It’s not clear exactly when Jimmermania began, but we can thank Kevin Durant for ushering in its arrival.
On January 26, 2011, BYU senior Jimmer Fredette scored 43 points against the No. 4 team in the country, then-undefeated San Diego State University.
Kevin Durant, at the time the favorite to win the NBA scoring title, then made a bold proclamation:
“All of the sudden, people everywhere knew my name,” Fredette recalls. “Overnight things changed for me. I couldn’t sit down to eat a meal because people would come up and keep asking me for pictures and autographs.”
Now less than five years later, the “best scorer in the world” is fighting for his spot in the NBA.
A partially guaranteed contract with the San Antonio Spurs is Fredette’s last, best shot at reviving a decidedly underwhelming NBA career.
Fredette parlayed his soaring draft stock into a No. 10 overall selection by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2011 NBA draft. In need of a freewheeling point guard, the Sacramento Kings traded for Fredette that night.
“We think he'll fit in really well with our roster," then-Sacramento Kings coach Paul Westphal told Jason Jones of the Deseret News following the draft. "I hesitate to say until we get out there and get after it, but I think of him as a point guard. He plays the pick-and-roll really well. He's a good passer, obviously he's a great shooter.”
Westphal believed in Fredette, which translated into robust playing time. Fredette averaged 24.1 minutes and 8.5 points in his first 11 games as a pro.
But on January 5, 2012, the Kings made a coaching change and turned the team over to defensive-minded Keith Smart.
Fredette's playing time and numbers dipped noticeably to 17.1 minutes and 7.4 points per game.
“No one cares what you did in college in the NBA,” Fredette said. “They want to see what you can do now. And so you have to earn everyone’s respect again. You have to go in like you’re a freshman in college.”
The next season, Fredette averaged just 14 minutes under Smart. That number dropped to 11.3 under first-year head coach Mike Malone, who took the reins from Smart during the summer of 2013.
“It’s definitely tough coming in, playing spotty minutes, playing some and then not playing. Especially after the year that you come off of. It definitely can be a shock and tough, but like I said, it’s about controlling your attitude, knowing that things sometimes have to go down before they go up,” Fredette said.
Fredette’s most successful stint came in Sacramento, where he averaged seven points and shot 40.2 percent from three-point range in 171 appearances. It was there that he scored a career-high 24 points against the New York Knicks on February 2, 2014.
The moment seemed like a turning point for Fredette, but his career has since become a series of afterthought transactions and mediocre output:
- Less than a month after the performance, Sacramento waived Fredette.
- Fredette was subsequently signed by the Chicago Bulls but appeared in just eight games for a team that was in the middle of a playoff run with a coach (Tom Thibodeau) who was big on set rotations.
- The Bulls chose not to re-sign Fredette that summer, making him an unrestricted free agent.
- When the New Orleans Pelicans came calling last July, there was optimism Fredette could help Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson space the floor for Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans.
- But Fredette appeared in only 50 games for New Orleans, averaging 10.2 minutes and 3.6 points while shooting 9-of-48 (18.8 percent) from three-point range.
With the Pelicans, Fredette never found a defined role or rhythm playing behind a revolving door of backup point guards.
|New Orleans Pelicans Backup Point Guards in 2014-15|
“I was like, come on, you know. Just make one shot," Fredette said. "I just needed that. I just needed to get into a rhythm. If I can get into a rhythm, see the ball go in a couple times, I would’ve been fine. And I will be fine. I know that for a fact. That’s what I do. I shoot the ball.”
A Shot at Redemption
Under the leadership of coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford, San Antonio has become the NBA’s premier destination for reclamation projects. Boris Diaw, Danny Green, Patty Mills and Gary Neal were all on their last NBA breaths before finding their way to Coach Pop.
It certainly fit Neal, a similar player to Fredette, in both size and style. Neal, though, had an even rockier path to the Spurs organization.
After going undrafted in 2007, Neal went on to play professionally in Turkey, Spain and Italy before getting a workout with the Spurs in the summer of 2010.
“What we really saw was that he could shoot the heck out of the ball,” Buford said in an ESPN Outside the Lines special. They saw enough to invite him to play for their summer-league team, where he averaged 16 points and made 17 of 34 three-point attempts.
“We said, ‘What the hell,’ and we guaranteed him on the spot,” Popovich told OTL. “And we took a little bit of a chance that when the lights went on, he would still do what he was doing in the Vegas Summer League. Turns out that he’s done even more than we would’ve expected.”
The Spurs are now taking a similar chance on Fredette, hoping he can give them an occasional shooting spark off the bench.
The Spurs have managed to turn shooting potential into shooting results, and lackluster effort into kinetic energy. In 2012, Boris Diaw had completely fallen out of the Charlotte Bobcats rotation. Then-head coach Paul Silas went so far as to call out Diaw as a major reason for his team’s struggles.
“I think if he had played all out, the way he should have, it would have been a much, much better club," Silas said, according to the Associated Press' Steve Reed (via Yahoo Sports).
After two-plus years in the Spurs system, Diaw’s career trajectory has been righted. He recently told Mark Woods of ESPN.com, “...experience has taught me that even a letdown for a few minutes, when you can lose your concentration, when you don’t defend as hard as you can, it can be fatal.”
|Spurs Depth Chart|
|Point Guard||Tony Parker||Patty Mills||Ray McCallum|
|Shooting Guard||Danny Green||Manu Ginobili||Jimmer Fredette||Reggie Williams|
|Small Forward||Kawhi Leonard||Kyle Anderson|
|Power Forward||LaMarcus Aldridge||David West||Boris Diaw|
|Center||Tim Duncan||Matt Bonner||Boban Marjanovic||Cady Lalanne||Youssou Ndoye|
When asked whether or not the Spurs could maximize his abilities the way they did for Neal, Diaw and others, Fredette is rightfully bullish.
“I obviously have to go in and work my tail off. And, you know, you can’t take anything for granted. It’s not like they’re just going to put you in a magical situation where all of the sudden I’m going to, you know, score the basketball.”
But Fredette simply couldn't ask for a better place to leverage his specific skill set and salvage his career.
“The Spurs are very good at finding situations for guys to come in and be able to be successful because they move the ball well and then you get your shot,” Fredette said of his new team. “I just love the unselfish play, their style of basketball, of how they move the ball, cut without it. You know, playing against them for years now, it’s so hard to guard them because they move so well and pass the ball and they share it. And they have so many good passers. I think that’s why it fits my game.”
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.