Channing Frye missed the entire 2012-13 season due to an enlarged heart, a condition diagnosed during a preseason physical. That also coincided with the first year post-Steve Nash for the Phoenix Suns and, unsurprisingly, the end of the Alvin Gentry era in Arizona. Those who have bashed the hiring of Alvin Gentry with the common phrase, "his team's get better when he left" conveniently forget to provide this kind of context to the situation.
Space in Gentry's offensive system is critical. The 2012-13 Phoenix Suns lacked it; Jared Dudley was the only rotation player consistently knocking down shots behind the arc. When asked during the season what the problem was, Gentry was quick to point out that the spacing created by Frye was a critical absence.
I’d imagine not having Channing Frye changes a lot of things. People don’t talk about that enough. He was a huge part of the team.
I was gonna say — the fact that Channing is not here is huge. Here’s a guy that made 177 3s for us. Just not having him as that spacer cuts down driving angles and driving alleys for guys.
Back in 2009-10, when the Suns reached the Western Conference Finals under Gentry, it was Frye who created the space for Steve Nash Amare Stoudemire pick and rolls to operate at peak efficiency. Frye was the starting center and led the team in made threes with 172 while shooting 43.9% behind the arc. Those 3-point shots were not the treasured corner threes we see so valued by developing big men such as Serge Ibaka or Anthony Davis. Channing Frye was knocking it down above the break, making 146 3-pointers from there.
That brings me to Jason Smith, former New Orleans Hornet and New Orleans Pelican. Under Monty Williams Jason Smith was used primarily as a pick and pop player and release valve during his four seasons in the Crescent City. He attempted just 15 3-pointers in nearly 4,000 minutes of work. I was hardly alone in calls for Smith to take a couple steps back. This year, primarily from the corners, Smith made 15 3-pointers while shooting 35.7% behind the arc.
In his last three seasons in New Orleans Smith shot 47.8% (182/381) on long twos near the top of the key; those three sections just above the foul line. According to Basketball Reference Smith has shot better from 10-16 feet than Frye (42.3% to 39.7%) and from 16 feet to the 3-point line (44.2% to 42.7%) during their respective NBA careers. Smith could suffer a substantial drop from his effectiveness on long twos with the extra step back and remain a deadly threat at the top of the key behind Anthony Davis-focused pick and rolls.
Smith suffered through injuries throughout his four seasons in New Orleans; his high in games played was 77, his first with the then-Hornets. Last season was much better on the health front as Smith played in all 82 games for the Knicks; he was the only Knick to do so. His efficiency took a bit of a dip but he also demonstrated a new found proclivity to pass the ball with 140 assists and a 13.5% assist rate. Putting those numbers in perspective, in four seasons in New Orleans Smith had just 133 assists with a 6.1% assist rate.
Bringing Smith back to New Orleans will likely cost some portion of the Mid-Level Exception but not the entire thing. He signed with the Knicks for the taxpayer's mid-level last summer, making a little less than $3.3 Million. Should his cost remain in that ballpark Dell Demps could split off the remainder to bring in more help. Also, Smith's arrival could make parting ways with Ryan Anderson much easier. Smith pairs with Anthony Davis nicely already and while his reputation as a floor spacer is not Anderson's his ability and energy as a defender is significantly greater.
In my opinion a player with Smith's skillset is the ideal third big and a near luxury as the fourth big in the Crescent City. He fits as a floor spacer while allowing AD to remain at power forward almost full-time. Jason Smith will likely cost less than Alexis Ajinca while bringing substantially more potential, especially on defense.
A real stretch five is hard to find. Memhet Okur was one for the Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz. Channing Frye, as we've discussed, was a critical cog in Phoenix. Meyers Leonard has evolved into one in Portland. Jason Smith has not been asked to do so in his NBA career, but the potential is there.
Come back Jason Smith. Let us hear "click, click boom" ring through the Blender. For three points instead of two.