By Jim Weber
You better believe that while Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to a miraculous turnaround this season and eventually to the AFC Divisional Playoffs, the Maloof brothers were wondering to themselves: “Can Jimmer be our Tebow?”
Like Tebow, Fredette is someone many have described as a “college player” who won’t cut it at the next level because of physical limitations. As if that weren’t reason enough to cheer for them, Fredette and Tebow are two of the nicest, most sincere athletes you will find.
So in the same way the nation was swept up into Tebow Mania over the last several months, the Maloof brothers must be dreaming that one day Fredette can also draw national media coverage, sell out games, drive merchandise sales through the roof and make the Kings “must-see TV” – something you haven’t been able to say about them in a decade.
Just a taste of that this season would surely be welcome by the front office as the NBA set a March 1st deadline for a new arena option by the city of Sacramento to keep the Kings from leaving town; the City Council is still in need of all the support it can get for the new proposed arena.
But through his first 14 games in the league, Jimmer Mania has been anything but. In fact, he’s seemingly regressed so far as a rookie, low-lighted with a 1-of-8 performance against the Mavericks on Saturday; he is now shooting an abysmal 35% so far this season.
I know that the NBA lockout, short training camp and coaching change seven games into the season have made it difficult for Fredette, but this goes beyond any of those factors. Watching Fredette play now, it appears as if he’s completely lost the “mojo” that made him great at the college level. He’s seemingly hesitant with every decision he makes and completely overwhelmed by the speed and skill level of opposing players that are light years ahead of what he saw in the Mountain West Conference.
This in and of itself is not unusual for an NBA rookie.
What concerns me about Fredette is the colossal challenge ahead of him in changing from a shoot-first college point guard to a spot-up NBA shooting guard; a daunting task that has been evidenced in the first couple weeks of the NBA season.
As has been well documented before, Fredette is a tweener because he’s too slow, too shoot-first and not explosive enough to be an NBA point guard and too small and too weak a defender to be an NBA shooting guard.
I never thought Fredette was going to be an NBA point guard because he actually became even more shoot-first as he got older in Provo. And he especially won’t be a point guard for the Kings, who already have Tyreke Evans starting at the point and have seen good early returns from rookie Isaiah Thomas, who is much quicker and a more natural fit at the point than Fredette.
So Jimmer really has no other choice than to become a shooting guard. The problem? It’s a lot more complicated than just learning a new position.
First of all, Fredette seemingly doesn’t know how to operate in an offense that doesn’t run through him. There were points last season where it was literally like Fredette was playing 1-on-1 when the Cougars had the ball. Fredette would either pop a shot from deep, work his dribbling magic into the lane for a shot or kick it out to an open player if the defense collapsed.
It will never be like that in the NBA.
When Fredette tries to break defenders down now just like in college, he looks completely lost and it often ends in a turnover when he leaves his feet prematurely, as seen here in a clip compiled by the blog, Cowbell Kingdom:
When Fredette tries to score, the results are equally as unsuccessful because it has been impossible to create his own shot against NBA two guards that are much bigger than him. This is another way Fredette needs to change his game because he will be covered like a blanket by other twos that will all be bigger than the 6-foot-2 Fredette, such as division foes Jared Dudley (6-foot-7) and Kobe Bryant (6-foot-6).
Fredette instead needs to become adept at coming off screens like J.J. Redick, Ray Allen or Richard Hamilton to get himself open and show no hesitancy in launching from deep. That’s how Fredette is going to get his shots in the NBA because players like him, Redick, Allen and Hamilton – who are less athletic than their defenders – always need to outwork opponents for shots.
That’s just a product of becoming an absolute gym rat and student of the game to build up the stamina and wisdom it takes to become an all-time great like Reggie Miller.
Of course, that’s all easier said than done. Redick was one of the greatest college players of all time and didn’t become a double-digit scorer in the NBA until his fifth season in the league. The good news for Fredette? He has the makings of being a very accurate NBA 3-point shooter, has a quick release and doesn’t need to have his body set to score from deep.
But just like Tebow, Fredette is a huge project. For Fredette to even reach the level of a deadly Sixth Man who can light up the scoreboard in bunches off the bench like Redick – the role I ultimately see for him – it’s going to take a lot of hard work from Fredette and patience by the Kings for him to be successful at the next level.
Jim Weber is the president and founder of LostLettermen.com. His column appears each week.