The most fun thing about this time of year for me is evaluating the college players as professional prospects. For many of these young men, even in power conferences, this is the first time in maybe their entire careers that they are faced with consistently high-level opposition, and their strengths and weaknesses really shine through. Admittedly, I have not watched nearly enough college ball this year — the whole “being back in school” and “would much much much rather watch a mediocre NBA game on any given night” things put a damper on my NCAA knowledge. However, I do know basketball, and I do know what makes a good professional basketball player. Over the next few days, as I see more of these guys play, and study a little film on my own, I will be running individual features on some of the more draftable players. We will start with the four Naismith Player of the Year finalists, and today’s entry, spurred on by Pete Thamel’s New York Times article, is BYU’s Jimmer Fredette.
Listed on Brigham Young’s website at 6’2 and 195 pounds, Fredette is already much more physically developed at age 22 than most of the comparative names being thrown around by scouts and draftniks. Even in their NBA primes, JJ Redick, Steve Kerr and Mark Price did not look nearly as cut or muscular as Jimmer does now. When he gets into the paint, he is strong enough and skilled enough to get his shot off in traffic, finish through contact, and get to the line — through the tournament’s first weekend, he is averaging over 7.6 FTA per game this season, and shooting them at an 89% clip. His ball-handling has improved significantly, and once he makes his move to get the tiniest bit of space, he has a quick release on his jumper, both in the catch-and-shoot position and off the dribble, and uncanny range that extends way beyond the NBA 3-point line. He has a bit of an unconventional form, twisting his body to the side ever so slightly. That and a high release point make his shot very difficult to block or even affect as a defender. Overall, Fredette is one of the most gifted, effective scorers that I have ever seen, and I have very little doubt that he could step onto an NBA court right now and score 15-18 points a game.
While he is sneaky-quick, and in college has an ability to find his way to any spot on the court, Fredette’s frame does not appear to leave much room for development of added strength or speed, which severely hinders his upside and the ability to project him to improve as he grows. Unfortunately for him, basketball is played at two ends of the floor, and Jimmer just may be the worst defensive player I’ve ever seen at the college or pro level, both in effort and pure aptitude. Seriously, he makes Steve Nash look like the love child of Gary Payton and Sidney Moncrief. His coaches will try to argue that they want him to save himself from foul trouble so he stays on the court, but that’s a load of bull. Guards simply do not foul out often, certainly not in a 40-minute college game with a six-foul limit. In all the times I’ve watched him in the past two years, I don’t think I have seen him crouch down and even get into an effective defensive stance. His knees stay straight, and he floats around in front of his man, hoping he can coerce a jump shot to try to close out and challenge. Anytime he gets beaten off the dribble, he doesn’t pursue or recover any deeper than the free throw line.
He can be a very useful player, but his NBA coach must use him properly — if asked to take on a traditional point guard role, even if he ramps up his effort, Jimmer will give up 40 points a night, unable to stay in front of Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and most other 1’s, negating all of his offensive value and leaving his time on the court as a net loss. There is a place on almost any NBA team’s roster for a player of Jimmer’s scoring talent, but he must catch on with a team whose priorities do not involve defense at all (Golden State, this means you — thus creating a three-man backcourt rotation that could be gashed defensively by a high school girls’ team). The only alternative is to pair him with an excellent hybrid PG/SG defender (think Kirk Hinrich), with stellar help-defender bigs who can rotate quickly on penetration. In this case, Fredette could be moved around to defend the Keith Bogans’ and Derek Fisher’s of the world, and not have to expend much energy on defense.
Current NBA Comparison: Mo Williams
2010-2011 Final Stats: 28.9 PPG, 4.3 APG, .452 FG/.894 FT/.396 3PT