Can Jimmer Fredette Salvage His Career?
Remember when Jimmer Fredette was all the rage? I certainly do as a scout in 2011 in Ft. Collins, Colorado sitting next to 20 others who were trying to ascertain where he should be drafted. In talking to many other people at the time (and that’s all matters because people seem to have an uncanny ability to misremember based on how a player pans out) the reviews were as mixed on him as any player I could recall in recent memory.
I hark back to one scout saying that he would be a “scoring machine” at the next level and should be a lottery pick. When I brought up my concerns about his ability to defend, these concerns were brushed off by the veteran scout with the response: “Who defends in the NBA, anyway?” I thought quietly to myself, “Only the teams that want to win championships.”
Another scout said he should be an undrafted free agent and was vastly overrated. This also felt like an overreaction in the other direction.
Well, I guess it was quite boring. At the start of the college season in 2010, I had him as a second round pick. As I look back through my report now, my biggest concerns were his lateral quickness and ability to defend as well as his ability to create his own shot off the dribble against bigger and more athletic defenders.
After seeing him play multiple times, my report had changed some by early February 2011. I wrote: “He’s better at getting his own shot off the dribble than I thought and also a better athlete. I still have concerns about his defense, but he profiles as a sixth man who can provide instant offense off the bench.”
The report continued: “I see him as a late second, early first round pick.” And for the record, I still believe today that he should have been taken in the 20′s as opposed to being the 10th overall selection.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the report came near the end when I wrote: “If a coach had the courage and confidence in himself to allow this kid to play his game, I think he could be a good to great NBA scorer. The problem is I don’t see any NBA coach allowing him to dominate the ball the way he does now. It’s a shame because he’s one hell of an offensive talent.”
I have to be honest; the bit about having the “courage and confidence in himself” to allow him to play his game was not my original work. It was borrowed from a conversation I had with Earl Boykins some years earlier when he was a member of the Denver Nuggets and told me that his ability to play in the NBA had nothing to do with his own confidence, but rather, having coaches who had enough courage and confidence in themselves to play him. Of course, Boykins stands just 5’5 and was the shortest player in the league at the time. His coach was George Karl, who has always been an iconoclast of sorts when it comes to point guard play and finding a way to play the game fast.
Some Nuggets fans remember Boykins’ time with the team fondly. He became a fan favorite and averaged in double figures every season he was with Denver. Other than the half season he spent in Milwaukee after being traded from Denver in 2007, he never averaged double figures in any of his 11 other seasons in the league.
To be fair, there were plenty of fans in Denver who became disillusioned with Boykins’ inefficiencies during his tenure with the club and with Karl’s infatuation with playing him big minutes and in key situations. In retrospect, some of these criticisms are most certainly fair.
That said, there is no doubt Boykins reached his full potential as a player during his time in Denver because he had a coach who took the shackles off and let him play his game, limitations and all. Why can’t the same be done for Jimmer?
In his first two seasons, Fredette has looked remarkably timid most nights. It’s clear that every so often he would come out more aggressive, likely after having a conversation with former head coach Keith Smart about doing that very thing. However, even during those times he didn’t look like he was fully comfortable. He looked like an actor who was playing the role of being confident and aggressive rather than actually living those qualities.
After watching this pattern for two years I am certain of one thing: having no Jimmer at all would be better for the Kings (and any team in the NBA for that matter) than having a timid and uncomfortable Jimmer. What’s the point of having a player on the roster when he is not encouraged to use his most potent skill? Jimmer is a scorer. He needs to have the ball in his hands frequently and must play aggressively.
I don’t believe any person connected with reality believes he will ever average nearly 29 points per game as he did in his senior season at BYU. But why not set him up to be a great sixth man?
Last season he played 14 minutes per game, which is down from 18.6 minutes in his rookie season. For conversation sake, let’s say he plays 16 minutes per game next season. If a rotation can be created where Jimmer enters and leaves the game at approximately the same time, perhaps he can establish a consistent rhythm and his teammates can get used to him being in the game and playing aggressively. If he is playing well, maybe he comes back in the game during crunch time.
If an arrangement like this can’t happen, then the Kings are better off letting him ride the bench or trying to move him. Put simply, 16 minutes of passive play from Jimmer hurts the team. On the other hand, 16 minutes of aggressive play could add a dynamic scoring punch off the bench that all good NBA teams have.
What do the Kings, one of the worst teams in the NBA now for going on a decade, really have to lose? Perhaps the more important question is does new head coach Mike Malone have the courage and confidence in himself as a coach to let Jimmer be Jimmer?
Dr. Travis Heath is a psychologist in private practice, assistant professor of psychology at MSU Denver and former NBA team consultant. He also co-hosts a show on Mile High Sports Radio on Tuesday nights at 6pm. You can follow him on Twitter @DrTravisHeath.