It’s been a rough rookie year for Jimmer Fredette.
In college he was a pure scorer who could do no wrong, racking up big numbers in the face of double teams while setting his teammates. His team won and he was the Golden Child. In the NBA, with its longer defenders, he is shooting just 36 percent off the Sacramento bench as they lose a whole lot of games. He’s scoring 8.5 points per game but needs 8.3 shots to get there. On defense he is getting exposed and intentionally isolated by opposing teams.
His PER of 10.4 would mean you barely get off the bench most places. The Kings just don’t have a choice (and they rightfully think he can improve with experience, so he gets some hard lessons).
What happened to the gunner Jimmer? Sebastian Pruiti does a fantastic breakdown over at Grantland and the answer is he hasn’t been able to adjust to being less athletic than just about everyone on the court yet. And, the Kings have been playing him out of position.
But things are changing.
Regarding positioning, Fredette has gotten a lot of run as a point guard. He was a decent passer in college, but he was a scorer not a set up man. Why the point now? Well, one reason is Paul Westphal, but that coach has been kicked to the curb. The other issue is the Kings don’t really have a choice. They have Tyreke Evans and then, well, why not give Jimmer a shot?
So how often has Fredette been running the point? According to82games.com, 37 percent of the Kings’ point guard minutes have gone to him. The problem? He’s been very bad during those minutes, averaging 4.6 assists per 48 minutes and 3.5 turnovers per 48. He commits most of his turnovers in pick-and-roll situations, where Fredette loses the ball 14.8 percent of the time. Fredette has been such an ineffective pick-and-roll ball handler because he doesn’t put much pressure on defenses when he uses ball screens.
According to MySynergySports.com, 31.9 percent of Fredette’s offensive opportunities come when he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, and he shoots 35.6 percent in that situation. As already noted he turns the ball over a lot in that role. Bad combo.
But that’s not how any of us pictured Jimmer — we thought more Ray Allen, a guy who can run off screens and catch-and–shoot. Except he is getting very few chances off screens. And that’s on him.
When Fredette moves without the ball, he runs in straight lines, rarely changes his pace, and almost never creates contact with his defender. This allows his defenders to “lock and trail” him, so when Fredette receives a pass the defense is already smothering him. With the defense too close for a catch-and-shoot, Fredette is forced to create a shot using his dribble.
The athletes in the NBA can keep up with Jimmer in a way the defenders in the Mountain West Conference could not. Every shot is contested by a very long arm that closes out quickly.
But the last couple games it has been different — he is 8-of-12 from three his last couple games.
Coach Keith Smart is still having him work off ball screens. However, there is one significant difference between the ball screens Fredette has been using in the past two games and the ones he used the rest of the season. Now, the Kings are setting more screens for Fredette on the side of the court and not at the top of the 3-point line. Sacramento has been pairing him with another primary ball handler like Evans or Thomas and passing to Fredette on the wing.
It’s a start. He has to score if he wants to see the court. Eventually he’s going to have to improve his defense, which is harder because most of the two guards he’s asked to stick with are faster and a couple inches taller. But there is a role out there for Fredette — he can shoot, and if you can put the ball in the basket teams will find a way to use you.
But we are a long way — and a lot of work — from Jimmer being the guy so many hoped he would be.