Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Face off Part I: In his third season in the NBA, will Jimmer Fredette start 15 games?

(The following is the first in a series of questions concerning the professional career of Jimmer Fredette.)

In his third season in the NBA, will Jimmer Fredette start 15 games?

Alex Ventre: Fewer than 15 games started, barring injuries to teammates

In Glens Falls native Jimmer Fredette's third season in the NBA, he will play fewer than 15 games barring injuries.

Fredette’s rookie contract is guaranteed for the first two seasons, then Sacramento has the option to pick up the third year, which is worth just shy of $2.5 million. Although that may seem like a fortune to you and me, in NBA terms, that number is dirt cheap, so the Kings are likely to keep Fredette around.

Also, since the former James Naismith Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year winner is struggling so mightily in his rookie season, Fredette’s trade value is extremely low. So unless the Kings completely give up on Fredette and trade him as a salary dump, it appears he will still be playing in Sacramento — or wherever the Kings move to — in the 2013-14 season.

Also under contract for the Kings in 2013 are starting shooting guard Marcus Thornton, whom they just signed to a four-year, $33 million offer this summer. Furthermore, 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans — along with center DeMarcus Cousins — appears to be Sacramento’s building block and the Kings are expected to lock Evans up long term after his rookie contract.

Although the Thornton and Evans pairing in the backcourt is a bit dysfunctional, they are the starting guards this season for Sacramento and they will both likely be on the team for Fredette’s third season.

Additionally, fellow rookie guard Isaiah Thomas — who was the last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft – has moved ahead of Fredette in the rotation and has even started a few games for the Kings.

Even though it’s difficult to look two years into the future of an ever-changing NBA landscape, Sacramento will probably still have two, if not three, guards ahead of Fredette in its rotation.  

However, two years is a long time and circumstances can change dramatically. In Fredette’s first year at BYU, he averaged seven points on 40.7 percent shooting. Fast forward two years to Fredette’s junior season and he’s averaging more than 22 points on almost 46 percent shooting. All it took was some time for Fredette to get acclimated to the collegiate game and he excelled. So who’s to say Fredette won’t adjust to the NBA game, improve drastically and earn himself a full-time starting position?

While that is possible, it isn’t probable. In the age of one-and-done collegiate athletes, Fredette — who graduated from BYU — is old for a rookie and has less time to develop. Fredette turns 23 later this week, making him roughly the same age as established superstars like Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant, and older than Blake Griffin and Evans, who is already in his third season.

Unless Fredette finds a perfect situation — such as Derek Fisher starting alongside Kobe Bryant or Mario Chalmers playing point guard next to Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — he would have to improve tremendously to not be the weak link in a starting unit.

On the season, Fredette is shooting a measly 37.4 percent from the field, while sporting a below average 1.5 assist to turnover ratio. Those aren’t the offensive numbers you want to see from a player who is a defensive liability.

The only area Fredette has proven to be an NBA caliber player is on his ability to drain stand-still, catch and shoot jump shots. As I wrote to preview Fredette's return to New York to face the Knicks, he’s hitting 53.1 percent of spot-up jumpers from beyond the arc this season, which is a fantastic percentage that holds defenses accountable for leaving him too much room.

Every team needs shooters to spread the floor and because of this ability, I think Fredette will find his niche in the NBA and serve as a role player off the bench for many years. However, one-dimensional specialists hardly ever start on a regular basis. Look at Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick or Daniel Gibson. Each plays a significant role on his team, but because of their inability to contribute in other areas, each serves as a spark off the bench.

That’s not a bad thing. That’s just how I envision Fredette’s NBA career. And given the right circumstances, such as Eddie House on the 2008 Celtics or Steve Kerr on the mid-90s Bulls, that could be the difference between an NBA championship or early summer break.

Matthew Donato: More than 15 games started

Jimmer Fredette’s future is filled with uncertainty, but given the ever-changing climate of the NBA, his particular skill-set and penchant for playing winning basketball, I could see him starting 15 games in his third year. However, it would have to be outside Sacramento or without Sacramento’s current roster.

Because of Fredette’s difficult transition to the professional game, some believe Fredette does not have the skill-set to make it in the NBA, while others believe his struggles are the result of being an odd fit on an unconventionally built team. I am in the latter camp. In his senior season Fredette took a mediocre BYU team and led them to a 32-5 record that peaked at No. 3 in the AP ranking the week of Feb. 28, 2011. He could score at will and had unlimited range. He did not just succeed at the college level, he dominated it and won over the country’s fans while doing so.
In doing so Fredette has proven he can produce at every level and help a team succeed, but as soon as his stats dropped on a team full of dysfunction in the management level and on the court, the same people who watched him light up opponents in college see him as just another shooter. As LeBron James said in this article by The Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds, “He (Fredette) knows how to play the game and he knows how to score the ball. It doesn’t matter what level you’re on — if you’re averaging 29 points in college or high school or whatever the case may be, you know how to put the ball in the hoop. He’s explosive when he has his opportunity. His opportunity right now has been going up and down. Of course, we’ve all seen that. But when he’s had an opportunity, he’s known how to play.”

There were still some glaring holes in his game. He is often a step behind his mark on defense and has to cheat toward the ball when his man moves on screens in order to cover him. If that fails, and it often does, Fredette’s opponent has an open lane to drive or space for a jump shot. He has trouble moving off the ball and does not always create the space needed to get off an open shot. He has, as Alex stated above, experienced his most success during his first professional season when he is left alone and can spot up for a 3-pointer. While this shows great accuracy, he needs to show more well-rounded talent to be a starter, and Sacremento simply is not the place for him to do so.

The Kings are a fascinating team, stocked with players have raw basketball talent and a lack of refinement. Demarcus Cousins, the fifth overall pick in 2010, is a rebounding machine with size and ability, but feuded enough with coach Paul Westphal enough that Westphal was removed from the team. Former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans is a combo guard who always needs the ball in his hands. Shooting guard John Salmons is also a one-dimensional scorer. Rookie Isaiah Thomas is the most natural point guard on the team and Marcus Thornton holds perhaps the biggest range of skills among the guards. There are simply too many experienced or well-fit guards in front of him on this team.

But remember, Jeremy Lin had too many guards in front of him in Houston as well, leading the team to waive him. Sacramento will not take that route with Fredette, but trading a struggling recent-lottery-pick point guard while he still has potential is an option. The same move was done recently when Minnesota received veteran center Brad Miller and a late first-rounder Johnny Flynn during the 2011 draft.

Fredette requires a distinct supporting cast, a group that can play to his strengths while covering up his deficiencies. He resembles a centerpiece that must be built around, but is too unconventional for that role. A team would be taking an unprecedented risk to build around him, but with himself, another shooter, a swingman, a defensive specialist and a rebounder/shot-blocker in the lineup, the team would always be a threat to make a run and never be out of the game. That team is out there, and we will cover tomorrow which would be the best suit for him, but Fredette could be a starter for a contender just as soon as Sacramento allows the dysfunctional members of its family become estranged.

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