He led all of NCAA Division I in scoring and led his mid-major team on a thrilling run deep into March Madness. Despite concerns about his defense, athleticism and position in the NBA, a squeaky-clean image and his ability to score in myriad ways—but particularly from long range—convinced a team in the lottery to snag him.
Jimmer Fredette? Yup. Steph Curry? Also yup.
As Curry solidifies his perch as an All-Star starter and The Man on a Golden State Warriors team pursuing consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in 21 years and Fredette attempts to salvage a career after being paid to leave the bound-for-nowhere Sacramento Kings, it's worth examining how time, place and circumstance can go a long way toward determining a draft pick's success or failure. And how, for all the harumphing about raising the age limit so teams get a longer look at college prospects, knowing what they're getting still won't prevent teams from mishandling whatever they get.
Fredette, after all, spent four years at BYU and Curry three at Davidson.
"The league got caught up in the Jimmer hype," one scout said.
The hype didn't seem quite as strong with Curry. He arrived in a 2009 draft crowded with young scoring guards hoping to prove they could run the point on the NBA level. No. 1 pick Blake Griffin being out for the year with a cracked kneecap and No. 5 pick Ricky Rubio being stuck in Spain with contract issues added luster to whatever Curry and any other member of the draft class contributed. At least they were in the country and on the floor, playing.
Curry also had the good fortune to join a Warriors team run by Don Nelson, who believed that any open shot was a good one and that defense was something played only if you had no other way to contribute. The Warriors were first in pace, which meant plenty of shots to go around, second in scoring and dead last in points allowed. Curry launched 1,143 attempts as a rookie, which is more than Fredette squeezed off in his 2.75 seasons in Sacramento.
"The system," said one assistant GM of Curry and the Warriors, "fit him."
Fredette, in hindsight, never had a chance. He was acquired by the Kings in a draft-night trade in which they moved down and exchanged a veteran point guard (Beno Udrih) for a veteran scorer (John Salmons). This occurred right before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, which meant no acclimatizing summer-league games or training camp for Fredette. Instead, as a volume shooter suspected of being overhyped, he swan-dived into a Kings squad short on leadership or distributors and long on already established, overhyped volume shooters.
If that weren't unstable enough, the Kings fired their head coach, Paul Westphal, seven games into the season. Everything else changed as well during Fredette's time: ownership, management, coaching staff and damn near where the team called home (to Seattle).
To make it all worse, Kings fans slobbered over Fredette the way Indiana Pacers fans once anointed homegrown star Damon Bailey as their savior, one difference being that Pacers GM Donnie Walsh waited until the second round to take Bailey. When knee issues effectively ended Bailey's career after one season, the franchise still had its former first-round pick, Reggie Miller, as a, um, fallback.
Fredette faced the opposite problem. While he struggled to justify his top-10 selection, the last pick of the entire draft, 5'9" Isaiah Thomas, wound up with 30 more starts (37 total) and 287 more points. Talk about demoralization.
An NBA executive who sat next to then-GM Geoff Petrie while they scouted Fredette sensed that Petrie, also a lottery pick and former long-range marksman, saw some of himself in Jimmer.
"That, along with the desire to land the next great white American player and the millions that would be worth at the gate, is pretty powerful," the executive said. "Foreign players just don't connect to your fanbase in quite the same way."
None of this is to suggest that had Fredette gone to the Warriors he could've replicated what Curry has done, any more than the ridiculous assertion sometimes floated that Tracy McGrady or Penny Hardaway could've enjoyed Kobe Bryant's success had they swapped places. Curry battled through his own challenges, including a string of ankle injuries and changes in ownership, GMs and head coaches.
"Steph was probably underrated coming out of college in handling the ball and creating his own shot," said one scout. "Jimmer was shooting a lot of deep shots to get his looks in college already."
A second scout is confident Fredette, freed of being a franchise-saving point guard, will find his place as a shooting specialist for the Bulls, citing the success Kyle Korver and Mike Dunleavy have had in coach Tom Thibodeau's ball-movement-heavy system. The challenge will be for Fredette to embrace the role. "I would expect he and the Bulls already have had that conversation," the scout said.
The other test will be whether he can defend well enough that Thibodeau will keep him on the floor and then be an efficient shooter. "Is he the caliber of shooter who can make an impact with only seven or eight shots?" one Eastern Conference executive wondered. "At BYU, that was his warm-up. He knew 20 more were coming."
As did Curry at Davidson—and now with the Warriors—proving that it's not about being lucky or good when it comes to cutting it in the NBA. It's truly about being both.
• Canisius senior Billy Baron is almost certain to not be a lottery pick—and there's a chance he may not be drafted at all—but several teams say they'd be the first to offer him a summer league and training-camp invitation if he were available. He is, in that, the antithesis of Fredette: a gifted scorer (averaging 24.4 points for the Golden Griffins, including 43.2 percent from three-point range) who teams would love to have at the right price.
• While reports dismiss the possibility of the Detroit Pistons supplanting their current GM, Joe Dumars, with his former championship backcourt mate, Isiah Thomas, sources do not expect Dumars to stay in the position much longer—either he'll step down or owner Tom Gores will go in a new direction. Dumars, one source said, is weary of the criticism he has received in trying to rebuild the Pistons after constructing a franchise that went to the Eastern Conference Finals six years in a row (2003-2008). The criticism, the source said, fails to account for a dismal Detroit economy and restraints placed on Dumars while the franchise was up for sale and ultimately changed ownership hands. Dumars could not be reached for comment.
• Miami Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard says his new role has taught him a greater appreciation for the direction his coaches offered over his 22-year career. "When Coach Spo says it works, I know now he studied enough film to know it works," Howard said. "I was one of those that would second guess. Now I know better. The film work and prep work the coaches do—I had no idea."
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.