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Extra Pass: Jimmer Fredette salvaging NBA career with long 3-pointers

Feb 13, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Jimmer Fredette – the bright lights of Madison Square Garden shining on him – walked the ball up court and called out a play. Of course, Fredette has never been big on plays. His freelancing, gunning style endeared him to fans at Brigham Young, where he carried the program to unprecedented heights.

Fredette noticed his defender backpedaling, and whatever play Fredette was calling went out the window. He pulled up for a 26-foot 3-pointer.

Swish.

“You dream about this,” said Fredette, a native of Glen Falls, N.Y., whose shot gave him 13 points in his first 4:19 of playing time.

On the Kings bench, Quincy Acy excitedly spiked his towel to the floor.

Unfortunately for Fredette, the path of Acy’s towel – straight down – symbolizes Fredette’s college-to-pro transition more accurately than his breathtaking shot.

Can Fredette build off his performance Wednesday – a career-high 24 points in a win over the New York Knicks – and carve out a successful NBA future?

Just three years ago, Fredette was the darling of college basketball. The Kings, via the Milwaukee Bucks, got him with the No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft. “Jimmer is exactly what the Kings need right now,” said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA player.

Not quite.

Fredette struggled as a rookie, and though he improved moderately in his second year, the Kings declined the fourth-year option on his rookie contract before this season. That will make Fredette a free agent after the season, putting Fredette on a precarious path.

In the draft class before his, eight players had their fourth-year option declined.

Two, Dominique Jones and Lazar Hayward, are already out of the league. Elliot Williams likely would be out of the NBA too if the tanking 76ers weren’t willing to give minus young players a chance at minutes. Luke Babbitt made a roster only as a mid-season injury replacement.

On the bright side, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry are hanging on with the lousy Lakers. Cole Aldrich occasionally gets to play for the Knicks. And Al-Farouq Aminu starts for the Pelicans. None of those four are in the most glamorous positions, but they’re all firmly entrenched in the NBA for at least this season.

That’s a 50-50 shot for players in Fredette is heading into after this season. Which direction will he go?

Signs are increasingly pointing to Fredette lasting in the league, at least for a little while.

He’ll probably always be a harmful defender, asking him to distribute the ball is just asking for turnovers. But after shooting barely above league from beyond the arc as a rookie, Fredette has made 36-of-73 3-pointers this season – a league-best 49.3 percent.

Renowned for his ridiculous range by college standards, Fredette has expanded his comfort zone deep beyond the NBA arc (23 feet, 9 inches above the break and 22 feet in the corners).

It has made all the difference.

Just 6-foot-2, Fredette sometimes struggles to create shooting space over longer NBA defenders, especially because he’s working off the ball more than he did at BYU. But long 3-pointers help Fredette get off cleaner shots.

He’s never been shy about attempting those deep bombs, but his accuracy on them has improved remarkably in his three professional seasons. He even makes them more often now than his closer 3s.

Here’s Fredette’s season-by-season shooting percentage on 3-pointers from 25 to 29 feet (purple) and closer 3-pointers (black):

image

Fredette actually leads the NBA in shooting percentage between 25 and 29 feet (more than 25 attempts), making 22-of-41 such shots (53.7 percent).

His 26-footer wasn’t even his longest basket Wednesday. He also made a 28-footer as a closing Carmelo Anthony couldn’t make up the extra ground to challenge the shot. (And spare the Melo defense jokes, at least for a moment. He was actually trying to contest the attempt.)

By then, Acy’s towel had been picked up from the floor. It wasn’t doomed to stay down forever.

Fredette, it seems, isn’t either.

He’s lifting himself back up, one step back farther behind the arc at a time.

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