Jimmer Fredette might not be at the top of the list of things Bulls fans are talking about this offseason. In fact, he’s probably not even an afterthought. But, if the Bulls decide to keep him around, he could be the next point guard Tom Thibodeau turns around.
Look at the history of NBA quarterbacks whose careers the Bulls’ head coach has boosted: C.J. Watson, John Lucas III, Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin. They all have certain things in common. Each came in with a reputation of poor defense and a lack of a willingness to pass. All are undersized. And, all had the same redeeming quality: they could shoot.
With the exception of size (to a point), that sounds like good company to Fredette. The 6’2” combo guard lit up the nation with his shooting at BYU, but his NBA career has faltered, seeing a decrease in playing time each season of his three-year career.
When he has gotten in, he’s been productive shooting the ball, though. In the brief spells he played in Chicago, prorated for minutes (20.6 per 36) and possessions (30.4 per 100), he was not only at his best, he was legitimately a threat.
His career averages—16.9 points per 36 minutes and 23.9 points per 100 possessions—aren’t horrible, but his Chicago numbers were notably up. In his spell with the Bulls, he showed he can become the next piece of wood for Thibodeau’s wondrous whittling.
The Bulls are in a precarious situation with their point guards this summer. They had four players finish the season on the roster: Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Augustin and Fredette. The only one who is still under contract is Rose.
Whom will the Bulls bring back? And at what price? Those are the big questions. It may be outside of their hands. The only one of the three whom they’d be likely to pay more than the minimum for is Augustin (whom they could offer the room or biannual exception to).
If someone else offers more for Hinrich, they are likely to let him walk. If Augustin gets pitched in excess of the exceptions because of what he showed with the Bulls, he could be gone, too.
It’s no lock that both Hinrich and Augustin come back. It’s even possible neither does.
If that happens, Chicago probably decides to hold onto Fredette, and that’s a good thing.
Yes, Fredette has his faults. His defense is horrible, the reason he couldn’t get more playing time with the Bulls last season. Per 82games.com, His opponents had a player efficiency rating of 24.9. To put that in perspective, Russell Westbrook’s was 24.7. Jose Calderon’s was the league average, 15.0.
In other words, Fredette’s defense was so bad he made Calderon look like Westbrook. That’s almost impressive in a “B-Scifi-movie” sort of way.
But those are the types of flaws that Thibodeau addressed in Fredette’s forerunners and can fix in him, too. With a full training camp and more practice time, that’s more realistic than it was last spring, when the Bulls picked him up off waivers.
With the Bulls, so much depends on the system: learning it, knowing where to be and when to be there, and executing in synchronicity with everyone else.
While Thibodeau never made Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Marco Belinelli or any of the aforementioned point guards into elite on-the-ball defenders, he figured out ways to hide them. He made them into competent team defenders. He can do that with Fredette. Defense is not the issue in Chciago.
What they’ve lacked are straight-up shooters like Fredette. He’s a .401 career three-point shooter. He hits .518 form the corner.
And, while much is made of “what happens if Rose gets hurt again?” it’s time to also consider what happens if he doesn’t. Let’s just run with the careless assumption that he’s healthy next year.
The thing that Rose does better than anyone else in the league, even LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Westbrook, is slalom through defenders.
And, the more space that you can create between the “pylons,” the greater the acceleration that he builds as he splits them.
The way you achieve that is with lots of shooters. That’s the thing with Rose. He’s never been surrounded by great shooters. He had Korver, but even then, it was just Korver. That’s stretching the court in a manner of speaking, but it’s just tugging on one corner of the Silly Putty.
The Bulls are already looking at adding Nikola Mirotic, their draft-and-stash Euroleague stretch 4. He shot .429 from deep for Real Madrid last season.
Per Scot Gregor, Chicago White Sox beat writer for the Daily Herald, that romance appears to be developing nicely, as Mirotic had a date with the owner of both teams last night.
Then, if they ink the oft-rumored Carmelo Anthony, either through free agency or via sign-and-trade, that’s going to add another dimension. Anthony shot .402 behind the arc last year.
Because Fredette isn't as small as the others, he actually offers something the previous point-guard projects haven’t - the ability to play the 2. And that’s what makes him particularly intriguing.
If Rose is surrounded by Fredette, Anthony and Mirotic, that Silly Putty is getting stretched in three directions instead of one. Massive holes will open up for a player who can drive through the eye of a needle.
That’s not going to be the standard lineup. But when the Bulls need scoring, they can have that unstoppable force they've lacked.
Historically, the offense has looked like Thibodeau is trying to fill a round hole with a square peg. He tries and tries, but the darned thing just won’t fit. The problem is that it’s the only one that he’s had, so he has to keep forcing it.
You can see how the Bulls' offense is intended to work, but it doesn’t produce the way it should. The shooters try to stretch the court, but they can’t, as shot after shot clangs harmlessly off the rim. And that shows up in the game results.
In the Thibodeau era (since 2010-11), the league average is 7.0 threes per game. When the Bulls have made just six, they’ve gone 127-42. When they’ve made five or fewer, they’re 78-65. That’s a difference between winning 75.1 percent of their games and 53.5.
Now he has the chance to get the right-shaped pin to put in the gap.
The Bulls don’t need to be a great three-point shooting team; they just need to be average. If they can add three .400-plus three-point shooters, they'd be better than average.
Fredette can be a part of that. He is able to be a competent, emergency fill-in situation if Rose does get hurt. But more importantly, he has the skills needed to pitch in if Rose is fine. Either way, he’s worth keeping around.