Every so often, as the last dregs of NBA free agency congeal into place, a name floats across the ticker that gives a little shock of Oh, what ever happened to ... ? pause. Last night, it was Jimmer Fredette signing on, with minimal guarantees, to be a San Antonio Spur. And, begging your pardon, consider my hopes for the little bastard ever so slightly goosed.
Here’s Fredette’s shot chart from
last year 2013-14, via Nylon Calculus:
That’s color-coded by points per shot, and doesn’t look so bad at first glance. But just at first glance. Jimmer’s overall statistical profile is that of a failed prospect, exactly what everyone expected when word leaked that the Sacramento brass had drafted him to get some support for “Americans” into the arena.
The lazy knock on Jimmer has always been that his tools aren’t quite shiny enough to bamboozle a league that’s stronger, faster, and craftier than the ready marks who came through his sights at BYU. The more specific knock is that he was relying on the deep three to get his shot off in college because even at that level he didn’t have the quicks, wrist or ankle, to release clean any other way. Thrilling plays, but borne of just a little more necessity than you’d have liked, no matter how many of them the little fucker was knocking down.
You can see where someone might get down on Jimmer’s quicks. Last year, Fredette was one of the worst transition players in the league, according to Synergy Sports. (At 66.7 points per 100 possessions, he was in the bottom 4th percentile.) On pick-and-rolls, though, he actually came in at 93.7 pp/100, an exceptional number, and he’s always had a nice sense of space and timing on the move, at least when defenses can’t crowd him and take away space and time, which of course has been the biggest issue with Fredette. But the biggest red flag on his stat sheet is his abysmal shooting on spot-up shots. They netted 77 pp/100. According to SportVU he shot 21.9 percent from spot-up three attempts, and 26.5 percent on all spot-ups.
A reasonable question, then, is what San Antonio could possibly see that’s worth the ink on his contract. You’d start with the abiding tire fire that was the Pelicans offense last year. New Orleans wasn’t content simply running plays that were inefficient; it did things like having two bigs set a double screen for Jrue Holiday so that Anthony Davis could dribble over to the congested area—now with four Pelicans and four defenders occupying roughly a 5x5 area of floor—and executing a simple handoff for a maximally contested 22-foot jumper. Certainly, it says something that Jimmer could not crack this knuckleheaded rotation; but it doesn’t say much more that he couldn’t put up very good numbers in his time on the court.
Counter-argument to this whole post: the overwhelming number of Jimmer highlight vids set to Eminem music
Here’s another artifact of the dreadful Pelicans offense: Last year, Jimmer took just 12 corner threes. (He went 2-3 from the left corner ... and 1-9 from the right. Still.) It could be that Jimmer’s teeth and hair and fingernails just keep falling right out in San Antonio, but you’ve seen worse bets than a flyer on a shooter whose team got him 12 corner threes in over 500 minutes of run last year.
The Spurs’ reputation as the NBA’s embalming chamber is deserved enough—you keep Tony, Manu, Tim, and the rest of the Nixon-era contingent running to the top of the Western Conference, and you can call your shots on the old timers. But one of the special things about what San Antonio has put together is the amount of imagination it affords fans of young players. Matt Bonner spent a few years turning every lineup he touched into an all-time offensive powerhouse; Kyle Anderson is riding the bench, but passes pretty enough that more than a few people are certain a dude nicknamed Slow-Mo can crack a rotation; even old, grey, very round Boris Diaw, washed up, shot to hell, moment of glory in Phoenix long gone, can waddle into town and pass and shoot his way to a title. For my nickel, that’s the best thing the latter day Spurs have to offer to the league: There’s a place out there for the misfits who haven’t quite fit, but can do a thing or two.
Photo via AP