The New Orleans Pelicans have been busy over the last week, adding pieces to fill out their roster around Anthony Davis and company. The Pelicans signed John Salmons to fill in as a reserve small forward last week, and this past weekend brought Patric Young in on a two-year deal after he impressed in Summer League. The Pelicans appear to have rounded out their lineup earlier this week, signing Jimmer Fredette to a one-year deal for the league minimum.
Fredette, like Salmons, comes to the Pelicans after starting last season in Sacramento and finishing it in the Eastern Conference. While Salmons was traded to Toronto, Fredette was waived at the trade deadline and finished the season as a little-used reserve for the Chicago Bulls.
Fredette never really got a chance in Sacramento or Chicago, and has spent the last three seasons as a bench reserve. He’s only played more than 1,000 minutes in a season once, in his rookie season of 2011-12. The emergence of fellow 2011 draftee Isaiah Thomas buried Fredette as a point guard prospect, and with guys like Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, and Ben McLemore on the team during his tenure, it was very difficult for Fredette to get time on the floor for the Kings. For the Bulls, his defensive shortcomings made it so that he never saw the floor, and he appeared in just eight contests with Chicago last year.
Fredette is best known as a shooter, of course. He’s improved steadily over his NBA career in this regard, improving from 36.1 percent from 3 as a rookie, to 41.7 percent in 2012-13, to 47.6 percent last season. He’s best known as a pull-up shooter, as he became famous as a college player for launching 40-foot transition pull-up rainbows at BYU. In the NBA, he’s still been an effective pull-up shooter, hitting 47.6 percent from 3 on pull-ups per SportVU. However, Fredette’s also become an effective catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter as well. He hit 50 percent on these attempts last season, and while he took just 0.7 catch-and-shoot 3s per game, that’s a very effective rate.
The reasons for Fredette’s lack of playing time don’t involve his shooting, however. Fredette’s defensive ability is extremely lacking, and it’s the main reason that Chicago never played him, even though his shooting would have been a huge boon to their anemic offense. Fredette ranked as the 344th-best defender in the league last season per Synergy, allowing 0.94 points per possession. Sacramento’s defense was consistently worse with Fredette on the floor during his tenure, and he hasn’t shown much improvement in that regard over his NBA career.
A lot of that has to do with Fredette’s athletic profile. Jimmer is 6’2,” 195 lbs, with a 6’5″ wingspan, and is by no means a quick player. That’s a dreadful combination, as he lacks the length to be able to effectively guard off the ball, and the quickness to effectively guard opposing point guards. Fredette has decently quick hands (career 1.5 steal rate), but he gets blown off the ball by quicker opponents regularly. Jimmer has been one of the worst defenders on his team for his entire career, and that won’t change for the Pelicans.
The Pelicans will likely attempt to use Jimmer as a bench shooter in an off-ball role. The Pelicans have a dearth of ball-handlers, and are lacking players who are able to spot up effectively. Fredette excels in this role, and using him in combination with a player like Jrue Holiday or Evans on the ball and another shooter, either Salmons, Eric Gordon, or Ryan Anderson, might allow the Pelicans’ offense to open up a little bit. Getting Fredette to transition to a more primary off-ball role might be a better fit for him, especially with the roster constructed as it is.
Defensively, Fredette will also benefit from playing with the Pelicans. Fredette was brought up in Sacramento, a horrible defensive team during the Keith Smart era. New Orleans should be a solid defensive squad, and with how young this team is, he should get some developmental focus defensively. The Pelicans have a nice roster makeup to hide Jimmer effectively, as well. The Holiday/Evans combo is decent up front, and the Pelicans should be able to hide Fredette on a weaker defender due to Evans and Holiday being able to guard both backcourt spots. It also helps to have Anthony Davis and Omer Asik behind you, regardless of your defensive ability. The Pelicans shouldn’t be hurt too badly by Fredette’s defensive shortcomings.
Fredette will likely still need to battle for playing time this season, so he might see similar playing time to what he got in Sacramento due to crowding at the guard spots. Most notably, Fredette will need to prove himself of deserving minutes over Austin Rivers and Russ Smith, who are the other guard prospects the Pelicans are going to be employing this season.
This should not be too difficult for Fredette, however, as he’s a definite upgrade over Rivers. Through two seasons, the former 10th overall pick has struggled to be an effective shooter, and while he’s a much better passer than Jimmer, the Pelicans are in much more need of shooting than creating ability. Rivers needs to become a better three-point shooter to really justify getting playing time, and right now, Fredette is a much better option.
Smith, meanwhile, is a much better defensive player and overall scorer than Fredette, but he’s a second-round rookie who looked slightly shaky with the ball in his hands at Summer League. He also could be slightly redundant to what the rest of the Pelicans’ roster is operating with, as he’s at his best attacking the rim offensively. However, his defensive intensity and developing jumper mean that he may get plenty of minutes.
In order for Fredette to make an impact, he’s going to have to show that he is a better option for playing time than Smith and Rivers. He’s going to have to show at least some improvement on the defensive end, at least to the point where he is not James Harden level. Offensively, Fredette needs to truly wow with his shooting ability, which he can definitely do. He also would be helped by becoming a slightly better passer, especially in halfcourt sets, as that would add some versatility to his game.
Overall, the Pelicans are getting at the very least a quality spot-up shooter to play off the ball and help spread the floor. This is likely Fredette’s last chance to really stick in the NBA, and he needs to come out firing in order to make that happen. That helps the Pelicans, because the added spacing will really be important now that Omer Asik is a part of the offense. If Fredette can do that, we might get something many fans hoped we’d see when he was drafted in 2011; Playoff Jimmer.