Jimmer Fredette , Kurt Thomas, Nolan Smith

It’s OK if there’s no mania behind Jimmer

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“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.”

via Jimmer Fredette being brough along slowly by Sacramento Kings – Sam Amick – SI.com.

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.

via Basketball Prospectus | Disappearing Act.

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.

Pelicans’ rookie guard Bryce Dejean-Jones has died at age 23

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Bryce Dejean-Jones #31 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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This is a sad and stunning development.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, the rookie guard of the New Orleans Pelicans, has died, the Dallas, Texas, County Coroner has confirmed to NBC Sports. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune broke the news.

Dejean-Jones was just 23.

“It is with deep sadness that the Pelicans Organization acknowledges the sudden passing of Bryce Dejean-Jones,” the Pelicans’ organization said in a statement. “We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life who had such a promising future ahead of him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bryce’s family during this difficult time.”

The coroner’s office would not give a cause of death, but Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had the tragic detail.

The account of him being shot has been confirmed by multiple sources.

Dejean-Jones was undrafted out of Iowa State, he was picked up on a 10-day contract by New Orleans this season, but the rash of injuries the Pelicans suffered pushed him into a starting role for 11 games. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game, and to his credit did shoot 37.5 percent from three. On Feb. 19 he took a hard fall and fractured his wrist, which eventually required surgery and ended his season. He was a guy known for attitude problems at the start of his college career at USC the UNLV, but had seemed to mature and his game had as well. He looked like someone who could stick as a reserve guard in the NBA.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.