A common theme among fans and college basketball pundits alike was that Kentucky needed to embrace “modern basketball” during the offseason and make three-point shooting a bigger priority. Well, nothing fits that need much better than landing sharp-shooting CJ Fredrick from Iowa.
Fredrick was named Kentucky High School Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018 after leading Covington Catholic to a state title by scoring 32 points in the championship game. Despite experiencing a great deal of success in his two seasons out in Iowa playing for Coach Fran McCaffery, the 6’3″Redshirt Sophomore decided it was time to return to the Bluegrass State.
After averaging 10.2 points per game on 46.1% shooting from deep as a freshman, Fredrick saw his numbers decline during his sophomore season mostly due to a lower leg injury. Fredrick missed four games and sat out the second half of three others while nursing the lingering injury. Still, he actually improved his three-point shooting to 47.4% and averaged 7.5 points per game. The Cincinnati native started all 52 games of his career for the Hawkeyes as they went 42-20 during his time there including 25-15 in the Big 10.
Kentucky had to address three-point shooting after finishing 270th nationally in attempts per game (19.1) and 172nd in percentage (33.6%). Additionally, with Devin Askew transferring to Texas, B.J. Boston entering the NBA Draft, and the pending Davion Mintz decision it was imperative that the ‘Cats add backcourt depth. CJ Fredrick is one of the best pure shooters in the country and was a two-year starter for a team that spent most of last season ranked in the Top 10. This is a great addition by Coach Calipari and his staff.
Now, let’s step inside the KSR Film Room and take a look at how CJ Fredrick will impact the game for the Wildcats. Along with being a knock-down shooter, Fredrick has showcased the ability to play the role of secondary ball handler and has a little bit more game off the dribble than you may think.
Shooting the basketball is obviously where the former Covington Catholic star will make the biggest impact. Fredrick was 83/178 (46.6%) from beyond the arc in his two seasons at Iowa and there is no skill that travels better than shooting. You can expect Fredrick to be a 40% or better three-point shooter from day one and that will help to space the floor for everyone else as well.
When evaluating shooters there are a few important areas of focus. First, footwork is the key. In order to have a repeatable shot that is consistently accurate against high level defense your footwork has to be excellent. That is usually the difference between a streaky shooter and a knockdown shooter. Secondly, you want to evaluate the release. Can the shooter get his shot off quickly against a good closeout? If the ball track to the release point is too long or if the release point is too low it can be a red flag that the shooter may have a hard time getting them off when the defense is keyed on them. Lastly, how does the defense react when the shooter receives the ball? One of a shooter’s most important skills is the ability to create mass panic within a defense. Frantic closeouts, overly aggressive rotations, and flat out leaving other players are some of the benefits of having multiple shooting threats on the court.
One of the first things that stands out when watching film on CJ Fredrick is the way he moves without the ball. Similar to Kellan Grady, Fredrick is a constant mover and has gotten really good at reading screens. He also puts a lot of pressure on the defense at all times due to his shooting ability.
At the beginning of this clip, Fredrick receives a handoff from Luka Garza approximately 28 feet from the basket but his defender still goes over the screen. That is the right decision, but it just shows how much attention the defense pays to the sharpshooter. Going over a screen that far from the basket allows Fredrick to get downhill which forces a quick stunt from the help defender. After Fredrick kicks the ball to the corner he circles behind the action and knocks home a three.
Here Iowa sets a double flare screen for Fredrick as he moves to the left wing. Penn State is trying to switch the action but ends up just having to fight over top of the second flare to take away the deep three. Once again, similar to the first clip, you can see how far out the defenders come to take him away. Fredrick side steps the initial closeout and then pulls up for the three off of one dribble. Bang.
Another reason Fredrick is able to squeeze off these heavily contested shots is because of his high release point. He has a pretty quick trigger as well, but the release point is the key. As you watch all of these clips you can see that he releases the ball above his head which makes it very difficult to contest.
This is the type of play that should get you really excited. At the end of the first half North Carolina knows that Iowa will be running a play, based on their alignment, to get CJ Fredrick open beyond the arc. You don’t see it in this clip, but he starts in the left corner before running the baseline to the right hand side. His defender over plays that initial cut and gets on the outside of Fredrick which triggers him to sprint back to the left corner. You can see that when Fredrick has his head underneath the rim his defender is up near the free throw line. Luka Garza does a good job of sealing his defender to occupy the help and Fredrick receives a pass in the corner. His defender, coming from the high side, flies right by him, and a simple side step dribble to the right leaves a wide open three.
