Before the ink was dry on the agreement ending this summer’s NBA lockout, media discussions had moved from how an embarassment of riches was going to be divided, to how asterisks would be allotted for the unique season ahead. 66 games in a compressed schedule, abbreviated training camps, and no summer league play meant all sorts of accomplishments and failures would be viewed and evaluated differently. Advantages and expectations were re-calibrated side-by-side. Given this extraordinary set of circumstances, how are we to judge the rookie season of Jimmer Fredette?
A simple snapshot of his first 61 games as a professional is not entirely satisfying, but also holds no sense of finality. He made three-pointers, 36.1% on 6.9 attempts per 36 minutes. He tallied nearly twice as many assists as turnovers, 108 to 67, and managed to claw his way into a steal every 36 minutes; an unexpected bonus from a guy who was supposed to be a horrific defensive liability. However, he also shot just 43.1% on shots around the rim, attempted just 1.5 free throws per 36 minutes, and helmed an offense that was 4.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he was on the floor. He was not the offensive supernova we saw at BYU, but was a similar level of performance really expected, and how much does context have to do with what he was able to produce?
Like every other rookie Fredette did not have the benefit of summer league or a full training camp before he embarked on his professional adventure. Of course, that didn’t stop Kyrie Irving or Kenneth Faried from having incredibly productive seasons. However, Irving, Faried and most other rookies didn’t have their head coach replaced after 7 games, or play for one of the most stagnant and staccato offenses in the league. The problem is that one other rookie did face those same circumstances, Fredette’s teammate Isaiah Thomas. While Thomas shot the ball efficiently and brought some semblance of order to the chaotic Kings’ offense, all from the starting point guard position that was supposed to become Fredette’s, Jimmer moved slowly slid down in the rotation, playing fewer minutes and inhabiting an ever-shrinking offensive role.
This is the opposite of the trend most rookies see, as the grinding experience-acquisition of that first season usually leads to more opportunities come spring. Comparing Minutes Per Game over the course of the season for several high profile rookies highlights Fredette as an oddball.
With all of these lines, pulling expectations and viewpoints in different directions, we still find Fredette in the center. With all the certainty available to someone who did not watch every Kings game, I don’t think this rookie season was a disappointment. In fact I think he supplied exactly what we should have expected. He shot the ball well from the outside and displayed a measure of court-vision and creativity. He also struggled to translate many pieces of his offensive arsenal to the speed and athleticism of the professional game. That downward trend in his minutes was as much from the success of Thomas as it was from the slope of Fredette’s learning curve. The fact that Thomas took a leap, becoming much more than was expected, should not change the way we view what Fredette accomplished.
Regardless of the measure of satisfaction his rookie efforts brought, there is work to do for Jimmer Fredette. Some offensive gifts have yet to be deployed effectively, and others have yet to be acquired. As expected, defense is a work in progress. If there is to be a developmental template, a recipe that he could follow to round out his game and find space as a consistent NBA contributor, I would posit that there may be no better choice than J.J. Redick. I know that on at first mention that comparison seems trite and distasteful. This connection is so easily drawn because of skin color and incredible shooting ability. But there’s more to it than that. By the numbers, no recent draft prospect had a more similar statistical profile to Fredette than Redick. In addition, Redick has worked hard to transform himself since coming into the NBA. All of the skills that he now utilizes on a nightly basis are the skills that Fredette needs to become consistent with as well.
Watching Fredette run the pick-and-roll could be an exhausting experience. With the advantages of hindsight and an elevated view, it’s clear his decision-making in these sets leaves a lot to be desired. Overall he averaged a respectable 0.86 points per possession in the pick-and-roll, but there appear to be opportunities for so much more. According to mySynergySports, Fredette attempted 109 shots this season out of pick-and-rolls. 91 of them, or 83.5%, were jumpshots; 43 of them, or 39.4%, were three-pointers. Below is a sampling of his pick-and-roll possessions from this season. In each there is an open lane, or at the very least an opportunity to put pressure on the defense and attack the basket.
