Over the past few years, The Basketball Tournament — a a five-on-five summer hoops extravaganza in which fan-vote-determined teams battle in a winner-take-all single-elimination tournament for a big cash prize — has featured multiple former NBA players, including Jason Williams, Mike Bibby, Matt Bonner, Michael Sweetney and our very own Brian Scalabrine. When this year’s edition tips off later this month, it’ll feature another recognizable name: Jimmer Fredette, the former NCAA superstar 3-point flamethrower whose NBA career fizzled, leading him to ply his trade in China.
Now, he’s back, vying for his share of the $2 million in prize money … and, after that, another crack at an NBA roster spot. From Myron Medcalf of ESPN:
“I would always love to get another chance in the NBA,” Fredette told ESPN.com. “I’ve gotten better in China and improved every year. … You hope somebody takes notice. […]
Fredette, 29, said he’ll honor his contract and play another year in the Chinese Basketball Association, where the 6-foot-2 guard is a star, before pursuing another opportunity in the NBA. […] He said his time in China has helped him mature as a player. The competition in the TBT, he said, will help him prove it.
From NCAA superstar to NBA washout
After rising to collegiate superstar status with his long-range-bombing exploits at BYU, the Sacramento Kings were eager to capitalize on the box-office appeal of “Jimmermania,” selecting Fredette with the No. 10 pick in the 2011 NBA draft. (One spot ahead of Klay Thompson, five spots ahead of Kawhi Leonard and 20 spots ahead of Jimmy Butler. The draft is an inexact science.) But the 6-foot-2 Fredette had a hard time replicating his college success at the next level. He found it tougher to create shots against longer, quicker NBA defenders, and often failed to slow opponents on the other end.
Before long, fellow 2011 draft pick Isaiah Thomas — that year’s very last pick, in fact — was earning more minutes than Fredette, whose playing time declined over the next two seasons until Sacramento waived him just before the end of the 2013-14 season. The Chicago Bulls signed Fredette off the waiver wire, hoping his long-range shooting might help open up their second-unit offense. He never cracked Tom Thibodeau’s rotation, though, logging just 56 minutes in eight games; when the season ended, Chicago let him walk.
The New Orleans Pelicans picked him up next, giving him a one-year veteran’s minimum deal to see if he could help space the floor for rising star Anthony Davis. But he shot just 38 percent from the field and 18.8 percent from 3-point land, and continued to struggle defensively, which landed him on the fringes of Monty Williams’ rotation, and left him looking for a new gig come the summer. A 2015-16 training camp deal with the San Antonio Spurs didn’t result in a regular-season job; an early-season return to the injury-wracked Pelicans produced nothing of note before another release, which sent him to the D-League.
The big question: Was Jimmer willing to change?
An NBA assistant coach who had worked with Fredette told Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports that Jimmer’s problem was that, even after five years in which he never approximated his college stardom, he remained committed to trying to play the way he did at BYU:
“Jimmer thinks everybody is stupid,” said an NBA assistant who worked with Fredette. “He thinks everybody needs to come and just turn over their offense and let him shoot it anytime he wants. That’s not how the league works.” […]
“He won’t adjust his game for it,” he said. “He’ll tell you, ‘This is what I did at BYU.’ Well, BYU, that’s a long time ago.”
Fredette spent most of the 2015-16 season with the D-League’s Westchester Knicks, trying to prove he could help run a team and play competitive, professional defense. After he earned a D-League All-Star nod, the Knicks gave Fredette a 10-day contract; he barely saw the floor, though, playing just five total minutes in two appearances before the Knicks moved on.
Seeking a return to superstar status, Jimmer goes to Shanghai
When a Summer League stint with the Denver Nuggets didn’t lead to a job offer, Fredette took his talents to China, inking a deal to suit up for the Shanghai Sharks, owned by former NBA All-Star Yao Ming. Given the chance to run and gun in monster minutes as a high-priced American import playing against a lower level of competition, Fredette resumed putting up points in bunches and became a fan favorite, leading the Chinese Basketball Association in scoring, being named the CBA’s most valuable international player, and even landing his own signature shoe. (He also squabbled with Stephon Marbury, in a heartbreaking clash of two Knicks legends.)
China agreed with him so much that he re-upped on a second one-year deal for the 2017-18 season, during which he averaged a shade under 37 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. Now, though, he’s evidently interested in making another run at the big time.
Could this Jimmer Fredette’s last shot at the NBA?
At age 29, Fredette’s likely still got some good years left. Then again, at age 29, he might be running out of time to get back on the NBA’s radar and prove he’s worked himself into become a player worth another shot after a stay overseas, like P.J. Tucker, Patrick Beverley and Michael Beasley, among others.
According to TBT founder Jonathan Mugar, 16 players who participated in last year’s tournament have since signed NBA contracts. If Fredette can show out — not just from long distance, but also as a distributor and on the defensive end — maybe he’ll get add his name to that list.
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