On January 26, 2011 I sat in the fourth row of the Marriott Center in Provo, UT for what would end up being one of the biggest victories in BYU basketball history. I watched in awe as Jimmer Fredette, in the midst of his historic senior season, led No. 9 BYU to a huge upset win over Kawhi Leonard and the No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs.
Though the game was close, Fredette was in control, finishing with a casual 43 points on 14-24 shooting and ultimately outlasting Leonard's 22 point and 15 rebound effort. Jimmer sealed the deal with a pair of late threes, but as thousands of screaming fans relished in the win afterwards I couldn't help but wonder if Fredette's game could actually translate to the NBA.
Five years later, I'm still wondering the same thing as I watch Fredette try and salvage his career after not being able to find any continuity or a team that is willing to take him on for good. I've followed him as he bounced around from Sacramento to Chicago to New Orleans to the D-League to New York for 10 days and now to the Denver Nuggets Summer League team where so far he has played a huge role on the team.
In three Summer League games Fredette has impressed, averaging 16 points per game on 43.8 percent shooting from deep. Like during his scorching collegiate campaign, Jimmermania of old has been rekindled with every shot he takes, and with that comes the inevitable question of whether or not Denver should take on the former NCAA superstar.
From a basketball standpoint, you know what you're going to get out of Fredette. He's a godly shooter who can also make some scoring plays, but other than that not much can be expected from him on the court. The Nuggets of course have been a terrible shooting team in recent years and remedying this issue has been the focal point of this offseason. By that measure he would be most welcome.
He does have his weaknesses on defense and his lack of length and elite athleticism makes it hard to keep up with higher caliber players. In this case I don't think that's a huge concern because if he did end up in a Nuggets jersey he'd likely be a third-string guard where defense isn't necessarily seen as a requirement anyways.
Off the court he is a relentlessly hard worker and has the drive to succeed as evidenced by his numerous collegiate awards and success in the D-League. He has personal connections to Denver and has been working out with the Nuggets organization this offseason. He has an outstanding moral character that would befit the positive culture Michael Malone has worked to build. Ultimately, he's the kind of guy that everyone wants to see succeed at the highest level.
Put all of this on paper and Fredette seems like natural fit, with Denver potentially becoming the perfect situation for him to finally have the career he has always wanted. But in reality, I don't think he makes the team any better than they are without him - and a lot of that comes down to it just being bad timing for him.
After this past draft, the Nuggets are already deep in the backcourt with Emmanuel Mudiay, Jameer Nelson, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Will Barton and Malik Beasley. Aside from possibly replacing Nelson, there really isn't a logical spot for Jimmer; and even if Denver was looking to replace Jameer they could have done it with the veteran D.J. Augustin instead.
Sure, having an extra point guard on the roster as insurance wouldn't hurt, but signing Fredette would also mean taking a spot away from someone else where it might be needed more. As it stands there appear to be 13 spots locked in including Murray and Beasley (who just signed), but more than two players are in contention for those remaining spots.
Axel Toupane has had a very strong Summer League; both he and JaKarr Sampson have non-guaranteed contracts and will be in consideration as third-string small forwards. Juan Hernangomez has looked pretty darn good in Summer League as well and could come over sooner than initially expected. Grizzled veteran Mike Miller has yet to sign elsewhere but would still provide intangible value as a mentor (and as an MVP inbounder during crunch time). Throw Jimmer in the mix and you can see that these two spots will be coveted territory come training camp.
If it were any other year, I'd be all about bringing Jimmer on board to give him another shot at making his NBA dreams come true. But I think the Nuggets have enough pieces on the roster now, especially at the guards, where they need to let the younger guys develop as much as possible. Jimmer is fun to watch no doubt, but even in garbage time I'd rather see Murray and Beasley get burn over him because they both have a much higher ceiling. For the other two spots, if they went to Toupane and Hernangomez I would be thrilled.
At most I think Fredette will get a training camp invite but will ultimately be left to try again somewhere else. I think it would be in his best interest anyways to find a team where he could get more playing time to develop into an actual role player. He's played well enough this summer that someone should pick him up and give him a better opportunity to succeed than what Denver has to offer. As always Jimmermania is a blast, but this time it doesn't appear that the cards are on the table for him and the Nuggets.