The Orlando Magic were one of the worst shooting teams in the league last season. They ranked in the bottom third of the league in both Expected Points Per Shot (a metric I developed which measures the quality of shot selection[1. A team or player's XPPS is higher if they take more three-pointers, shots at the rim and free throws. It goes down if they take more mid-range jumpshots.]) and actual Points Per Shot. In short, they took inefficient shots and missed them at a prodigious rate. But Magic GM Rob Hennigan wasted no time addressing that weakness this offseason, quickly signing Ben Gordon and Channing Frye to multi-year deals.
The four-year, $32 million dollar deal Frye received has raised some eyebrows, especially for a player with modest per-game statistics and a reputation for offering a fairly one-dimensional skill set. But the Magic identified shooting as a huge need and Frye should be a perfect fit.
According to the NBA’s SportVU Player Tracking statistics, the Magic ranked fifth in the league in catch-and-sh00t field goal attempts per game last season. However, they ranked 28th in catch-and-shoot three-point field goal attempts per game[2. They also ranked dead last in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage], meaning that most of their catch-and-shoot attempts were of the generally inefficient long two-pointer variety[3. Which accounts for their poor performance in XPPS, my shot selection metric]. The issue was that the Magic’s most talented three-point shooters — Victor Oladipo, E’Twaun Moore, Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson — also happened to be their primary ball-handlers. None of the Magic bigs was really a consistent threat from the outside. The end result was that they weren’t able to stack their units with enough shooting and when they did get a drive-and-kick action working, the ball was often being kicked out to a big man whose range petered out around 18ft.
Gordon and Frye are deadeye outside shooters, both making better than 38.0 percent of their three-pointers for their careers, but it Frye and his size that is of particular importance to the Magic. Listed at 6’11″, Frye’s ability to space the floor as a big man gives the Magic’s offense a dimension it just didn’t have last year. The graph below shows every player in the league who played at least 500 minutes last season, plotted by their height in inches and the ratio of their three-point attempts to total field goal attempts.
You can see that Frye’s size and shooting ability is an outlier across the entire league and in particular when compared to the Magic’s roster from last season. Of course, his value goes well beyond just spacing the floor by attempting three-pointers. Over the past four seasons only one player, 6’10″ or taller (Ryan Anderson), has made more three-pointers than Frye, a statistic made even more remarkable when you consider that Frye missed all of the 2012-2013 season after being diagnosed with an enlarged heart.
The offensive power of spacing is a well-recognized phenomenon at this point and studies by Jacob Frankel and Justin Willard have both found a positive connection between the number of shooters a team has on the floor and their offensive performance, even beyond what would be expected given the offensive talent of those five players. But Willard also followed up that initial study by looking at just the effect of spacing provided by shooters who also happened to be big men.
I’ll use Willard’s own summary:
All players, regardless of position, help the offense through spacing the floor, but position/height can make this more valuable...According to the regression model, three-point shooting is twice as valuable from a center compared to a point guard and roughly two-thirds more valuable for big men than perimeter players, again reinforcing the results from the other methods.
Having Frye on the floor for the Magic next season projects to do more than just move some of their inefficient two-point shots out beyond the three-point line or hand some of those attempts off to a better shooter. Putting Frye on the perimeter pulls a big defender away from the basket, opening driving lanes for Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo and cutting lanes for Mo Harkless and Aaron Gordon. It clears a defender from the paint giving Nikola Vucevic, Gordon or Kyle O’Quinn an advantage on duck-ins or on the offensive glass.
A good shooter manipulates space all over the floor and the Orlando Magic have found themselves one of the best.