So there it is again. That word. Jimmer. Let the buzz begin. NCAA basketball hasn’t created such a divisive player since…ever?
Does Jimmer Fredette deserve Player of the Year for single-handedly getting BYU a No. 3 seed and a Sweet 16 appearance? Or is the Mountain West just a weak conference and BYU lost to the first quality opponent it played all year? (Note: Arizona was not even close to the same team in December that it has been thus far in the tournament)
I don’t know. As someone that watches NCAA basketball largely with a focus on how players will translate in the NBA, I really don’t care, either.
My questions are about Jimmer’s game at the next level.
Is Jimmer still going to be able to score at will and run an NBA offense? Or is he a below-the-rim player who doesn’t play defense (if you take his coach’s word for it, that’s only because BYU tells him to conserve his energy) and takes ill-advised shots?
If you listen to his supporters, including Chad Ford and Bill Simmons, Fredette's NBA future could be comparable to Stephen Curry’s. If you listen to his detractors (who are becoming more vocal since Fredette shot his team out of the Florida tournament game), it won’t be long until Jimmer’s glad he finished college, because he’s going to need that degree to survive.
So which is it going to be? The easy answer is “it depends on how hard he works.” The easy answer is wrong.
Jimmer is what he is. He is a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. He has excellent range, (“limitless” if you're a fan of hyperbole), decent passing skills and can finish at the cup. Sounds a bit like Curry, right?
On the other hand, defense is the last thing on his mind, he has below-average athletic ability, and he needs the ball in his hands to be effective. Sounds a bit like a poor man’s Tyreke Evans, right?
No matter how hard he works, Jimmer won’t suddenly start jumping out of the gym. He probably doesn’t have the foot-speed to become a good NBA defender (anyone who tries hard enough can become average). And while the stories of Jimmer dribbling down the darkened halls of a church while his brother took shots at him is the stuff of legend, he seems to have conditioned himself to hold onto the ball no matter what.
So, assuming he comes into the NBA as a slightly more refined version of what he already is, who’s he going to be?
The real answer is perhaps a bit anti-climactic: It depends. Jimmer Fredette’s future is entirely dependent on which team picks him.
Just look at the Stephen Curry and Jonny Flynn for recent examples of this phenomenon. Both players shined in college, and both players seemed to perform best in up-tempo, spread-out offenses. And both players were lottery picks in the 2009 NBA Draft.
The Minnesota Timberwolves desperately needed a point guard to complement Kevin Love’s blossoming game. But Minnesota had established the triangle offense, and the coaching staff was adamant that they would focus on executing in the half court.
The Timberwolves picked Flynn in the draft (and Ricky Rubio, but making fun of that pick is reserved for a later date). Although Flynn started 81 games his rookie season, he played fewer than 30 minutes per game while shooting under 42 percent overall. Flynn struggled with the constraints of the triangle to the point that the Timberwolves are probably pulling the trigger on yet another point guard in the 2011 NBA Draft.
The Golden State Warriors, on the other hand, were coached by Don Nelson. Nelson created a system with a wide open, fast-paced offense.Defense was neither emphasized nor played with particular passion.
The Warriors picked Curry, and he has thrived. Curry was immediately given the proverbial keys to the car, averaging over 35 minutes per game over the past two years as the team’s foremost offensive creator.The Warriors have hidden Curry on defense by implementing a soft zone that requires extra help from big men like David Lee. This season Curry is scoring 18.3 ppg, including 44 percent from three.
Jimmer has displayed many of the same skills both Curry and Flynn exhibited before they played for pay (assuming of course that they weren’t paid). Jimmer has also displayed some of the same inadequacies.
As frustrating as it may be for Fredette’s fans, his NBA potential is almost entirely out of his hands.
Will Jimmer be a victim of circumstance, or will he be drafted into a system that needs his skills and will give him a chance to shine? We’ll see in June.