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NBA PM: Jimmer Fredette Running Out of Chances

Jimmer Fredette must do well with the Spurs this year or he may soon be out of the NBA.

Alex Kennedy

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Jimmer Fredette Running Out of Chances

It’s obviously very difficult to become an NBA player, but it’s even tougher to stick in the NBA or sign that lucrative contract every player covets. A long, successful career in the NBA is never guaranteed, no matter how successful a player was at another level or how high they were selected in the draft.

Jimmer Fredette is a perfect example of this. He was a household name during his collegiate career. As a senior at BYU, his games were must-watch television and he finished the season averaging 28.9 points, 4.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals. He carried the team, and there’s no question it was entertaining.

And, as I’ve mentioned in the past, his crazy numbers and seemingly unlimited three-point range even allowed him to briefly transcend the sports world and become part of pop culture. Lil Wayne dropped his name on the 2011 track Sure Thing (“I got a chopper and a trimmer shootin’ like Jimmer”). There were even entire songs about Fredette, with the most notable example being “Teach Me How to Jimmer” (which has millions of views on YouTube).

JimmerFredetteInsideOnly1However, despite all of that early success and recognition, Fredette now find his NBA career in jeopardy. Through four years in the NBA, Fredette has averaged 3.6 points and 1.2 assists, while shooting 41.2 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from three-point range.

Since being selected by the Sacramento Kings as the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft (a pick that many even questioned at the time), Fredette has bounced around the NBA quite a bit. This summer, he signed with the San Antonio Spurs, which will be his fourth team in five seasons. A number of players who were drafted after him back in 2011 have inked mega deals (such as Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Tobias Harris to name a few), but Fredette is on a one-year, minimum contract that is only partially guaranteed. That means if he doesn’t play well early in the season, San Antonio can waive him before his $947,276 salary becomes fully guaranteed on January 10, 2016 (and they’d only have to pay him $507,711).

This is the first year of Fredette’s career in which he’s made less than $2 million (since he was on his rookie-scale contract), but that kind of sums up how his career has gone to this point. While other players from his draft class are producing and earning more each season, his numbers and salary are decreasing.

In the NBA, Fredette just hasn’t been able to duplicate the success he had in college. As his averages show, he has struggled to score the ball. But it’s not just that, he hasn’t even been able to carve out a role as a three-point specialist in the league. He’s made just 192 threes total in his four-year career, which averages out to 48 per season (which would’ve ranked 168th in the NBA last year). Last season with the New Orleans Pelicans, he made just nine three-pointers in 50 games, shooting 18.8 percent from the field.

Not to mention, his biggest weakness is his defense. Last season, he ranked 391st of the NBA’s 474 players in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. He’s a liability on that end of the court, which is why it’s tough to keep him on the floor for long stretches; he has averaged 13.7 minutes per game over his four seasons, and the most minutes he’s averaged in a season was 18.6 as a rookie.

If Fredette were thriving as a scorer or even as just a three-point specialist, perhaps he’d earn more minutes (and have more teams interested and willing to overlook his defensive deficiencies). We see that happen in the NBA all the time. But when he’s barely contributing on offense and killing your team on defense, it’s hard to justify putting him on the court (or even signing him in the first place).

Fortunately for Fredette, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has a history of hiding poor defensive players. In fact, he has a name for this defensive scheme, which is named after his former player Vinny Del Negro.

“Some of the stuff we do on defense, we actually have one thing we call on the pin downs, we say we’re going to ‘Del Negro it’ and that’s in his honor and we’ve done that for 15 years,” Popovich said a few years ago. “We have a Del Negro defense out there because he couldn’t play a lick of D. At times we had to invent something just to hide him, so we call it ‘Del Negro’ and you do certain things on the court and everybody has to make up for that guy who’s the ‘Del Negro.’”

Signing with the Spurs was a very smart decision. In addition to Pop’s ability to compensate for struggling defenders, they have a history of turning scrap-heap players into key contributors and he’ll have plenty of weapons around him, which should give him open looks.

Fredette is dangerously close to being out of the NBA, so he really needs to emerge as a contributor with the Spurs this season – even if it’s just in a limited role – and carve out a niche for himself. His best bet is becoming a three-point specialist, since his shooting stroke has always been his best attribute.

He’s now 26 years old and if he has another failed stint or two, it’s possible that teams will stop offering those one-year deals and even the partially guaranteed money will dry up because teams will realize his failures haven’t been situational. A lot of executives and coaches like to believe that their franchise can be the one to turn a journeyman with some potential into a productive player, but that belief tends to diminish more and more with each failed stint a player has had with a new team.

It’s very possible that Fredette could thrive in San Antonio and this article looks silly one year from now (and, for Fredette’s sake, I hope that’s exactly what happens). The Spurs are excellent at turning another team’s trash into their treasure.

Bruce Bowen went undrafted and played for three French teams, two CBA teams and three other NBA teams (the Miami HEAT, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers) before he joined San Antonio, became a key piece on three champion squads and was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team in each of his eight seasons with San Antonio.

For a more recent example, Danny Green believed his NBA career was over just before he signed with the Spurs in 2010. He was selected with the 46th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but struggled with them and was waived just 20 games into his rookie season. After that, Green suited up for three different D-League teams and has said he believed he’d be forced to spend the rest of his career overseas if he wanted to make a living playing basketball. However, the Spurs signed him in November of 2010, he had a stint in Slovenia during the NBA lockout, returned to San Antonio right after and the rest is history. Now, he’s an NBA champion and one of the better two-way shooting guards in the game.

Fredette could end up being San Antonio’s latest reclamation project. Again, the fact that he’ll get open shots and be surrounded by quality defenders bodes well for him. He just needs to make the most of this opportunity playing for one of the NBA’s best teams in order to give him some security going forward.

If he does struggle once again this season, he may be relegated to either playing overseas or trying to make a team via a 10-day contract or training camp deal going forward. There are quite a few people in NBA circles who believe that Fredette simply isn’t an NBA-caliber player. His name and the hope that he still has some untapped potential has given him a number of opportunities, but he’s running out of opportunities to prove himself.

New Podcast Episode!

If you missed it last night, the latest episode of the Basketball Insiders Podcast dropped. In this installment, Steve Kyler and Eric Pincus discuss the trade rumors surrounding Jamal Crawford and what deals could make sense for the Los Angeles Clippers, Tristan Thompson’s negotiations with the Cleveland Cavaliers and much more. Listen here:

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective

The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.

Drew Maresca

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The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?

While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.

Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.

The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.

As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.

Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.

And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.

But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.

Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.

High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.

On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?

Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.

Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.

But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.

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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John

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It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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