Jimmer Fredette was an absolute monster in college, averaging almost 30 points per game despite being the sole focus of the opposing defenses. He rode his college success to the NBA lottery, when just a year prior he was being discussed as a possible second round pick. The Kings picked him up hoping that he'd be the perfect complement to Tyreke Evans: A Point Guard that could shoot the hell out of the ball while also sharing ballhandling duties.
It hasn't worked out that way. 60th pick Isaiah Thomas usurped Fredette midway through their rookie season as he was better able to cope with NBA defenses. Jimmer could still shoot the ball well, but he had a much harder time getting the same quality of looks. He became very hesitant at times and didn't seem to know when he should shoot the ball or pass it. He went into his first offseason with a clear to-do list, particularly in improving his ballhandling skills and confidence.
Last year, he played more games than his rookie season but far fewer minutes. However his efficiency was much better, in large part due to a restored confidence in his shot. His percentages across the board went up by significant margins, and despite the fewer minutes, he scored almost the same amount of points.
Scoring is not an issue for Jimmer. Even in the NBA, he's been able to put the ball in the basket, although at a far less gaudy rate. But 18.4 points per 36 minutes isn't a bad rate, especially for a 23 year old sophomore. It's the rest of Jimmer's game that has been lacking. He wasn't much of a passer in college either, but there was hope that he could perhaps transform that part of his game so he could play the Point Guard position. So far, he's only had an assist rate of 15.4% for his career, which is good for a shooting guard, but not nearly enough for a Point Guard.
Defensively Jimmer has big problems. Although he tries hard, he simply doesn't possess the quickness or athleticism to stay in front of his man. MySynergySports rates him as the 401st best defender in the NBA, allowing 0.97 points per possession. Given that there are only 450 available positions in the NBA, that's terrible.
The opportunities for Jimmer to show that he deserves a rotation spot in the NBA keep dwindling as well. The Kings got rid of Tyreke Evans this summer but they added two point guards (Greivis Vasquez and Ray McCallum) and a shooting guard (Ben McLemore). Both Vasquez and McLemore look to be heavy rotation players, along with returning guards Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton.
New head coach Michael Malone has been fairly clear in his statements that he believes Jimmer Fredette is not a Point Guard, something both Paul Westphal and Keith Smart believed he could be. So how can Jimmer stand out from the rest of the bunch in order to get playing time?
For starters, Jimmer needs to continue to improve his ballhandling. He'll never be a Point Guard in the NBA, but he can be a shooting guard that can pass well. There have always been a lot of comparisons to J.J. Redick made by NBA pundits as to a possible career path for Jimmer. Jimmer's already a far better passer than Redick was when he first came into the league. But Redick managed to improve that part of his game to give him more versatility on the offensive end of the court. Jimmer can do the same.
By far the biggest thing that will help Jimmer is if Sacramento can develop a good team defensive scheme. Stephen Curry, who Malone coached last year in Golden State, is an atrocious defender. If we look at MySynergySports again, he's 380th in the league, allowing almost as many points per possession (0.95) as Jimmer. But Golden State's team defense was able to overcome that individual weakness.
Personally, I believe that Jimmer Fredette can still become a good rotational NBA player. Right now he's only good at shooting and scoring. Fortunately for him, those are two very important things to be good at in the NBA. I think the reason the Kings haven't been quick to trade him despite some interest around the league is because they believe that as well. He could potentially be a much cheaper and more efficient Marcus Thornton. Thornton isn't a particularly good defender either, and while he possesses a little bit more size and athleticism than Jimmer, they both score at a similar rate. Jimmer will also be on his rookie contract for both this season and the next, while Thornton is making $8+ million in each of the next two seasons.
Of course, a lot also depends on rookie Ben McLemore and how he develops. But there is definitely a place for Jimmer Fredette in the NBA. I'm just not sure he'll get the chance to prove it in Sacramento.