Channing Frye will reportedly be out two-to-three weeks with a dislocated right shoulder. You never really know with initial estimates though, so don't hold on too hard to that time frame. What we do know is that Frye is going to miss several games and could be gone until the final week or two of the season. With only 21 games left and the team currently barely holding on to the ninth seed in the West, how the Suns respond to the loss of a crucial player will determine if they are playing on April 16 or watching the first round of the playoffs from home.
Last season, Robin Lopez went down in late March with a back injury. People predicted that would spell doom for the Suns first round playoff chances but the team was able to finish strong and capture the three seed and advance to the Western Conference Finals without their starting center.
Replacing Frye will be an even bigger challenge for the Suns this year. His ability to space the floor and draw his defender away from the paint was a huge part of the success of the Suns bench unit last year and played an important role in freeing up space for Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire to work in the paint.
The same is true this season but to an even greater degree since none of the other big men can shoot from outside like Stoudemire.
Channing Frye has the highest plus/minus rating (+93) of any player not named Steve Nash (+289) and looking at the five-man unit plus/minus chart on NBA.com, he is in the top eight groupings. He's easily the second most important player on the team this year.
Frye's point totals will be missed but not nearly as much as his ability to both space the floor and be a big body on the defensive glass and in the paint.
The Suns haven't official announced how they will adjust their rotations in Frye's absence. Coach Alvin Gentry said that he meet with his staff for two hours this morning to discuss options for replacing Frye who Gentry said, has been playing the best basketball of his career over the past several weeks.
"There's a lot of ways that we can go. Hakim Warrick has played well for us and done a good job. He's not the spacer that Channing is but he's also very good at running the floor and finishing things and still gives us an opportunity to play the way we play," Gentry said.
Warrick, unfortunately, hasn't been able to play good basketball for the Suns. He's a -182 in his 1034 minutes of floor time this season. While Hakim can certainly finish in the lane when assisted and he has shown signs of improving his mid-range shooting, he's a liability defensively and his rebounding and effort have not been consistent enough.
Even if he brings the defensive intensity and rebounding, Warrick's presence on the floor with Marcin Gortat or Robin Lopez still creates spacing issues by having two big guys instead of one trying to operate in the paint. This makes it harder to run pick and roll and takes room away from Steve Nash to operate freely. The Suns are forced to run more conventional sets which is not their strength.
To counter that spacing issue, Gentry said that he could play small as well, "We can play other guys that can spread the floor for us also."
Without mentioning names, he hinted that either Mickael Pietrus or Jared Dudley could play power forward. We've seen Grant Hill fill the role as well at times this season and Josh Childress could possibly see time as well.
"We might be small, but we'll still be very athletic," Gentry said.
In certain situations against bigger teams like the Lakers or Mavericks (both on the schedule for March), the Suns could consider playing Gortat and Lopez together. The two have barely registered any time together on the floor this season and would certainly slow down the Suns attack.
I would look for Warrick to get the start and hopefully give a solid 25 minutes and then expect to see some combination of wings players trying to use their energy and shooting to make up for what Frye has been giving the team.
Aaron Brooks was brought in to shore up the bench unit and provide a scoring punch. So far, he's averaging less than a point more than Goran Dragic through his first five games. That will need to improve as well, especially since Steve Nash is battling through his own injury issue.