The Jimmer Blueprint: How to contain BYU's scoring machine
Jimmer Fredette's taken the nation by storm, but he has been limited a few times
The formula: max effort from an elite defender and a host of nimble, helping bigs
Creighton guard Josh Jones: "You have to be up in his grill at all times"
The exact moment cannot be pinpointed, although it was somewhere between when BYU's Jimmer Fredette scored 39 against UNLV, 47 against Utah, pulled up for a 30-foot three against TCU, and dropped 42 on Colorado State, that he became a national cult figure who no longer needed a last name. Just "Jimmer," or "The Jimmer." My colleague Seth Davis is a proponent of the latter, having tweeted during that Colorado State game, "The Jimmer has 21 pts and it is not even halftime. Halftime is the only thing that can guard The Jimmer."
There is no way to stop The Jimmer -- or is there? The legend of the nation's most prolific scorer has grown to the extent that anything less than a virtuoso performance in Wednesday's mega-showdown between No. 9 BYU and No. 4 San Diego State may be a letdown. But the Aztecs are the best defense the Cougars have faced all season, and blueprints do exist for containing (or just limiting) The Jimmer. The four case studies below are, essentially, the anti-Utah and anti-Colorado State games, and SDSU may find lessons in each:
1. Jimmer's worst game of the season, against Creighton on Dec. 1.
He scored a season-low 13 points (on 5-of-15 shooting) in 36 minutes against the Bluejays, and committed four turnovers against three assists. This was the only game this season in which Fredette's offensive rating has been under 100 -- and it was way under, at 83.1. (BYU did win the game 77-65.)
Creighton employed exclusively man-to-man D, with big men hedging hard on pick-and-rolls and help defenders stepping in to cut off drives. What set the Bluejays apart, though, was the superior effort and positioning of Fredette's primary defender, Antoine Young, and Young's backup, Josh Jones. Neither player is oversized (Young is 6-0, Jones is 6-2), but they worked extremely hard at denying Fredette the ball and tracking him down off screens. Young did the best job I've seen this year at fighting through picks to challenge Fredette's shots, as well as sticking tight to him on step-back moves. The right frame in the image below shows a typical image of Young contesting a Fredette jumper, while the left frame shows him being "jammed" by Jones after a catch. "You see on SportsCenter highlights how, when guys defending [Fredette] relax for even a second, he just drills a three over them," Jones said. "You have to be up in his grill at all times."
Beyond his denial efforts, Young said he focused on staying "underneath" Fredette and not giving him space to operate. Young studied so much film of Fredette's go-to, pre-shot moves that the Creighton guard -- who's also his team's leading scorer -- ended up incorporating them into his own game. "I've gotten some buckets off of [Fredette's] step-back move, and he has a double-crossover -- from right to left to right to left to right -- that's phenomenally quick and tough to guard," Young said. "Mine's not as quick as his, but I've been using it."
2. BYU's lone loss of the season, 86-79 to UCLA on Dec. 18.
Fredette scored 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting against the Bruins. But he had his fourth-worst game, efficiency-wise, going 2-for-8 from distance and committing a season-high seven turnovers against just one assist. It was his lack of playmaking that did in the Cougars, who had just five assists against 19 turnovers, and shot 23.5 percent from long range.
Although it was, surprisingly, jumbo UCLA center Josh Smith who forced two of Fredette's turnovers by picking his pocket in pick-and-roll situations, the main man behind the shutdown effort was Malcolm Lee, who's regarded as an NBA draft prospect mostly because he's an agile, 6-5 defender. "I feel like I used my length and my wingspan to my advantage," Lee said. "Coach [Ben Howland] told me I wasn't going to stop Jimmer from scoring, but I should focus on lowering his percentage."
What Lee also did -- and this was shrewd -- was limit Fredette to going mostly one direction. "He likes to go right," Lee said, "but I still tried to send him that way, because if I tried to send him left, and positioned my body that way, he'd still try to go right. By letting him go right, my body was never getting turned in the wrong direction." The image below shows Lee doing exactly that: placing his right foot higher than his left in his defensive stance, and then (although it's grainy) using his frame and quickness to smother Fredette's drive after about three shuffles. The play ended with Lee stripping The Jimmer for a turnover.
3. BYU's worst offensive performance of the year, in a 72-66 win at Weber State on Dec. 21.
More than a month later, Weber State remains the lone team to hold the Cougars under one point per possession, yielding just 0.996 PPP. Fredette needed 23 shots to get his 28 points, and he had five turnovers, helping make it his third-least efficient game of the season. Wildcats coach Randy Rahe said his team did an excellent job controlling Fredette off of ball-screens ("We didn't trap him, but we shadowed him until he was forced to pass," Rahe said) and stopping drives by having a forward run at him once he broke through the top line of defense. Weber State was fine with leaving BYU's bigs open in the paint if it meant getting the ball out of Fredette's hands.
The unique thing Rahe did, however, was employ a 1-2-2 matchup zone for about 25 percent of the game (17 of 67 possessions). Zoning the Cougars seems counterintuitive, because they have excellent shooters in Fredette and Jackson Emery, but, as Rahe said, "I think it may have taken them out of their rhythm. Their offense can get in such a shooting groove against one defense, so switching up -- usually depending on whether we made or missed a shot -- helped break up the flow."
BYU only scored on six of those 17 zone possessions, making it a successful gamble for Weber State. The image below shows two sets in which Fredette dribbled upcourt to find himself staring at the 1-2-2:
4. The Cougars' almost-second-loss, a double-OT win over South Florida on Nov. 26.
This was the BYU's second-worst offensive game of the year, but one in which Fredette was solid, scoring 32 points on 25 shots and turning the ball over just twice in 46 minutes played. The Bulls kept him from going off for 50-plus -- not an unreasonable number for The Jimmer given two extra periods -- by, according to coach Stan Heath, hedging hard off of ball screens and pushing Fredette toward half court. That method can be seen in the two frames below:
Heath used a long defender on Fredette -- primarily 6-6 guard Hugh Robertson -- and made sure he was aware of Fredette's "crafty" back-up dribbles beyond the three-point line, which he uses to lull opponents to sleep before launching deep threes. "If he's backing up, keep him on a short rope," Heath said. "It sounds simple, but on tape, a lot of people didn't follow further out."
The Bulls then relied on the size of their interior (6-10 Gus Gilchrist and 6-11 Jarrid Famous) to do one-on-one work against BYU's front line. The way they shut down forwards Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies and Kyle Collinsworth, who combined for only 15 points in 99 minutes, was the key to the near-upset in the South Padre Island Invitational.
As just one of two coaches who's faced player of the year candidates Fredette and UConn's Kemba Walker this season, Heath has some perspective on the skills of the nation's two best scoring machines. "I asked my staff, after we played Kemba [on Dec. 31], which player was harder to guard," Heath said. "We all thought it was close, but we said Fredette, just because his shooting range is a little more extended. And while Kemba is quicker and more explosive, Fredette's changes-of-speed, plus his hops and step-back moves, make him better. And when he elevates to shoot, he really gets up in the air, more than Kemba."
If Fredette ranks ahead of Walker, then The Jimmer has to be considered the hardest player to guard in the country. The templates for containing him are here, but doing so requires max effort from an elite defender and a host of nimble, helping-and-hedging big men ... on a night where Fredette is also ice-cold. When he's hot, he has no problem making contested jumpers and scoring on all sorts of mid- and short-range trickery. Even Creighton's Jones, who helped shut down The Jimmer once but has watched him thriving since, says, "When he's making those really difficult shots, I don't think it's luck. I don't think he takes any shots that he hasn't already mastered."