Acquired at the trade deadline for Anderson Varejao, Jared Cunningham and a future first-round pick, Frye has been in and out of Cleveland's rotation as he adapts to his new team.
"I think the game's a little fast for him right now," head coach Tyronn Lue said recently, "which is not fair, because we haven't had a lot of practice days.
"My intent is to play him, but I think the first couple games, the first few games we were stagnant, because he didn't know the plays and what to call and what to run because he didn't know a lot of the sets. That's on us to get him in the gym and to continue to work with him. But I see him being a valuable piece for us."
Frye started his first game for Cleveland in a 120-108 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on March 10 while Kevin Love sat to rest a sore knee. Frye registered 21 points on 5-of-7 shooting from deep, grabbed seven rebounds and was a team-best plus-23.
Now in his 10th year, Frye can become an important reserve member for the Cavs, one who's able to stretch the floor with his lifetime 38.7 percent shooting from deep. While he won't put up big numbers on a stacked, star-led team, Frye's impact on others makes him a crucial player both for the rest of the regular season and in the playoffs.
Fighting for Time
Heading into Thursday's win over the Lakers, Frye had appeared in just eight of 10 games for the Cavs, averaging a modest 4.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 12.0 minutes per night.
After chipping in 15 points and six rebounds off the bench in a 114-103 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Feb. 24, Frye sat out two games because Lue chose not to play him.
When asked if Lue had talked to him about his role, Frye told Bleacher Report, "Nah, there’s nothing that needs talking about, man. It’s not that complicated. I’ll go in there, play some D, shoot when I’m open and give guys space on the floor.
"They have more than enough superstars, and I think for me right now, I need to continue to get in a groove with the guys, be ready to play at any moment. They’re pretty solid at every position, so for me it’s about being an option. I’ve just always got to be ready."
Though Cleveland acquired him to bolster this year's bench, Frye is far from a rental. He's signed to a team-friendly deal with just $7.8 million owed for 2016-17 and $7.4 million in 2017-18, according to Spotrac, so it's important that Lue establish a role for him as soon as possible.
At 32 years old and now surrounded by stars, Frye said, "I know that the big dogs have to eat, and I’m just going to help them when I can."
We know the firepower that the Cavaliers' starting unit can bring. The bench has been a different story.
Cleveland's reserves are 29th in the NBA in scoring this season at just 27.2 points per game, according to hoopsstats.com. Part of this is due to a lack of outside shooting, as they rank 22nd on 3.1 made three-pointers out of 8.6 attempts per contest.
With Frye, the Cavs have someone who can step right into Love's power forward spot without changing the offense. At 6'11", the former Arizona Wildcat helps space the floor for drivers like LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Irving has already felt Frye's impact.
Here's how the 23-year-old point guard has performed with and without Frye on the court per 36 minutes of play (not including Thursday's win), according to NBA.com:
James has also seen the Frye Effect. With his outside shot failing (a career-low 28.5 percent from three), James needs an empty lane to attack the paint and get to the basket. He's converting at a 76.9 percent clip in the restricted area with his new teammate sharing the court, up from his season average of 67.9 percent, according to NBA.com.
Defensively, Frye's 6'11" frame and nearly 7'3" wingspan is long enough to challenge shots, even if he's far from a rim protector. He's fleet enough of foot to help in pick-and-roll coverage but can be a liability in one-on-one defense against stronger bigs.
Much like with fellow reserve Matthew Dellavedova, it's important not to focus on individual statistics, but rather on how Frye improves others around him. On a team with so many stars who need the ball to be effective, his helpful presence can't be overlooked.
Importance of Role Players
Cleveland paid a steep price to land Frye and needs to prove the move was worth it. Varejao's playing time had been slashed, but he still represented a respected and veteran voice off the court. Frye is confident he can provide more of the same.
"I’m coming in here to be a professional and help a locker room," Frye said. "I’m not afraid to tell a guy ‘Hey, you’re f--king up’ or support them. So far, I’ve just kind of melted with these guys; they’re great guys."
Of course, the impact of key role players in the postseason is invaluable. In a Cavs-Golden State Warriors Finals dominated by star power last June, it was sixth man Andre Iguodala who took home MVP honors.
For guys like Iguodala and now Frye, patience is key.
"Just like I was telling someone the other day, 'Listen, it may not be now, it may not be for the next 10 games, but there’s going to be a time where I’m going to go out there and help win a game or two and that’s why I’m here,'" Frye said. "I’ve just got to be ready and have a good mindset. Bench guys can win a series. They make a big impact."
Of course, this means a concentrated effort by Lue to get Frye consistent, meaningful playing time. Love and Tristan Thompson should be the starters at power forward and center, respectively, with Frye and Timofey Mozgov grabbing what minutes they leave behind. If Cleveland wants to keep tinkering with small ball, Frye can also play center with James lining up at the 4.
As with all things Cavaliers, it comes down to a championship-or-bust attitude. Frye has only been in Northeast Ohio for just over three weeks but already understands what a title would mean for the area.
"I couldn’t even imagine. What impact would that have on me? I’d act a damn fool," Frye told B/R. "But you know what? It’s going to be work. Just by being here a little bit, I think they deserve it. I think these guys on this team deserve it. They’re built for it. They want it, and now it’s just about going out and putting the tire to the road."
When it comes to Frye, the Cavs need to open up the garage and let him ride.
Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @CavsGregBR.
All quotes are firsthand. Stats via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise sourced and are current as of March 11 unless otherwise noted.
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