Over 4,000 players and 345 teams were pared down to Kemba Walker and the kids on an early spring night in Houston. But despite the UConn Huskies' incredible championship run, they will forever share this season's spotlight with Jimmer Fredette's remarkable year in which he averaged almost 29 points per game en route to the Naismith Player of the Year Award.
Fredette and Walker will enter the NBA draft in a battle to determine the second-best point guard prospect, alongside Brandon Knight. A comparison of Fredette and Walker, using NBADraft.net's 12 criteria for determining the worth of a potential pro prospect, now follows.
23.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, 5.4 RPG, 42.8 FG%, 33.0 3FG%, 81.9 FT%, 2.3 TO, 1.9 SPG, 29.4 PER, 21.5 EFF
28.9 PPG, 4.3 APG, 3.4 RPG, 45.2 FG%, 39.6 3FG%, 89.4 FT%, 3.5 TO, 1.3 SPG , 30.5 PER, 22.3 EFF
Jimmer Fredette played 35.8 minutes per game on a team that ran at the 20th-fastest pace in the country. He's not going to dunk in traffic or break out Derrick Rose-style reverse layups every night, but Fredette's stamina is NBA ready for the most part. He will obviously have to learn how to deal with the rigors of an 82-game schedule, but so does everyone else.
Walker's athleticism isn't NBA elite along the likes of Rose and Russell Westbrook, but it's only a notch below that status because of his elite conditioning. He averaged a maniacal 37.6 minutes per game this season—that included 39 minutes per game in the Big East tournament, in which he played five games in five days and averaged 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Walker can drive through four defenders with ease and frequently made moves during the season that made SportsCenter.
Walker wins this by a significant margin, but don't short-change Fredette.
Fredette has good size for an NBA point guard at 6'2" and 195 pounds. He isn't a stick either—Fredette has the bulk to deal with driving into the paint and getting hacked by larger players on the way to the hoop. There has also been talk of Fredette playing shooting guard on the next level. That talk is unfounded, but Fredette's height certainly lets him play off-guard once in a blue moon.
Walker is listed as 6'0" and 6'1" in numerous outlets, but the consensus is that he is roughly 175 pounds. He may have trouble getting his shot off when he's going against point guards who will be three to four inches taller than him, but history is on his side: John Stockton was 6'1" and 175 pounds during his playing days.
This is biggest point of contention about Jimmer Fredette. A little more explanation is needed here.
Say what you want about lateral quickness, length and jumping ability: Defense is about effort more than anything. Why was Bruce Bowen such a great defender? Ron Artest? Ben Wallace? Were these players the fastest, tallest and lengthiest players on the court? No, but they played like men possessed by demons in their prime.
We didn't see that type of effort from Fredette, but former BYU assistant coach Dave Rice's comments to the New York Times prove that we should hold criticism on the former BYU star until we see him in the pros.
“A lot of that is really on us,” Rice said. “We expect so much of him on the offensive end. We can’t afford to have him in foul trouble. He’s a much, much better defensive player than he’s given credit for. A lot of that is part of our game plan.”
Excuse my New York Knicks bias, but it's easy to pull an example from them to back up Rice's points. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are high-volume scorers who have not given full efforts on defense for most of their careers. However, their phenomenal defense has literally won two games this season. In February's Knicks-Heat game, Anthony led LeBron James into an Amar'e Stoudemire block, eventually leading to a 91-86 win. Last night, Anthony blocked Danny Granger's game-winning jumper attempt with under two seconds left, giving New York a 110-109 win over Indiana.
The talent is there for both Melo and Amar'e, but one can understand that if so much of a player's stamina is spent on the offensive end, it's only natural to take off on the defensive end.
Fredette had a 33.4-percent possession rate (a statistic measuring how often a player ends a possession via a shot attempt or turnover), the highest in Division I. He also created over two-thirds of his offense through January this season. It's natural for him to be more lax on defense and for BYU to tell Fredette to lay off getting into foul trouble on the other end.
Still, Fredette managed to get 1.3 steals per game, paling in comparison to Walker's 1.9 steals. Walker's defense, buoyed by his elite speed, is made more impressive by the fact that his possession rate was third in the country (30.7 percent).
Despite giving up an inch and 20 pounds to Fredette, Walker is a better defender because of his speed (most notably in his 33-point, 12-rebound, six-steal performance against Syracuse in the Big East tournament).
