Jimmer Fredette is a Chicago Bull. Of all the midseason buyouts, this may end up being the most impactful for both player and team because the abilities of both parties provide for the needs of the other. This is truly a symbiotic signing.
There may be better players, such as Danny Granger, Caron Butler and Glen Davis, who were signed, but those players don't fill the biggest void on their new teams. What sets the Fredette signing apart is the match.
According to Sam Smith of Bulls.com, general manager Gar Forman said of the acquisition:
We are very excited to add a player like Jimmer to our roster. We’ve followed him closely throughout his collegiate and professional career, and believe he’ll be the type of player that will fit in with our group and be an asset to the team.
And he’s right. This was a perfect match because Fredette is a niche player who has flaws, but that niche is something that the Chicago Bulls need. And the Bulls, likewise, have strengths which compensate for Fredette’s weaknesses.
How Fredette Helps Chicago
Chicago does a lot of things well. They are a great rebounding team, ranking third in the league, grabbing 52.4 percent of rebound opportunities. They pass well, with a second-best 64.6 percent of their field goals coming off assists. They defend wonderfully, giving up just 97.7 points per 100 possessions, good for second.
When it comes to scoring, though, they have issues. They’re ranked 28th in points per play (ppp) according to Synergy. They are also 28th in offensive rating and last in effective field-goal percentage.
In particular, they are a horrible jump-shooting team. This is what the shot chart of their jumper looks like.
Now, this is what Fredette’s shot chart looks like.
It’s easy to tell by those two images where Fredette can help the Bulls.
He can shoot. I mean really, really shoot. He averages 1.41 ppp on the spot-up. That’s only the best in the NBA. (It comes with a bit of a qualifier though, as it’s a small sample-size of just 34 plays.)
He’s pretty good as the ball-handler on the pick-and-roll too, averaging .9 ppp on a larger sample, albeit still small sample size of 115 plays. That’s good for 26th best in the league. It’s on par with superstar point guard, Kyrie Irving, who averages .91 ppp.
And, from the NBA’s tracking data, Fredette’s effective field-goal percentage of 56.3 percent is second-best in the league among players with at least 100 points scored on such shots, trailing Courtney Lee by just one-tenth of a percentage point.
What all this means is that he’s not just good at shooting, he’s good at shooting off the bounce.
That’s especially significant because the Bulls struggle to create their own shots. They average just 12.2 unassisted field goals per game (determined by subtracting assists from field goals made), which places them last in the league.
When they're not hitting their threes, defenses crowd the frontcourt, and the Bulls labor to get the ball inside. They end up forcing up bad shots and bad passes, and things get uglier from there.
What the Bulls need is someone who can score off the dribble, particularly away from the rim to stretch the court. That’s what Fredette does best. That’s why he helps the Bulls.
How the Bulls Meet Fredette’s Need
You might ask: If he’s so great, then why was he bought out? That’s a fair question.
The reason is, he’s an outright awful defender. His opponents’ player efficiency rating is a horrendous 18.3. While his former team, the Sacramento Kings, were no great shakes on defense, they were a full 4.4 points worse while he was on the court.
Bulls head coach, Tom Thibodeau, has earned a reputation for saving the careers of point guards who score well but can’t play defense. Avi Saini of Bulls By the Horns does an excellent recap of Thibodeau’s exploits as a “point guard whisperer.”
Chicago’s side-to-side ball movement around the perimeter serves to create offensive opportunities for a team composed of players who struggle to generate their own shot. By moving the ball around, the Bulls force defenses off balance by making them constantly shift their positioning. When used in conjunction with on and off ball screens this forces defensive breakdowns for Chicago to exploit, primarily pick-and-roll driving lanes for the guard, spot up shots, and lanes for players to cut into (12.6%, 17.5%, and 11.4% of plays, respectfully according to Synergy Sports).
A simple sight test is enough to see that Thibodeau’s system has been and is heavily point guard dominated. Calculations made from SportsVu Player Tracking and the NBA’s statistics page supports this notion. On any given possession this season the point guards control the ball for an average of 6.2 seconds whereas everyone else who plays 20+ minutes/game only has the ball for roughly 1.3 seconds. Because the guards dominate the ball, they’re involved in a significant number of Chicago’s most run types of scoring plays (listed above), which partially explains why guards increase their scoring and assist numbers under Thibodeau.
His offense emphasizes a ball-dominant guard. That’s why it made Derrick Rose into an MVP. It’s why he’s saved the careers of players like John Lucas III, Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin. To a lesser degree, he elevated the status of players like Marco Belinelli and C.J. Watson.
Fredette gets the opportunity to showcase his talents in the perfect system for him. And, he gets to do it in a defense which can hide his warts.
Thibodeau’s system is not built around on-the-ball defense, rather it emphasizes help defense. Point guards aren’t expected to “stop” the ball at the point of attack. They’re expected to “steer” the ball-handler into a big, such as Taj Gibson or Joakim Noah, who are great defenders and alter shots.
That’s how the Bulls have survived with other poor defensive guards in the past, and it’s how they can survive with Fredette now.
Thibodeau can also help Fredette actually become a better defender. He’s done it with the likes of Marco Belinelli, Kyle Korver and Watson. And, the Bulls’ help defense will still be there to compensate for the things that Thibodeau can’t turn around overnight.
No team in the league could hide his flaws as well, not even the Pacers, who predicate their No. 1 defense on outstanding individual defensive play.
Fredette has a chance to remind us of the magic that made him a national name in college. This is what he can do, just in case you need a reminder.
If he can make a highlight reel like this in the postseason, he’ll feel it in his paycheck this summer. It worked for Robinson. That’s why no team gives Fredette more chance to succeed.
Fredette was so hyped in college that his first name became a verb. He was then drafted No. 10 overall, but he has steadily decreased in playing in spite of his efficiency going up. His lack of defense is ostensibly why.
This is something of a last stop for him. If he's going to work somewhere, Chicago is it, and if he does work in Chicago, watch out for the fireworks.