Into the unknown: what to make of Jimmer Fredette

Even though his most strident supporters don’t see him ever making an All Star team, Jimmer Fredette is the most talked about prospect in this year’s draft. The reasons, if oversimplified here, are obvious.

  • He scored an unbelievable amount of points with relatively high efficiency. Here’s an impressive list of people who have scored 28.9 points per game on 45 percent shooting since 1999.
  • He scored a lot of those points by splashing home comically long pull ups. His range is NBA ready, and because the college line is so close, pulling up for a 28 footer looks insane…until it goes in. That’s fun to watch.
  • He’s good looking, charismatic, of high character, and white. The Jimmer brand is second to none, and he didn’t do anything other than play and smile to create it.
  • He’s Mormon and was BYU’s first real golden boy since Steve Young. It’d be like if Stephon Marbury had gone to St. John’s, stayed four years and broken every school scoring record.

Working against Fredette’s draft stock are the usual concerns associated with an average (by NBA standards) athlete who comes from a non-BCS conference. However the Mountain West was a strong conference, and Fredette played well against top competition all year. Many rated the Mountain West higher than the Pac-10, the big name conference from which consensus #2 pick Derrick Williams hails.

But the real issue will grading or judging Fredette goes beyond his skin color or even the eye-popping numbers he put up in college (please, no “if he wasn’t white you wouldn’t say that” comments). The truth is that Fredette comes from a system and a situation that differs wildly from any he could conceivably enter in the NBA.

It’s hard to recall a player with a longer leash to do as he pleased offensively. Most college players must produce in systems that may hamper their preferred style of play (see Westbrook, Russell). But Fredette was encouraged to pull up pretty much as soon as he crossed half court, was allowed to dribble around as much as he pleased and played in a spread offense that provided maximum spacing and opportunity for him to shine.

Essentially, BYU decided that he needed to shoot all the time for them to win—and they won a ton of games with that strategy. As David Thorpe pointed out a couple months ago, it’s exceedingly unlikely that any rookie point guard would be given the green light to pound the rock flat that often, let alone pull up whenever possible.

Maybe Fredette will adjust quickly, become a catch-and-shoot threat and master pass/shoot decisions off of pick-and-rolls. He’ll certainly need to fine tune a Nash-like ability to shoot and score over players a foot taller than him to truly be effective in that role.

The other troubling unknown is Jimmer’s defensive floor/ceiling, because Jimmer ‘s career offers scouts almost no worthwhile information. Not only did his team play a 2-3 zone, but Fredette’s defense was apathetic, lethargic and fundamentally unsound. There are concerns about his size and lateral movement to begin with, but watch the film and you’ll see that, and again I’m assuming this is part of his team’s game plan, he really didn’t try all that much on one end of the court.

Apparently he’s been doing a decent job defending top prospects in workouts, and he has the strength and length to be an average defender. But over four years of college hoops, there’s almost no evidence of him playing consistently average defense in a game situation.

If the best indicator of future performance is past performance, judging how well Fredette will defend as a pro is an act of pure imagination. There’s just so little to go on, and what there is isn’t flattering.

Fredette is sort of like a Heisman winning college quarterback who piled up yardage in a spread offense. He may turn out to be a capable starter, but he may also look helpless when separated from the circumstances under which he flourished. In his the last two, brilliant seasons, Fredette was clearly not quarterbacking a “pro-stlye offense.”

I see Fredette as an elite shooter who will be a capable backup point guard, and perhaps something approximating a less athletic Jason Terry. I don’t believe he’s all that risky of a pick, because I don’t think his ceiling all that high, and it’s tough for me to believe a player with his skills can’t at least be an obscenely wealthy man’s Troy Hudson.

That seems like a sensible evaluation to me.

Yet there remains the inescapable fact that Jimmer Fredette, for all the coverage and hype, is an enigma. That means we get to have fun thinking and arguing about all the different ways his career could go. But the limits on his body, and what we’ve seen from his game, suggest a far more narrow set of possibilities. That makes him safe, in one regard, but does it make him a top 10 pick?

I always suspected that the NBA owners and front office personnel pushed for an age limit so that they could have more time to evaluate prospects and invest less in unknown prospects. You know, like consensus #1 pick Kyrie Irving, who played all of 11 games last year. But Irving played in a system and with a game that is easily recognizable as “NBA ready.”

Jimmer is a stranger beast. He’s played a ton, but in a fantasy land that makes it nearly impossible to know what’s real and what’s a mirage.

Twitter: @BeckleyMason

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