Can Jimmer Fredette Salvage His NBA Career?

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Can Jimmer Fredette Salvage His NBA Career?
Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

With the Sacramento Kings' recent buyout of Jimmer Fredette, a once promising NBA career has come to a crucial turning point. Now that he has cleared waivers and the Chicago Bulls have signed him, does Fredette still have a viable NBA career ahead of him?

There have been plenty of troubling signs in Sacramento. Most underdeveloped players simply don't get the opportunity or touches when they're on the floor to realize their potential. But in Jimmer's case, his 11.3 minutes per game in Sacramento was actually a misleading sign; when he was on the floor, his usage rate with the Kings was 24.1 percent (according to NBA.com).

That isn't an unusually high rate for a point guard, but it is indicative of the role he played with Sacramento: When he was on the floor spelling Isaiah Thomas, the offense was his.

Unfortunately, there was a noticeable slip: With Thomas on the floor, the Kings were only a minus-0.8 in net rating, according to NBA.com. That number dropped to minus-6.2 with Fredette running the show.

Much of Fredette's issues as a pro have stemmed from his conversion to the point guard position. At BYU, Fredette was the de facto point guard simply because he had the ball in his hands all the time. But his duties focused more on scoring and less on ball distribution, which therefore masked his limitations as a distributor.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press/Associated Press

When teams did overload against him, it opened up easy passing lanes. This allowed him to drive up assist totals, when in fact his passing was more a function of the other team forcing him to become a passer than him being inclined to move the ball.

Fredette's complete transition to point guard in the NBA, therefore, has exacerbated his limitations and diminished his strengths. Most of the thinking regarding the position change had to do with his size. At 6'2", 195 lbs, Fredette is simply not big enough to handle NBA shooting guards on the defensive end. 

The trouble with that thinking is that the NBA is slowly becoming a positionless league. Small forwards are playing the power forward position in small-ball, four-around-one lineups; the center position is somewhat defunct; point guards are able to score the ball at a higher rate than ever before.

With that change has come the utilization of two-point guard lineups. In New York, the duo of point guards Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni is one of their strongest tandems, according to lineup data. In Phoenix, Goran Dragic and Erie Bledsoe have combined to give the Suns a plus-8.1 net rating when they share the floor, according to NBA.com

Today's NBA is about wing play and dribble penetration. It's about spreading your opponent out to open up driving lanes while using deadly outside shooting to keep help defenders honest. 

Fredette has the tools to fit this type of game—he's shooting 49.3 percent from three-point range on 73 attempts this season. He simply needs to be in a two-PG setup, functioning as a secondary ball-handler that mostly plays off the ball.

When he handled the ball in Sacramento, too often he let the defense dictate his pace and direction. Though he's often able to create enough room for his shots, he's not physical or quick enough to really warrant help defenders sliding towards him.

Credit: CSN

Coupled with below-average passing, Fredette often finds himself forced into a shooting situation. Take this pick-and-roll against the Golden State Warriors, when Fredette comes off the pick left and the Warriors defend it by dropping Draymond Green. 

Golden State's Jordan Crawford does a poor job guarding Fredette and gets pinned behind Quincy Acy's on-ball screen. Green has also dropped way too far, giving Fredette room to attack and create a two-on-one as Acy rolls.

This also places added pressure on Harrison Barnes. If he chooses to pinch in and help, Fredette can throw a pass to Derrick Williams for a corner three. 

What ensues, however, does not resemble any of this. Fredette is more of a north-south ball-handler that has trouble zig-zagging under pressure. As he turns the corner on the pick, he has trouble stopping on a dime to keep Crawford on his back as Acy rolls.

Instead of letting the play develop with a nifty bit of dribbling, his immediate inclination is to pull up or attack. He pulls up and takes a bad leaning jumper that misses.

We can see a similar problem in this next example, after Fredette throws a behind-the-back, change-of-direction dribble at the Toronto Raptors' Greivis Vasquez. It isn't quite enough to create any meaningful separation, yet Fredette picks up his dribble and launches into his two steps towards the rim. 

Credit: CSN

Again, the issue here is a matter of patience. Fredette's mentality is score-pass, as opposed to pass-score. For a shooting guard, this is fine. But for a point guard, it hurts the team. 

Due to his shooting ability, teams will always be willing to take a flier on Fredette; he's an elite spot-up shooter with capabilities off-the-bounce. But the chances will run out eventually.

In Chicago, we can expect coach Tom Thibodeau to hone his defensive skills and bring the best out of him on that end of the floor. He also won't have to play the point, which should aid his offensive troubles. If there's any chance that he can revive his NBA career, Chicago seems like the perfect place.

Now it's just a matter of opportunity, and we'll see just how much of an impact he can make as the Bulls make their final playoff push. 

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