It’s been over four years since Jimmermania reached its apex at BYU during the 2010-11 season. The man behind the phenomenon, Jimmer Fredette, has yet to ignite the same kind of fire in the NBA, but he may have his best shot at doing so as a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
In July, the Spurs signed Fredette to a partially guaranteed contract. He still has to make the regular-season roster, but it’s easy to see why San Antonio made the deal. Despite an uneven season with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2014-15, Fredette’s a career 38.1 percent shooter from three-point range.
Shooting has been Fredette’s most marketable skill since before he was drafted, and there may not be another organization that better values and utilizes that skill.
In each of the last five seasons, San Antonio’s had a very specific role for a gunner off the bench who plays around 20-25 minutes a night. From 2010 to 2013, Gary Neal filled the role. From 2013 to 2015, it was Marco Belinelli.
The statistical similarities between those two and Fredette are striking. First, there are their career per-36 minute numbers.
And the advanced metrics paint a similar picture.
Fredette should fit with the Spurs in much the same way Neal and Belinelli did, assuming he’s able to acclimate to a movement-heavy system after spending most of his career watching his teammates play isolation basketball in New Orleans and Sacramento.
The fifth-year guard recently talked about that system with Bleacher Report:
The Spurs are very good at finding situations for guys to come in and be able to be successful because they move the ball well and then you get your shot. I just love the unselfish play, their style of basketball, of how they move the ball, cut without it. You know, playing against them for years now, it’s so hard to guard them because they move so well and pass the ball and they share it. And they have so many good passers. I think that’s why it fits my game.
Those good passers—Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and more—have proved over the years that they’re all willing to pass up good shots for great shots. When Fredette’s on the receiving end of those dishes, he has to be willing to shoot.
Fredette became understandably tentative last season. New Orleans had a revolving door of free agent point guards playing in front of him, most of whom were less efficient in a number of metrics.
And in the rare moments Fredette did get on the floor in ’14-15, coach Monty Williams kept him on a short leash. That led to Fredette attempting just 2.3 threes per 36 minutes after the All-Star Break, compared to 3.6 before.
In San Antonio, he’ll be expected to take open threes. It’s simply the right play for a shooter.
It wasn’t a problem for Neal.
In addition to showing their confidence to take open shots, the above videos are further instructive of how Fredette might actually fit in the Xs and Os sense.
Both Neal and Belinelli moved well without the ball in San Antonio, something Fredette will have to do if he’s ever on the floor with Parker or Ginobili, and to a lesser extent, Mills or Diaw.
The edge Fredette has is that he’s a better playmaker than both. His primary role will still be catch-and-shoot floor spacer, but Fredette can also create for others as a ballhandler against shifting defenses trying to read and react to the Spurs’ kinetic offense.
None of this addresses the biggest cliche on Fredette, though. The token criticism since before he was drafted has been on his defense, and it’s not without merit. But it’s also not as bad as some think.
New Orleans surrendered 104.9 points per 100 possessions when Fredette was on the floor, and 104.7 when he was off. That’s certainly influenced by facing a lot of second and third stringers, but the Pelicans defense didn’t crater when Fredette was on the floor. Again, doesn’t quite fit the narrative.
The reputation is at least partially grounded in truth, though. Fredette ranked 59th among 84 points guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus Minus. And the Western Conference is loaded with talented guards he may face.
But again, he’s with the Spurs now. Fredette’s never had this level of defensive coaching at any point in his career. San Antonio’s made passable defenders out of Neal, Belinelli, Diaw and others in recent years. There’s no reason to think Fredette’s incapable of having a similar response.
If he does adjust on that end, and continues to be the kind of shooter he’s been throughout his career on the other, the Spurs may have found themselves another free-agency steal.
Andy Bailey is on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.