In that same New York Times scouting report, BYU strength and conditioning coach Justin McClure noted that Fredette "has a vertical jump of 36 inches, can bench press 265 pounds and should be able to lift 185 pounds nine or 10 times."
Maybe it's just me, because I can barely bench press a bar, but that's impressive for a 195-pounder who isn't focusing solely on weight training as a basketball player.
Again, Fredette has 20 pounds on Walker, so unless the UConn star comes out with some crazy workout numbers prior to the draft, Fredette gets the edge here.
This is the biggest discrepancy on the list. One can make a case for Walker being one of the five fastest point guards in the NBA next season. Watch him start outside the perimeter and slice through three defenders en route to a layup in three seconds.
Fredette's foot speed will be slower than most NBA point guards. He relies more on guile, wit and an arsenal of backcourt moves that make him seen like the college guard equivalent of Kevin McHale at times, but will he get away with them in the NBA?
Splitting hairs, Walker wins this battle on account of leading a rotation that had just two upperclassmen (one of them being himself) to a national title, including 11 straight tournament wins. The team developed under his watch on the court, with Jeremy Lamb now the future star at UConn.
Fredette is a phenomenal, smart and level-headed leader as well, but he's up against the best floor general college basketball saw this season.
Off the court, neither of these guys are going to get into trouble with the law or embarrass their franchises by doing something stupid. They both seem like level-headed, good people.
Fredette has higher three-point, free-throw, field-goal, true-shooting and effective field-goal percentages than Walker. His ability to create his own shot, and hit said shot, is Fredette's greatest trait. Whether it's a step-back, crossover or pull-up three, Fredette is a magician behind the line. His mid-range jumper is impressive as well, though it's questionable whether he will be successful getting to the hoop on the NBA, with his quickness and leaping ability being worse than most NBA point guards.
Most of Walker's shooting percentages are lower than most draft-eligible point guards, but with teams cheating to focus more on him, Walker deals with more of a handicap.
Edge: Kemba Walker
Said it before a thousand times, and I'll say it again. Jimmer Fredette played in a solar-system offense that he will never, ever be a part of in the NBA, and that's going to put him behind the learning curve to start. He will need to relearn defense, because he will not be the focal point. Plus, he will need to learn how to adjust to NBA quickness and see if his moves in college are going to work in the NBA.
The edge goes to Walker, but with a caveat: He may be given the keys to a moribund franchise, like Toronto or Sacramento. While Walker is going to be a very good professional, he too will have his growing pains, especially in a system that's already failing. However, you can't teach speed and leadership skills, and Walker has both ingrained in him.
I'm combining two characteristics into one slide because they are interrelated. Walker's ball-handling and passing skills are superior to Fredette's, and the statistics prove that point. Walker makes better decisions and gets his teammates better involved in the game.
Walker (22 percent), Fredette (18 percent)
Walker (11 percent), Fredette (15 percent)
Walker (4.5 APG, 2.3 TO, 1.98 A/T), Fredette (4.3 APG, 3.5 TO, 1.22 A/T)
PPR (Assist-to-Turnover Ratio Weighted More Towards Turnovers)
Walker (1.84), Fredette (-1.92)
Potential and Concluding Edge: Walker
The biggest knock on Walker is his 6'1" size, and there is something to that. As bad and as apathetic as some NBA defenses are, Walker won't see as many opportunities to drive to the lane for easy layups.
He will, however, get opportunities for wide-open three-pointers, and if Walker is able to develop his shot more, he can be a deadly weapon. If he goes to a team with an established core, like Utah (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and what is currently the 12th pick of this year's draft) or Cleveland (if it grabs Derrick Williams in the top two and takes Walker with its second lottery pick), Walker can shine immediately.
But I don't see him being the type of guy a franchise can resurrect itself around, a la Derrick Rose. No knock on him, as his ceiling is being the sixth-best point guard in the NBA behind the now-renowned top five.
As for Fredette, anyone who compares his basketball-playing abilities to those of J.J. Redick or Adam Morrison when they lit up college basketball in 2006 is violently shortsighted. They don't even play the same position.
Fredette is a stronger, slower, slightly-shorter version of Stephen Curry, he of the seventh-highest PER among current NBA starting point guards and who is stuck in a terrible system. They are both robotic scorers with great intangibles who played for mid-majors, but neither have the best court vision or quickness and they are lacking defensively. Like Walker, I can't see Fredette being a franchise player, but he could make that second tier of point guards—if he falls in the right situation. Phoenix is my pick right now.
Ultimately, expect both to be good to very good professionals.