Channing Frye proving to be a ‘Plus Defender’

Orlando Magic forward Channing Frye has increased his defensive effort, and the Orlando Magic are becoming a team without a “weak link” on defense.

The numbers support that Channing Frye has improved his defense —dramatically even.

Simple observations show a version of Frye we have not seen. His anticipation has shown itself in deflections, and he is closing out on shooters. Everyone is.

The Magic are No. 6 in the NBA in 3-point percentage allowed, while also ranking No. 5 in field goal percentage allowed.

Frye has been as instrumental as any in that change.

In overall field goal attempts, shooters are knocking down 2.6 percent less of their shots with Frye covering them, according to NBA.com. He has been even better in the paint, allowing shooters to hit 10.0 percent less within six feet and 7.5 percent less from 10-feet inwards.

Those numbers illustrate Frye is getting a hand up, bothering shooters and forcing tough looks. He is present to challenge offensive players in the paint and in general.

The revolution Frye’s defense has undergone has led him to be injected into the starting lineup. He is no longer a liability on that end of the court. The Magic are posting a 91.2 defensive rating at the Amway Center with Frye on the floor. He has not been as good on the road with a 100.9 defensive rating while on the court.

What may be more telling is when Frye is playing his best defense, the Magic typically win.

In wins, the Magic are posting a 92.7 defensive rating with Frye on the floor while it is 101.3 in their losses. This stat is very telling: When the Orlando gets all five defenders bodying up with defenders, Orlando is at its absolute best.

“I’m going to stay ready,” Channing Frye said last week during the team’s homestand. “My job is pretty simple — shoot the ball, I play some D and get a couple boards. At this point, I’ve been through it all. For me, I’m not really emotionally on this roller coaster. I’m just like, ‘OK coach, what do you need?’ I understand the offense. Defensivley, I’ve guarded 90 percent of these dudes.”

Frye is still not rebounding at a high rate, just 18.7 percent, but a lot of that has been because the team is collectively rebounding very well. One need look no further than Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo, as both have dramatically increased their contributions on the glass.

Oladipo is averaging 6.1 rebounds per game as a 2-guard, and Harris is approaching that eight rebound per game mark. Even Orlando’s point guard is hitting the glass. Elfrid Payton is good for 4.2 rebounds per game. The overall result is that Orlando is ranked No. 10 in total team rebounds and No. 10 in total rebound rate.

The Magic are not the league’s best defensive team, but they are one of the most feared (eighth in the league in defensive rating). When Oladipo and Payton are wrecking their havoc on backcourts, the result is teams getting into sets later, if at all.

Orlando rivals the Boston Celtics in this department, and the potential for elite defense has been here all along. The difference has been a demanding coach in Scott Skiles who is unafraid to bench a key player if the defensive effort is not there.

This approach has permeated the entire team, and Frye is one of the biggest benefactors. He was signed to provide court spacing, but with the caveat his defense would be on par.

Last year it was not. And this year it is far from exceptional, but it is more than passable and Frye keeping his hands active has been as crucial as any factor.

The Magic can defend, and Frye is no longer a liability. That may have been all the team sought from him. With Frye having knocked down 22 of 51 from behind the arc, he is finally serving the purpose Orlando envisioned he would when he was signed two offseasons ago.

Philip Rossman-Reich contributed to this report.