Fredette is a terrific shooter, especially off the dribble, so he can be forgiven to some degree for hunting jumpers in the pick-and-roll. In fact, the 44.2% he shot on three-pointers out of these sets is responsible for the bulk of his efficiency. The problem is the complete and utter lack of balance. He does a great job patiently setting up screens, and shows nice body awareness, rubbing his man off by getting as close as possible to the screen. But once he comes around and sees open space, overwhelming tentativeness sets in. He frequently appears to be looking for a way to back off and get his feet set for the baby-blanket comfort of a jumpshot as quickly as possible. The point of a pick-and-roll is to move the defense, but this only happens if the ball and the screener are both moving. Fredette doesn’t appear to be manipulating, or even anticipating, space that’s created out of these sets. He appears to stumble into it, unsure of what to do, and falling back on what he does best.
That hesitancy coming off a screen with the ball in his hand also makes Fredette more likely to give the ball away. He turned the ball over on 16.5% of his pick-and-roll possessions. The video below shows a variety of those pick-and-roll turnovers. You’ll see late passes to the screener, indecision and carelessness attacking with the dribble and hesitancy to shoot as he approaches the basket, all resulting in the ball going the other direction.
This next video should be one that Fredette watches everynight this summer before he goes to bed. It shows J.J. Redick running the pick-and-roll for the Magic this season. You’ll see a healthy mix of jumpshots as well as forays to the rim to keep the defense honest. The defining themes are Redick sizing up the defense and making a quick assertive decision about where the ball should go.
The pick-and-roll has become a huge part of what J.J. Redickdoes for the Magic on a nightly basis, and it will continue to be featured heavily on Fredette’s offensive menu. Redick has found a wonderful middle ground, throwing darts from the outside, keeping the defense honest by attacking the rim strong when the opportunity presents itself and intentionally moving defenders to create openings for his teammates. Fredette has the potential to be an incredible pick-and-roll player but he has to expand his attack to multi-dimensions.
Being slightly under-sized, lacking world-beating athleticism, and having displayed little defensive aggression in college it was expected that Fredette would struggle, possibly mightily, defending ball handlers. He was actually surprisingly effective in isolations, holding his opponents 0.67 points per possession on 57 possessions. But in the pick-and-roll Fredette’s rookie nature was exposed. The video below shows three representative examples of his pick-and-roll defense this season.
I realize it’s a little unfair to judge his effectiveness by how he defends Chris Paul, but the flaws he displays here also showed against lesser pick-and-roll puppeteers. In all three of these plays Fredette either fails to anticipate the screen entirely, or gets fooled by a slight change. For example, in the first play when Kenyon Martin slips around simply sets the screen on the opposite he approached on. In each set Fredette is completely reactive and the execution of seasoned veterans takes him completely out of the play. Now watch Redick defend three pick-and-rolls involving Dwyane Wade and Norris Cole as ball handlers.
In all three sets Redick is actively anticipating both the coming screen and the movement of the ball, and he’s able to pro-actively avoid or disengage, keeping himself in the play enough to challenge the shot. This is not the manifestation of some remarkable innate defensive understanding. As a rookie, Redick was just as reactive and off-balance as Fredette. He’s obviously put a remarkable amount of time and mental effort into practicing and visualizing how to handle these situations and he’s made himself into a terrific defender. On the season, ball handlers scored just 0.74 points per possession in pick-and-rolls against Redick, a testament to how far he’s come. There’s no reason that the same inputs of focus and effort on Fredette’s part can’t produce similar outputs in defensive results.
With Isaiah Thomas racing past and greedily snatching up game experience, Jimmer Fredette‘s rookie season may look like some sort of failure. But patience and context are the keys. Take your time machine back to last June and review what was expected. Jump back in, skip forward, and compare that to where he sits now. I believe you’ll find the difference is not as great as swiss-cheese memory makes it appear to be. Fredette is lacking a certain measure of blue-collar tenacity, confidence, and a physicality that will benefit him at both ends of the floor. But watching the development of J.J. Redick should leave you with the thought that his considerable ceiling is still well within reach.