By Evan Hall
After Jimmer Fredette's two-and-a-half lackluster seasons of middling-to-mediocre play for the Sacramento Kings -- who have, graciously and mercifully, finally bought out Fredette's contract -- it feels safe to say that for most of us, our most enduring images of Jimmer the Phenom will come from his college years.
This may seem painfully disappointing from the perspective of the many Fredette truthers who converted to the cause during his incomparably virtuoso senior season, but for fans of both the college and the pro game, this is a familiar story. It's the story of Adam Morrison, of Rashad McCants and of Emeka Okafor. It's the story of the accomplished, nationally respected college player, drafted with expectations and ultimately neutered by a relentless, more demanding and more athletic version of a game they had always dominated. It's the college iconoclast, once a powerful individualist, muted by the Hobbes-ian hellscape of the NBA competition.
Perhaps in retrospect, we've lost sight of what Fredette actually was, in the same way we've lost sight of what Raymond Felton once was, as Andrew Sharp detailed over at Grantland. It was a trendy thing, during the peak moments of the frequently deafening Fredette hype, to deconstruct Fredette as nothing more than a gunner on a team with the luxury of a coach and a system that enabled his gunning. This may have been true in the broadest sense of the term "gunner" -- a player with a usage rate that dwarfed his teammates' -- but was more than a little unfair, at least in its connotations, of the kind of offensive weapon Fredette was.
He shot a lot, sure, but he remained relatively efficient, at least for a college player who carried a disproportionate piece of his team's offensive load, and he could -- and this is not gratuitous hyperbole -- shoot from literally anywhere in a halfcourt set. That's not to say that he could just get the ball to the hoop from 30 feet out, but that his percentages wouldn't drastically dive in the attempt. Fredette was never the cookie-cutter shot chucker, and to call him that, even after seeing his relative failure in the pros thus far in his career, was to miss what made him an unpredictable, unique and entertaining player.
The quintessential Fredette moment was probably the embarrassingly deep three against TCU, and it works well as a microcosm of his college career.
Jimmer was Jimmer enough back then that when he pulled up from that far away, it didn't seem insane that he would try. If the exasperated shrug of Jim Christian, TCU's coach at the time, is any indication, it was at least a little surprising that he made it. But even Christian, standing as he was closer to the basket than Fredette, could be forgiven for his exasperation. This was just the kind of casual moment in a game that threatened to pass away insignificantly before Fredette stepped into his ergonomic shooting motion. He played carelessly, but not with the erratic, rapid-fire J.R. Smith carelessness. It's not that his carefree onslaught came from a clueless misunderstanding of his role or his skills. Rather, he understood precisely what stage he was on, and precisely how perfectly suited to his skills that stage was. So pulling up from near-halfcourt was not a heat check. It was, like Fredette's whole body of superlative-inducing work at BYU, just another shot he felt like taking.
But that's what the NBA does to a player like him, for better (far more often for better) or for worse. Either because of the staggeringly high stakes or because of the enormous talent disparity of the competition or some combination of the two, the NBA sometimes rubs off the some of the idiosyncratic edges of a player with as specific a kind of greatness as Fredette's. The league can take a player like Fredette and streamline him into something more useful and specialized, like Nate Robinson. It isn't always a dilution of his oncourt style -- more often than not, the NBA brings out character in a way the college game never could. All the court space, for instance, has given Russell Westbrook room to develop into a startling personification of vitality. But for Fredette, we got something like the opposite.
NBA Fredette, at least on the Kings, was not in a position to pull up from 33 feet on a sagging defender and thoughtlessly, assuredly rise into a jump shot. Instead, we got Fredette playing like other, more specialized players: like Kyle Korver -- rolling around screens, spotting up in corners -- or like Damian Lillard with no inside game, just tons of PNR shots off the dribble. This wasn't all bad, and Fredette's ineffectiveness in this role is a little overstated. He is shooting 49 percent from three-point range, after all. But it wasn't the TCU-game Fredette, and except the short spurt of career high points against the Knicks, that Fredette has been largely buried beneath the grind of playing within a system not built for him and the demands of playing in a league too athletic for him.
So then, that's the hopeful thing about his being bought out and of his possible future with another team. The Kings, during Fredette's brief tenure with them, have not been a model of franchise stability, but as the Monta Ellis renaissance has shown, sometimes all a player needs is a new set of better (or even just different) teammates. Fredette will never be an All-Star, and it's getting harder to believe he'll even play a significant role on a contender, but then again, DeShawn Stevenson once played a significant role on a championship team.
It's definitely not over for Fredette, but it's not just trite to say it's just beginning: in this case, even that bar is too imposing an expectation. Should he sign with Chicago to play the Robinson part or with Memphis as insurance shooting, his career might become less about his past accomplishments and more about his present contributions. Those will almost certainly be modest, and that's okay. He's just trying to carve out a career at this point. But maybe, for a quarter or a half of a first-round playoff game, Fredette will peel back the layers of his recently acquired self-consciousness, and he'll start firing up 35-footers. That may seem like a low expectation for a former Naismith winner, but for an individualist like the Fredette, there's no more meaningful victory than retrieving your identity, however fleetingly.
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Evan Hall is a freelance writer from Boise, Idaho who has written for the Classical and Salt City Hoops of the ESPN TrueHoop Network. You can find him on Twitter @the20thmaine.