Jimmer Fredette and the NBA Draft

With last night’s loss, Jimmer Fredette has officially played his last college basketball game. And it was a great career. He scored a lot of points and won a lot of games, but most importantly, he put BYU basketball back on the map. Jimmer was the reason BYU got to Sweet 16, but he was also the reason they had games broadcast nationally and got front-page coverage in big publications and websites. Whether you like him or not, Jimmer Fredette did more this season for the BYU hoops image than anyone I can remember doing for their team in a single season. Admittedly, my memory is short, but don’t lose the point: Jimmer Fredette was huger than huge for the BYU Cougars this season. He’s even the reason that I’m still talking about BYU now that they aren’t alive in the tournament any more.

What I don’t want to talk about is whether or not Jimmer was good this year, that’s a given. If you don’t agree with that, then you haven’t been watching basketball. Or you have been, but you don’t understand what you’re seeing, like anyone watching Being John Malkovich for the first time. What I do want to cover about is all the Jimmer-won’t-be-good-in-the-NBA talk that seems to be going around right now. It’s something I don’t understand.

"Look at these shoulders and arms and call me small again."

We’ve been hearing the knocks on the Jimmer all season long and especially now that he’s just exited the Dance and will now be relevant only as an NBA draft prospect. He can’t play defense. He’s too small. He’s not athletic enough. All he can do is score, and even then, he only scores so much because he shoots so much. These are the typical Jimmer knocks. And there is certainly some truth to those, but to say that his NBA future is bleak is ridiculous. Let’s look at each of these criticisms and see how much water they hold:

He can’t play defense — When you watch BYU games, this is probably the most notable negative for Fredette. He really doesn’t make too much of an effort to play physical defense, but I think there’s a lot more to this then an inability to defend. To start, Jimmer’s role on the Cougars is to be the offense. All of it. And he’s great at what he does there, but an important part of being the offense is staying on the floor. Last night, Jimmer played 44 of 45 minutes. He never comes out of the gamer, and were he to play aggressive defense he would run the risk of picking up ticky-tack fouls that would force his playing time down. The NCAA isn’t the NBA game where the elite players are protected so much from foul trouble, and benching Fredette would largely doom the Cougars, so it’s reasonable to assume that he takes his foot off the gas a little on defense to save himself for shouldering all of the offensive burden.

I’m not trying to excuse his defense as much as I’m arguing more for a grade of “incomplete.” The great thing about sports is that you can always work on your areas of weakness in practice, and I’m sure some coach could teach him some defensive tips that might help.

He’s too small — He’s 6’2” and a pretty solid 195. In the NBA, he’d probably need to shift more to a 1 to match up size-wise. Similar to what Steph Curry did at Golden State (the comparisons between Curry and Fredette are super easy to see, and Steph is doing pretty well in the NBA with the big boys). I don’t see this to be that much of a problem, he spent a lot of time handling the ball for BYU and started off the game last night playing the role of distributor for most of the first half.

He’s not athletic enough — I’ll cover more of how I feel about this criticism when I discuss the NBA draft later, but I don’t’ see Jimmer being at too large of an athleticism deficit compared to other guards. He has fantastic body control and can shoot accurately from some unreal angles. I haven’t ever watched him and been underwhelmed with his athletic abilities.

Just guess at how far his range goes. Just try him.

All he can do is score — First off, to say that all he can do is score is like saying that all Cyclops can do is shoot beams out of his eyes. He doesn’t just score, he SCORES. Jimmer can shoot accurately and from anywhere inside the half-court line. He drives, he gets to the free throw line, and he does it all against constant double-teams. He even creates for other people. In the last three seasons, he averaged over four assists per game. His offensive skill set is unmatched in this year’s draft class. Sure there are a couple of complete all-around players in the draft this year, but I feel like every year has a handful of these guys and after about the fifth or sixth spot, guys get drafted as specialists who can turn the weak areas of their game into multiple-season improvement projects.

I’m not going to say that Jimmer is a sure thing in this draft, but it’s silly to write him off as a pro because of his game. Anyone who watches the NBA can tell you that there’s room for a scorer on a roster, and he is the best one in this draft class.

Every year, it seems to me like there are great college players who people project will under-perform in the NBA, so their draft stock slips. And then people are really surprised when a guy like Dejuan Blair or Tyler Hansbrough (Elite college players) succeed in the NBA. Every year there are guys that everyone projects as a great draft option even though they kind of suck (looking at you, Perry Jones). I don’t want to come off like I think that guys who are good in college will always be good in the NBA, but I think that there is certainly something to be said for a guy who has delivered this regularly at the college level. I think Jimmer Fredette will be a valuable pro, in the mold of Curry and even JJ Redick, who contributes pretty well for the Magic now. As for all the Jimmer haters, I just don’t get it. You can point out flaws in anyone’s games. But talk about skills and what a guy has to offer to a pro team, and I don’t see more than a handful of players who are that far ahead of Jimmer.