At the end of last season I wrote a post, detailing some of the strugglesJimmer Fredette had in his first NBA season. It was widely accepted that he would struggle defensively as a rookie, and he fulfilled that prophecy in spades. The surprising thing, at least to me, was how much he struggled offensively as well. Clearly many of the things that worked ay BYU wouldn’t work against NBA competition, but his jumpshot and ability to create space with the dribble seemed like they would translate to some degree of professional effectiveness. Instead, he finished last season shooting 38.6% from the field. He also wasn’t able to generate much offense for his teammates, posting an Ast% of just 15.1% and ultimately playing his way out of the regular rotation as fellow rookie Isaiah Thomas took over the starting point guard position.
Fredette still finds himself towards the end of the Kings’ guard rotation. His minutes have come in spurts and he’s averaging just 9.4 a night, roughly half of what he played as a rookie. This season has been a continuing struggle on defense, but at the other end of the floor we’ve started to see some of the flaming, molten potential he displayed in college. Through 12 games and 113 minutes, Fredette is shooting 51.0% from the field and 45.0% on three-pointers. He’s pushed his Ast% to 21.6%, kept his turnovers relatively flat and has done all of this with a Usage Rate of 26.9%, much higher than the 20.4% he used last year. The most exciting number of all for Kings’ fans may be the 5.1 free throws per 36 he’s averaging, up from 1.5 last season.
We’re looking at a very small sample size, for a player who hasn’t found a consistent spot in the rotation yet, but Fredette looks like a very different animal. When we looked at his offensive struggles last season, the thing that kept jumping out was how tentative and indecisive he looked. Frequently space would be created on a pick-and-roll only to be ceded by Fredette as he slowed down, shying away from the paint. This usually resulted in a fade-away jumpshot or a turnover caused by a forced pass or rapidly recovering defender.
This season he looks much more aggressive, using the space that’s created by screeners to keep the pressure on and attack the defense. That simple shift in mindset has made, and should continue to make, a huge difference for Fredette and the Kings. The other change is how the Kings have been using him. As a collegiate scoring dynamo, most of Fredette’s offense came from isolations and pick-and-rolls. He used plenty of those possession types last season but was underwhelmingly ineffective, averaging 0.71 and 0.86 points per possession. He’s been better in both situations this season, but the Kings have also run some interesting action for him using hand-offs and screens away from the ball. According to mySynergySports, 19.4% of his offensive possessions this season have come in those two situations and he’s averaging 1.33 and 1.10 points per possession.
Usually when you think of players using off the ball screens to create shots you think of Ray Allen or Reggie Miller running through staggered minefields of bodies only to pop out for an open three-pointer. What the Kings have been doing for Fredette is creating space for him around the free throw line and allowing him to catch the ball on the move. As I said above his decision-making and aggressiveness in these scenarios has been a huge improvement. Here’s one such set:
The ball begins on the right wing in the hands of James Johnson, with Marcus Thornton coming across the court, beyond the three-point line to receive the pass. Fredette begins on the baseline and his positioning makes him much less threatening to the Lakers defense than the downscreen Travis Outlaw appears ready to set on Howard, looking to free Jason Thompson at the elbow.
As the ball is swung to Thornton, Fredette has begun his movement towards the elbow, ready to curl around into the lane. He does a nice job of bumping off his man, Steve Blake, using Howard as an unsuspecting screener. Pau Gasol is hesitant to leave Outlaw, and Howard is paying close attention to Thompson, needing to keep him from cutting across the lane for a dump down.
As Fredette continues his curl, opening up at the free throw line, Outlaw has stepped out to pin down Blake. Gasol is paying attention to Outlaw, which is probably appropriate given his preference for outside jumpshots.
Fredette has come out a little high to receive the pass, but Blake is still trailing. With Gasol and Howard glued to Outlaw and Thompson there is a huge open driving lane to the basket, a lane that Fredette attacks with gusto.
Last season the threat of Gasol and Howard rotating over would have slowed the pace of his drive, leading to a blocked layup, or pushing him back to the elbow for a fade-away jumper or ineffectual kick-out. This season Fredette takes advantage of Howard being a half-second late, chews up the empty space his teammates created for him and drops in the teardrop floater. Here’s the play in real time, along with a few other examples of Fredette attacking the space the Kings offense creates instead of fading into the back of it:
This new aggressive Fredette is forcing defenses to adjust which is also leaving more open and obvious opportunities for him to find his teammates for easy shots. The play below is very similar to the one we looked at above but ends with a good, quick decision by Fredette to get the ball to Thomas Robinson for a dunk.
As the play begins John Salmons is walking the ball up. Fredette and Jason Thompson are matching his walking pace, appearing to be heading for the corners.
As the set unfolds, Fredette and Thompson are continuing towards the baseline. Salmons is waiting at the top of the key and Thomas Robinson looks ready to pop out and set a high screen for him.
The high pick-and-roll set-up is just a distraction. Fredette feints towards the baseline and then curls back around towards the free throw line. Instead of moving out towards Salmons, Robinson simply steps back and screens Fredette’s man.
With last year’s hesitation Fredette probably would have shied away from the center of the floor and caught the ball somwhere out towards the three-point line, negating any opportunities to attack the defense. This season he appears much more comfortable taking the ball into traffic, and in this case finds himself surrounded by three defenders. This creates open space for both Salmons and Robinson. Unflustered by the defensive attention he calmly makes the pocket bounce pass to Robinson for the dunk. Here’s the play in real time:
For all the improvement Fredette has shown this year, he still finds himself buried behind Aaron Brooks, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans and John Salmons on the wings; a rotation stunningly deep in mediocrity. Minutes may not come regularly for awhile but Fredette has made some changes to his approach and the Kings have done a nice job of finding some different ways of using his talents this year. Success breeds confidence, and Kings’ fans may be able to take a little solace in the knowledge that the entire Jimmer Fredette project seems to be finally headed in the right direction.