Shoot Until They Tell You To Stop, Or The Jimmer Fredette Lesson

After being cut by San Antonio, former NCAA star and NBA Draft Lottery pick Jimmer Fredette likely is out of the league. Why was the shot-jacking guard considered so good in the first place?

by David Berri
Oct 29 2015, 3:30pm

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It appears that after four seasons, the NBA career of Jimmer Fredette may have come to an end. The San Antonio Spurs–Fredette's fourth NBA team–cut him last week, before the 2015-16 season could even begin. Assuming no one else decides to employ the 2011 NBA lottery pick, Fredette is done.

Given his NBA production, this isn't very surprising: in four professional seasons, the leading scorer in NCAA Division I basketball in 2010-11 never came close to averaging double figures in points scored. In fact, Fredette only scored twenty or more points in a NBA game three times. If we move past scoring and consider the entire box score, the numbers are even worse. Fredette's career Wins Produced—a measure that translates the statistics in the box score into a measure of wins—was -0.4.

In other words, Fredette produced fewer NBA wins over the last four seasons than I did.

Read More: The Washington Wizards Are Finally Embracing Math, But Do The Numbers Love Them Back?

As such, it might be hard today to find many NBA fans who still think Fredette can be a productive player. But just four years ago, many people thought otherwise. Here's what Paul Pierce said before the 2011 Draft:

"I love Jimmer Fredette; he's the best player in college. I think he can be a solid pro.

He's a really good scorer. I don't know how that translates in the NBA with so many great point guards and athletes, but I think he has a high basketball IQ, and I think he'll have success."

And here is what Doc Rivers–current head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers–said around the same time:

"I love him. He's terrific. I've seen the ESPN clips and going by the clips, he's a superstar. The kid's going to be a good NBA player."

TFW you realize college scouting is not your forte. —Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rivers and Pierce were not alone in this assessment. NBA draft insider Chad Ford ranked Fredette as the 10th overall player available in the 2011 draft. So it's hardly a shock the Sacramento Kings used their 2011 lottery pick–coincidentally, the 10th pick–to select Fredette.

Why didn't Fredette turn out to be the productive player the Kings and others envisioned?

To answer, we need to look at what factors impact which players the NBA considers drafting. Each year, there are hundreds of former college prospects; each year, generally less than 50 players are selected from NCAA schools. Tiffany Greer, Joshua Price and I recently found that two factors primarily determine who gets to hear their name on draft day: 1) a player needs to score and; 2) he needs to play for a winner.

Our analysis relied on regression analysis. But you can see the basic result by just looking at the data. From 1991 to 2015, 63 percent of the players selected average at least 15 points per game their last year in college, and 94 percent average at least 10 points per contest. Neither mark is easy to hit: in 2010-11, only 10 percent of the players who logged at least 500 minutes averaged at least 15 points per contest and only 41 percent scored 10 points per game. So scoring points really matters.

You also have to play for a winner. From 1991 to 2015, 91 percent of players selected out of college played for a winning team and the average team winning percentage for all drafted players was 70 percent. This might make sense. If you can't win in college, maybe you aren't that good.

On the other hand, that kind of thinking goes against the nature of a team sport like basketball, where one player simply can't win many games by himself. In 2011-12, Anthony Davis produced 12.96 wins for Kentucky. This represents the best mark of any college player since the 2002-03 season. But as great as this was, if no one else on Kentucky produced any wins, Davis would have played for a losing team that season.

When we look at BYU in Fredette's last season, we see a team that won 32 of 37 games. So the Cougars were good. And Fredette was a "good" player, producing 5.1 wins that season. Thing is, those 5.1 wins were only the third best mark on BYU that year. Which means Fredette wasn't even the most productive player on his college team.

The more of these, the better. —Photo by Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If that's the case, why did people think Fredette had the potential to be a good NBA player? The key was scoring. Fredette average 28.9 points per game in 2010-11. Sounds goods, right? Not necessarily. Fredette's scoring total was deceptive, because he didn't just lead the nation in scoring—he also led the nation in field goals attempted.

Shoot a lot, score a lot: the relationship is pretty obvious. To see how good Fredette was at scoring, we need to look past total points and consider shooting efficiency. In 2010-11, Fredette shot 49.1 percent from two-point range and 39.6 percent from beyond the arc. Both marks were above average for a college player. But during the same season, there were 773 college players who took at least 100 shots from inside the arc and shot better than Fredette. And from beyond the arc, 182 college players shot better.

Fredette was a fine college performer. But people only thought he was "great" because BYU let him shoot, and shoot again, and then shoot some more. If you look at his ability to actually get those shots to go in the basket—which is pretty important!—no one would have concluded that Fredette was one of the best players available in the 2011 draft.

Of course, everyone now seems to see this. One NBA assistant offered this assessment of Fredette today: "Jimmer thinks everybody is stupid. He thinks everybody needs to come and just turn over their offense and let him shoot it anytime he wants. That's not how the league works."

It should not be surprising that Fredette thinks he just needs to be allowed to shoot as much as possible. When he was allowed to do so, people throughout the NBA thought he was "great." I learned it by watching you!

Interestingly enough, volume shooting isn't just a way to make league draft evaluators think you're great: published academic research indicates NBA players are paid to take lots of shots, too, and that the media will give you awards when you take lots of shots. So again, maybe Fredette isn't stupid to think that everyone else is stupid. The numbers suggest he's onto something.