It's been a depressing past 12 months for the #FreeJimmer community, as Jimmer Fredette's career continues to be a rollercoaster ride of uncertainty. After being relegated to the end of the Sacramento King's bench for most of the past three seasons, there was a flicker of hope this year for Jimmer fans when Fredette was bought out of his contract with the Kings and joined the Chicago Bulls on March 2nd. This felt like a tender mercy to tortured Fredette fans and a perfect situation for Jimmer's career to begin to flourish. He was going from one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NBA to one of the most stable. The knock against Jimmer has always been his poor defense, and here he would be able to learn under coach Tom Thibodeau, who is highly regarded as the smartest defensive coach in the NBA. The Bulls needed a shooter to improve their dreadful offense and Jimmer happens to be quite good at shooting basketballs into hoops from long distances. It seemed like a match made in heaven. And it got off to a pretty decent start:
The tables were set. Jimmer would get more playing time, Thibodeau would teach him to play defense, and Jimmermania would start anew!!!
And then... the DNPs kept on coming.
He played in only eight of Chicago's 29 remaining games, averaging seven minutes and four points per game in those eight contests.
On July 1st he became an unrestricted free agent. In the blink of an eye he had gone from being the 10th overall pick to a free agent with limited options. After reports of multiple teams interested and a possible offer to play for Panathinaikos in Greece, there was little to no buzz about teams pursuing Jimmer for the past two weeks. Until yesterday, when he reportedly agreed to a one year deal with the New Orleans Pelicans for the league minimum.
For a player that has proven to be an elite shooter-a skill in high demand in the NBA- why weren't there more teams chasing after Jimmer? Why hasn't he gotten a real chance to play extended, meaningful minutes in the NBA? The facts about his career so far are:
- He had four coaches in three years: Paul Westphal (liked Jimmer, but was fired 7 games into his rookie season), Keith Smart, Mike Malone and Tom Thibodeau.
- He's made 7 career starts (all in his rookie year), and has a career average of 15.0 minutes per game.
- He is a career 40% three-point shooter.
- He led the NBA last season in three-point shooting at 47.6% (on only 84 attempts).
- He was drafted into the absolute worst possible situation (okay, I realize that's not a fact, but it's true.)
- Many think he is a great teammate. After a game last season where Jimmer scored 17 points off the bench, Bulls Center Joakim Noah said, "Jimmer's a good dude and he's a worker. I've never seen a dude work so hard on his game every day, and it just shows. Hard work pays off. He came through, hasn't played for a long time. He comes in and delivers when we need him. That says a lot about his professionalism."
The Pelicans may not be a bad situation for Jimmer. There's good reason to hope he can work his way into their guard rotation, where he'll likely be competing with Austin Rivers and Russ Smith for playing time in the backup roles. The fact that he only got a one-year deal at the league minimum, however, is a powerful statement about his status in the league. Why has he been labeled a bust without ever getting a real chance to play consistently?
Let's refer back to what Jeff Van Gundy said about Jimmer during his debut with the Bulls, "He can play offense in the NBA, his issue is can he guard?... to create a role for himself on a really good team."
There is no doubt Jimmer can make shots in the NBA. In fact, although in limited minutes, Jimmer's offensive efficiency ranks among the top in the league. He also ranks higher than many guards that have already signed bigger deals with new teams during free agency. Take for example, this comparison done by Andrew Bailey of Bleacher Report:
Jodie Meeks: 3 years/$20 million Ben Gordon: 2 years/$9 million Jimmer Fredette: Not good enough to play in the NBA pic.twitter.com/2R6NcZtKoL— Andrew Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) July 2, 2014
The defensive end is where coaches seem to believe Jimmer is so bad that they can't put him on the floor. Is he really that awful?
Per Adrien Kaeslin of squeezetheorange.com, "According to synergy, he gave up 0.97 PPP in total, 401st in the league. Among players who played a similar amount of minutes to him he finished last in defensive winshares 5, and perhaps most tellingly of all, he had a defensive RAPM 6 of -4.9, a bottom 20 number in the league."
This is a really complicated, analytical way of explaining that Jimmer has a hard time staying in front of his man and preventing him from dropping the ball through the net. That being said, his career defensive rating is 114, but that number improved to 110 this past season. That ranked better than Trey Burke, Brandon Jennings, Brandon Knight, Eric Gordon, and others.
It's doubtful Jimmer will ever be a great defensive player, but in the right system, a coach should be able to help him become solid enough to stay in the rotation. Even after acknowledging his poor defensive performance, his shooting numbers have been so superior, why wouldn't a team that needs shooting (like the Bulls, Pacers and Thunder) be eager to bring him on and hope to help him improve his defense? Why on earth are players like Ben Gordon, Brian Roberts, Sebastian Telfair, and Luke Ridnour receiving much better contracts than him?
Is it possible Jimmer has entered the Tebow Zone? Where the fan and media circus he attracts has become more of a distraction than teams want to deal with for a mediocre player? Many fans thought it would be a no-brainer for the Jazz to sign Fredette because of the millions it would surely bring in ticket and jersey sales. But you also have to consider the effect that would have on the team and locker room. Jimmer's locker would constantly be surrounded by reporters, and fans would invariably be chanting his name and insisting he play a high number of minutes. The fact is Jimmer will polarize any fan base he plays for in the NBA. This may be an enigma that scared everyone else away. Apparently the one-year deal was the best (or only) offer for him this off-season, and it sure looks like it may be his last chance to prove he belongs.
I still believe Jimmer will have his moment in the NBA. In the right situation, with the right teammates, coach, and role, he could unleash at least a glimpse of the college Jimmer. He's already shown it in small flashes. Given the correct opportunity, he can contribute to a good team in the NBA. I know he could do it. I just hope he gets the chance.
And if he doesn't... well, we'll always have Jimmermania.