for everyone.’’

Frye’s potential trickle-down effect was a big reason behind his free-agent signing. Now, with Frye more involved in the offense and always a threat because of his willingness to take big shots, the belief is that he could create more one-on-one opportunities for Nikola Vucevic and Harris and wider driving lanes for Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton.

Frye said the disappointment of last season and the desire to be better for his teammates this year caused him to do a lot of soul-searching and self-analysis over the summer. He talked with former University of Arizona teammates Luke Walton and Richard Jefferson about things he could do to sharpen his mind and improve his lateral quickness. And he just basically committed himself to being better and being a more complete player this time around.

``I know what my role is going to be on this time and some nights that will be easy and some nights it will be tough, but I will ride it out,’’ Frye said. ``I talked to (Jefferson) and Luke (Walton) and some of my boys who play for Golden State and they told me, `Stop trying to fix all the things that you can’t fix.’ Sometimes the situations just don’t fit (like last season), but this year I was going to be prepared for anything. I was prepared and I’m just starting to tap into the work I put in. Now, I’m encouraged and I’m going out here and having fun again.’’