He's far from the best NBA prospect competing in the Sweet 16, but there's no doubting that Jimmer Fredette is the most entertaining. And interesting. Not to mention polarizing.
The BYU senior's game, with the Xbox ability to score at will and with volume from anywhere on the floor, has some NBA personnel men salivating at the baskets he will be filling up at the next level. Others dismiss him as a "role player," or an even more derogatory term.
|Jimmer Fredette's ability to get shots off at all angles entices NBA scouts. (Getty Images)|
As Fredette, the scoring sensation from Glens Falls, N.Y., gets ready for BYU's Southeast Regional showdown against Florida on Thursday night, opinions vary widely on how he projects as a pro. Plenty of NBA scouts and personnel men will be on hand in New Orleans, curious to see if Fredette's offensive arsenal is enough to shoot BYU into the Final Four. If it is, some executives say, the performance might be enough to propel Fredette into the mid-to-high lottery in this June's NBA Draft.
"Right now, he's mid-first round for sure," an NBA personnel man said. "But if he plays well this week, he could be late lottery."
GMs marvel at Fredette's range, ability to score with either hand, drive in traffic and take off on either foot, as well as his strength, toughness and craftiness. Conversations this week with pro personnel men resulted in comparisons ranging from Steve Kerr (only better) to Manu Ginobili (only quicker) to Stephen Curry (only smaller).
Most executives consulted this week believe Fredette will find a niche in the NBA, though many believe that niche will be limited to coming off the bench as a one-dimensional scorer -- albeit a sensational one. While most scouts believe Fredette has enough talent and savvy to figure out how to get his shots off at the next level against a mix of bigger, quicker and smarter defenders, the problem is -- and always will be -- his own deficiencies on the defensive end.
Opinions range from one executive's assertion that Fredette's defensive liabilities can be compensated for and hidden to another who called Jimmer "as bad a defender as I've scouted."
"Have you watched him defend?" another personnel man said. "Wow."
The problem at the next level for Fredette will be a daunting combination of poor lateral quickness and lack of height for his position. With his scoring ability, some GMs believe Fredette would be better suited at shooting guard in the NBA but fear his 6-foot-2 frame will leave him vulnerable against bigger, longer wings. Though some believe he could be serviceable as a point guard, they use that term loosely. As in, he would be serviceable when defending Derek Fisher, but would get lit up by the likes of Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul. Deron Williams, who has size and quickness? You could hide the women and children, but there would be no hiding Jimmer in that matchup.
Jimmer Fredette in the first round? Have NBA general managers learned nothing from Adam Morrison? Read More >>
|More on BYU|
But knowing all that, NBA execs who've scouted Fredette's run through the conference tournament and to the Sweet 16 -- including his 52-point scalding of New Mexico on March 11, via 22-for-37 shooting from the field -- are mostly willing to look past his weaknesses and enjoy his offensive exploits.
"The old saying is that hopefully you can teach people to defend at least to a certain point," one Eastern Conference GM said. "But you can't teach the offensive skill set that he has."
Or, as another GM put it: "You start talking about elite shooters, which he's proven himself to be, how many of those guys have come into this league as elite shooters and failed? Not many."
Which begs the question: Does Fredette project more as a John Paxson or Scott Skiles type? Or is he Steve Alford? Or worse, Damon Bailey? All these names, brought up by NBA personnel people, raise a bigger question: As an American-born white player, will Fredette be able to escape the stereotypes and expectations that go along with that pedigree? It is a question that one organization, in particular, will find itself wrestling with on draft night: the Utah Jazz.
Having carved out a brilliant college career just 45 miles down the road from Salt Lake City on the BYU campus in Provo, Fredette presents an opportunity and a dilemma for the rebuilding Jazz. Only months after trading Williams for fear of losing him, the Jazz will face the tremendous temptation to fill the void by stepping up and drafting Fredette in the mid-teens.
"It'll be tough for Utah to pass on him," one executive said. "If he's sitting there when they pick, you almost can't do it."
Only two problems: 1) Can the Jazz afford to spend a lottery pick on a player who may be destined to spend his career coming off the bench? And 2) the expectations in the state where Fredette played college ball will be so astronomical that he'll probably be unable to ever meet them.
"There will be too much pressure on him to be what he is at BYU, and he won't be capable of that in the league," a Western Conference GM said.
As difficult as it would be to turn their backs on thousands of Jimmer-related season-ticket sales, the Jazz would be making the mistake that Indiana avoided in the 1987 draft, execs say. Amid a groundswell of support in the Hoosier State for Pacers president Donnie Walsh to select Indiana University's Steve Alford, Walsh passed and took Reggie Miller instead. A mistake with that pick would've cost the Pacers more than a decade of success, including a Finals appearance in 2000.
"Not the right move," another GM said of the Jazz reaching for Fredette. "Not the right player for Utah's culture."
The only tangible evidence of how Fredette's game will translate to the NBA came last summer, when he competed with the Team USA men's select team during the run-up to the world championships. Jimmer, by all accounts, struggled against quicker point guards but mostly held his own -- and his offensive skills found a way to shine through.
"He had a hard time going around D-Rose and those guys, but he did well enough that it didn't affect him," an international scout said. "He's got deep range, so with deep range you've got to guard him. Also, he's able to get by you with ball-handling and with off-balance plays -- similar to Ginobili, but quicker, of course. He has the ability to put his body on you because he's strong and get off you and get his shot off with his left or right.
"He's the real deal, no question," the scout said. "Not a starter, but a good, solid player to come in and help your team win."
Which is what the Jimmer will try to do Thursday night against Florida in his bid to lead BYU to the Elite Eight and beyond -- while quieting the doubters on his way up NBA Draft boards.