Extra Pass: Jimmer Fredette salvaging NBA career with long 3-pointers

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Jimmer Fredette – the bright lights of Madison Square Garden shining on him – walked the ball up court and called out a play. Of course, Fredette has never been big on plays. His freelancing, gunning style endeared him to fans at Brigham Young, where he carried the program to unprecedented heights.

Fredette noticed his defender backpedaling, and whatever play Fredette was calling went out the window. He pulled up for a 26-foot 3-pointer.

Swish.

“You dream about this,” said Fredette, a native of Glen Falls, N.Y., whose shot gave him 13 points in his first 4:19 of playing time.

On the Kings bench, Quincy Acy excitedly spiked his towel to the floor.

Unfortunately for Fredette, the path of Acy’s towel – straight down – symbolizes Fredette’s college-to-pro transition more accurately than his breathtaking shot.

Can Fredette build off his performance Wednesday – a career-high 24 points in a win over the New York Knicks – and carve out a successful NBA future?

Just three years ago, Fredette was the darling of college basketball. The Kings, via the Milwaukee Bucks, got him with the No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft. “Jimmer is exactly what the Kings need right now,” said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player.

Not quite.

Fredette struggled as a rookie, and though he improved moderately in his second year, the Kings declined the fourth-year option on his rookie contract before this season. That will make Fredette a free agent after the season, putting Fredette on a precarious path.

In the draft class before his, eight players had their fourth-year option declined.

Two, Dominique Jones and Lazar Hayward, are already out of the league. Elliot Williams likely would be out of the NBA too if the tanking 76ers weren’t willing to give minus young players a chance at minutes. Luke Babbitt made a roster only as a mid-season injury replacement.

On the bright side, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry are hanging on with the lousy Lakers. Cole Aldrich occasionally gets to play for the Knicks. And Al-Farouq Aminu starts for the Pelicans. None of those four are in the most glamorous positions, but they’re all firmly entrenched in the NBA for at least this season.

That’s a 50-50 shot for players in Fredette is heading into after this season. Which direction will he go?

Signs are increasingly pointing to Fredette lasting in the league, at least for a little while.

He’ll probably always be a harmful defender, asking him to distribute the ball is just asking for turnovers. But after shooting barely above league from beyond the arc as a rookie, Fredette has made 36-of-73 3-pointers this season – a league-best 49.3 percent.

Renowned for his ridiculous range by college standards, Fredette has expanded his comfort zone deep beyond the NBA arc (23 feet, 9 inches above the break and 22 feet in the corners).

It has made all the difference.

Just 6-foot-2, Fredette sometimes struggles to create shooting space over longer NBA defenders, especially because he’s working off the ball more than he did at BYU. But long 3-pointers help Fredette get off cleaner shots.

He’s never been shy about attempting those deep bombs, but his accuracy on them has improved remarkably in his three professional seasons. He even makes them more often now than his closer 3s.

Here’s Fredette’s season-by-season shooting percentage on 3-pointers from 25 to 29 feet (purple) and closer 3-pointers (black):

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Fredette actually leads the NBA in shooting percentage between 25 and 29 feet (more than 25 attempts), making 22-of-41 such shots (53.7 percent).

His 26-footer wasn’t even his longest basket Wednesday. He also made a 28-footer as a closing Carmelo Anthony couldn’t make up the extra ground to challenge the shot. (And spare the Melo defense jokes, at least for a moment. He was actually trying to contest the attempt.)

By then, Acy’s towel had been picked up from the floor. It wasn’t doomed to stay down forever.

Fredette, it seems, isn’t either.

He’s lifting himself back up, one step back farther behind the arc at a time.

Bucks’ Jabari Parker “frustrated,” wants more playing time

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In the first two games against Boston, Jabari Parker is 1-of-7 shooting, has grabbed 15 percent of the available rebounds while on the court (low for a big expected to board), has more turnovers than assists, has been exploited on defense by Boston, and is -29. All in just 25 minutes.

Parker is also frustrated he isn’t getting more minutes and more of a chance to prove himself. From Stephen Watson of WISN News 12 in Milwaukee:

While there are questions about how Joe Prunty has handled the Bucks and their rotations in this series, more Jabari Parker is nobody’s answer. Except Parker’s. And Celtics’ fans. Parker can be as frustrated as he wants, he hasn’t played his way into more minutes.

Parker returned to the Bucks in January after rehab on his second ACL surgery and averaged 12.6 points per game. He showed some value, with an ability to score efficiently inside and shooting 38 percent from three, averaging 12.6 points per game. But he remains a below-the-rim player who struggles to defend, and in the playoffs that gets a guy a seat.

It’s going to be an interesting summer. Parker is a restricted free agent this summer and the Bucks do not see him as a core part of their future next to Giannis Antetokounmpo anymore, they are not going to come in with a big offer to keep him. However, his play (especially in the postseason) and injury history, combined with a tight free agent market, means he may not have many suitors at all. Is it possible a rebuilding team willing to take a chance — Phoenix, Atlanta, etc. — would come in with an offer higher than the Bucks would match? Yes, it’s possible. But it won’t be for a lot of years, just one or two as teams want to see if he can get right and become the player he once projected to be.

Sixers’ Joel Embiid upgraded to “probable,” will start in Game 3 Thursday

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Everything you saw in the first two games of this Miami/Philadelphia playoff series you can throw out in the trash.

Joel Embiid is back and is now “probable” for Game 3, the Sixers announced, upgrading his status from “doubtful” earlier in the day. Embiid had been out with a concussion and orbital bone fracture.

Embiid will go through warmups — trying out both a mask and goggles — then will make a formal decision. However, he is expected to go. He certainly wants to play. And he is expected to start. How many minutes he can go remains to be seen.

This changes the Sixers and the series. Yes, Philly has likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and high quality role players such as J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, however, is Embiid that makes it all work. Put simply, when Embiid is on the court the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions better — their defense is elite and their offense is outstanding.

The Sixers will be better with their best player back in the fold, but don’t think this makes the series a cakewalk for Philly. It changes everything about matchups, but things are not all positives. When Embiid is on the court, the up-tempo, ball-movement style that the Sixers built around Simmons slows down and stops at points. The Sixers have played Hassan Whiteside and his rim protection off the court with floor spacing shooting bigs, now he has a place to be in the matchups. There are things the Heat can do now that may work for them.

It just may not matter — Philadelphia just got a lot better.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.