Something that Kentucky wasn’t able to do very often last season was run specific plays for a shooter. When Dontaie Allen was in the game they did it some, and late in the season Davion Mintz got pretty good at reading baseline pin downs, but specific set plays for a three-pointer were few and far between. CJ Fredrick is the type of shooter you run plays for.
Here, from out-of-bounds under, Fredrick sets a backscreen and then slips underneath a downscreen that his defender runs right into for a three. This is a great example of his footwork. To be moving away from the ball, get turned around, set your feet, and fire a three is no easy task but Fredrick makes it look easy and smooth. He plants his left foot hard into the ground after receiving the ball which allows him to elevate straight up in the air instead of being off balance.
When you are an elite shooter you attract a lot of attention. The result is generally very aggressive closeouts from the defense. Often referred to as “running him off the line” a fly by closeout can force a shooter to turn down a three point shot which is the ultimate goal of the defense. However, when you resort to this style of aggressive closeout you completely take yourself out of position to guard the basketball.
CJ Fredrick has showcased the ability to use a shot fake and side step the defender for a three. Additionally, he has the ability to get to a one dribble pull-up jump shot. This is a great tool to have in your repertoire because if you can consistently knock in the jumper it may force teams to stop flying by on their closeouts which will eventually lead to more open threes.
Fredrick does a good job of staying under control as the closeout comes to him. This is a transition opportunity where he has sprinted to the corner and the ball gets thrown ahead to him. His defender is late and must aggressively closeout out in order to take away the initial three-point shot. Fredrick bypasses what would be a contested three and instead takes one dribble to his right for an uncontested 15-footer. One thing that Fredrick does really well here is that he actually covers ground with his dribble. It is important to create space away from the defender when shooting a one dribble pull-up and Fredrick does a really good job of that.
Having shooters on the floor has so many benefits. It goes well beyond just making more threes. This bucket from CJ Fredrick is unlike anything we saw from the Wildcats last season. Due to his shooting ability, his defender has both feet beyond the three-point line on the catch. Fredrick isn’t lightening quick by any means, but when his defender is all the way into his chest he can drive by in a straight line. Fredrick took two hard dribbles to his right before rising up and knocking home the pull-up jumper.
The threat of the three-point shot got CJ Fredrick this basket as well. Iowa sets up a staggered double baseline pindown for Fredrick to run off of and he read it perfectly. His defender chases him off the double to take away the three and Fredrick curls the second screen towards the free throw line. Curling the screen created some separation from his defender and he is able to elevate for a little pull-up jumper.
Off the Dribble
If you are going to excel at one thing on a basketball court it definitely pays for that primary skill to be shooting. CJ Fredrick has the ability to open up the floor for others due to the attention that he draws at all times whether he has the ball or not. It isn’t all just about what it opens up for other though. Due to the aggressive closeouts that he draws, Fredrick has opportunities to straight line drive by his defender at times.
Fredrick certainly has enough ball skills to to attack a closeout and even served as a secondary ball handler at times for the Hawkeyes. He will play a similar role in Lexington. You shouldn’t expect him to be a dynamic creator or a high assist guy, but he has a nice floater and can finish with either hand at the rim.
The ability to shoot the ball at such a high clip allows him to unlock some other opportunities. Whether it be his pull-up jumper that was broken down above, or the ability to score off of the dribble, you will see Fredrick’s shooting ability shine through in more ways than just knocking down threes.
These are the type of plays off of the dribble that you can expect to see from CJ Fredrick. He isn’t super dynamic or explosive, but he has enough skill to make a play when it presents itself. Here he makes a behind-the-back move to his right, plays with good pace to hold off his defender, and then makes the little floater. Again, it is easier to make plays off of the dribble when the defense is so concerned with taking away the three.
Fredrick plays with a high basketball IQ and has really developed his ability to read the defense. After setting a cross screen for Luka Garza, Fredrick comes off of a downscreen and his defender goes up through. Upon catching the ball he immediately drives it towards the baseline away from his defender which is exactly what you are coached to do if your defender goes up through and you don’t immediately have a shot. On the drive he plays with pace once again to keep his defender on his hip and finishes with the left-handed layup.
This is another example of CJ Fredrick driving the baseline after his defender goes up through the baseline pindown. When you shoot 46% from three-point range you put defenders into scramble mode anytime you come off of a screen. That opens up driving opportunities like this to take advantage of and Fredrick has enough game to make the defense pay.