“The first time he didn’t play [on Feb. 2 against Portland], people were calling the paper and pitching their theories,” said Jason Jones, the Kings’ beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. “People don’t want to believe that he might not be ready to play. They want to believe Keith has it in for him.”
The salty swell of support peaked on Feb. 21, when Fredette’s brother and roommate, T.J., saw Jimmer glued to the bench for 48 minutes in a game at Miami and tweeted, “Can we please get rid of this interim coach who should be an assistant at best and bring in a real head coach.” Jimmer quickly apologized on behalf of his brother, who subsequently deleted the tweet and also issued an apology. Smart had a candid moment of his own on March 8, defending his use of Fredette while saying, “If everybody in the world would just leave me alone and let me develop this kid, he’s going to be OK.”
And that last part is kind of relevant. “OK.”
Now, I’m sure if you were to press Keith Smart he’d talk about Jimmer Fredette being “pretty good” or “great” eventually. But right now? Right now the goal is just OK. And for some reason, people have struggled to accept this. There’s a lingering sense that the player Fredette was in college must be in there, that he has to be waiting to spring forth with magical unicorn bombs from 50 feet. There’s just no way that the player the JimmerManiacs saw tearing it up in the NCAA tournament last year at BYU isn’t the same. Because it’s just basketball, right?
Well, no, not really.
Here’s the thing, the article above is entirely written from the perspective of giving Jimmer time to evolve and improve. And it’s a worthwhile idea. I”m not here to bury a rookie. Guys develop, improve, and regress at very different intervals in the NBA and for the most part, it’s very difficult to predict. Fredette could have a monster sophomore year, and then disappear. There are trends, to be sure. There are probabilities. But to say that players will never change, never improve, that they are who they are is to ignore a world of players like Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, and others who progressed not from the start but who began their careers as one thing and then dramatically shifted a few years in. Fredette can have that kind of career. He’s a good enough… uh… shooter or player, or something to be able to convert those skills.
However, there’s something we’re going to need to get past. Fredette is not stuck on the bench. He’s not being held back. He’s just not very good right now. And Thomas has been excellent. He’s earned is playing time. And all the things we were concerned about with Fredette? They’ve turned out to be true.
Turns out that in the flow of an NBA game, jacking up 45 footers is not a sustainable offensive strategy. It turns out that creating your own shot against players who are twice as fast, long, athletic, and strong as you are is a bit of a trick. And most of all, it turns out that all the concerns about Fredette’s defense weren’t mythical. The kid can’t stick. He should not be on the floor right now and Keith Smart isn’t responsible for making sure Jimmer works out. He’s supposed to make the garbage salad of the Kings turn into a pizza with DMC pepperoni and Thornton sauce. (In this scenario Tyreke Evans is pineapple. The people that like it love it and always want it on, the people that don’t think it’s weird it’s on the pizza.)
Smart isn’t the GM who elected to draft a player who clearly didn’t fit with their roster, nor had the pedigree to compete at the NBA level at the position he was drafted at. Smart wasn’t the coach to weigh in on that decision. This is Smart being stuck with management’s mistake. Again, it doesn’t meant that Fredette can’t work out and be amazing and validate Geoff Petrie and everything. But for right now, it’s not working out, and Smart’s not beholden to making that work. He’s got the Kings playing better with Thomas, with Thornton, most importantly with DMC, you know the players with actual ability at this level.
And this isn’t actually unexpected. Neil Paine at Basketball Prospectus wrote about college All-Americans and the NBA. The trend over the past thirty years? It’s getting harder and harder for amateur stars to convert to pro icons.
The more common outcome for an All-American in today’s game is to be an ordinary starter or even a non-starting rotation regular (33% have met this fate so far). There’s still plenty of time for regulars like Evan Turner and Greivis Vasquez to become starters, and for starters like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins to become All-Stars (in fact, Cousins arguably should have been one this season). But those are the exceptions–in reality, the book is likely already written on most of the post-age-limit prospects produced at college basketball’s highest level, and it’s not filled with anywhere near as many stars as in days gone by, despite the rule forcing elite high school talent to spend a year on campus.
There’s hope for Fredette, though.
J.J. Redick was a similar player in college, a three-point sharpshooter, the best in Duke’s history. When he came to the Magic, he got no playing time. None. And he was frustrated, essentially, for two seasons. Stan Van Gundy made it abundantly clear to Redick. Learn how to play defense at this level, you can play. He knew Redick could shoot, he needed him to defend. So Redick hit the weight room, built up his frame, kept his shooter’s touch, and wound up being a huge part of the Magic’s run to he Finals in 2009. Had Orlando not matched his offer from Chicago two years ago, he’d be a better version of Kyle Korver. That’s what Fredette needs to do. Accept it’s going to be rough, accept that he’s not ready, keep bucking to get there and do what is necessary.
In the meantime? You can hope Fredette will work out. You can even have faith that he’ll become the player we all want him to be, the same one who went gonzo in the tournament. But you can’t deny the reality that he’s not ready to play and is a detriment to his team when he’s on the floor right now. It’s not just about patience. It’s about reality and how we deal with it.