Word on the street is that there’s a Jimmer Fredette buyout cooking in Sacramento. The Kings are expected to part ways with the polarizing sharp shooter, leaving #SwaggyJ free to sign anywhere in the league.
To the Kings, the metaphorical cooks in this situation, this move allows more playing time for rookie Ray McCallum, bringing a fresh smell of new beginnings. Fredette is probably taking in a similar scent, as he will be allowed to find a new city and perhaps meaningful playing time. The “Stormin’ Mormon” may soon be smelling the subways of New York, the dry-rubbed ribs of Memphis, or even the foamy beaches of Miami.
But to me, a full-fledged member of the Niner Empire and Kings-loving Sacramento native, this bubbling buyout smells very familiar.
This REEKS of Alex Smith.
Jimmer Fredette IS Alex Smith. And if he’s lucky, this parallel won’t die when Jimmer-mania breaks ground in a new city.
Allow me to explain.
At 6’2″, Fredette is a small guard by NBA standards. He is often criticized for his physical limitations, lack of speed and athleticism being the most often used weapons by the anti-Jimmer army.
The rap on Alex Smith during his early years was that his hands were too small. Smith’s minuscule mitts, in theory, would result in more fumbles and less accurate passes.
Smith and Fredette both played in colleges offenses geared towards them.
Jimmer had free reign at BYU (located in Provo, Utah), shooting threes from anywhere and everywhere. He was the focal point of the offense, and the Cougars fed Jimmer like a prize pig. In his senior season, Fredette attempted 765 field goals including 313 threes. BYU’s run and gun style of play emphasized his strengths (three point shooting) while hiding his weaknesses (defense, ball-handling).
Alex ran the spread under Urban Meyer at the University of Utah. This high paced offense was relatively new at the time, and has since become the dominant offense of college football. At this time however, the spread was not an offense ran in the NFL. Smith had to make a tough transition from the spread, an offense that played to his strengths (mobility, intelligence, and short-pass accuracy) and kept his weaknesses (long ball accuracy, sideline accuracy) in the closet.
Both players played in small conferences (Utah in 2005 was in the Mountain West Conference, BYU was in the even tinier Mountain Pacific Sports Conference during Jimmer-mania).
The small conferences and player-specific offenses did not make for a smooth transition to the pro’s for either player.
Draft Day Troubles
Although Fredette was not the first overall pick, his draft experience mirrors Smith’s in multiple ways.
Both men were early picks (Smith 1st overall in 2005, Fredette 10th in 2011) and therefore went to terrible teams. These teams were not only bad, but bad in areas that directly effected the development of their 1st round picks.
Fredette went to a Kings team that lacked an inside presence. This meant opposing defenses could focus on the perimeter, rendering him useless. Fredette can get buckets from just about anywhere, but struggles to create his own shot. At that time, Sacramento’s offense consisted of giving 2009 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans the ball and getting the hell out of the way. Evans can do just about everything on his way to the basket… except for find the open man. This, and the general instability of the Kings during Jimmer’s time in Sacramento greatly limited his growth. Sacramento might have been just about the worst place in the league for Jimmer to go to.
In 2005, Alex Smith found himself at the helm of one of the worst football teams in San Francisco 49ers history. The chief reason for the 49ers abysmal state was their offensive line. After taking over for Tim Rattay halfway through his rookie campaign, Smith often ran for his life. For a young quarterback, an awful offensive line can be catastrophic. While it didn’t kill him, it certainly wasn’t helpful as Smith posted QB ratings of 40.8, 74.8, 57.2, and 81.5 during his first four seasons.
For both players, their draft location was less than ideal, especially for their type of player.
Additionally, both players have had the successes of later selections outplay them.
Smith famously was selected over Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers (picked 23 spots later), who has gone on to win a Super Bowl and become an elite player.
Fredette was picked before Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson, two of the NBA’s best young talents.
Fredette and Smith’s own teams were also able to find better players later in the same draft. These lower selections ended up overshadowing both Jimmer and Alex during their times with their respective teams.
Sacramento found a gem in Isaiah Thomas, the last pick in the draft. Thomas, who happens to play the same position as Fredette, has turned himself into a top 10 point guard and is one of the best players in league history to be selected with the 60th pick. Thomas has become the offensive force Sacramento was hoping to get in Fredette.
San Francisco made what might have been their best draft pick since Terrell Owens, selecting University of Miami running back Frank Gore in the third round. Gore played alongside Smith for his entire tenure in San Francisco, and is the leading rusher in franchise history. Frank Gore is a living 49er legend, and was the star the Niners hoped Smith would be.
Fredette and Smith did not meet expectations.
Fredette saw his playing time dwindle after the emergence of Isaiah Thomas and was not able to help a Kings team that descended to the basement of the league yet again.
Smith experienced a rift with coach Mike Nolan after a shoulder injury, and put together several disappointing seasons as the unstable starter of one of the league’s worst offenses.
An area where Smith and Fredette really mirror each other is the lack of consistent coaching they received early in their careers. Keep in mind Fredette is still in the early stages of his career. In Jimmer’s three years in Sacramento, he was coached by Paul Westphal (fired 7 games into the 2011 season), Keith Smart (48-93 in his tenure with the Kings), and Mike Malone (first time head coach).
Smith had an oddly similar lack of consistency. From his rookie year in 2005 until his career rebirth in 2011, Alex Smith changed offensive coordinators every year. There was Mike McCarthy (left to become Green Bay’s head coach after 2005 season), Norv Turner (left to become head coach of San Diego Chargers after 2006 season), Jim Hostler (fired for being terrible after 2006 season), Mike Martz (nearly killed Smith), Jimmy Raye (so bad it hurts to say his name, fired 3 games into 2010 season), Mike Johnson (interim coordinator for 13 games in 2010), and finally Greg Roman in 2011. Roman became the first 49er offensive coordinator to coach two full seasons in a row since Greg Knapp (’02, ’03) when he was retained in 2012.
Rarely has an athlete received less stability than Alex Smith (four head coaches during his time in SF) during his formative years in professional sports.
Fredette has yet to have the same coach start the season in consecutive years.
Smith had his best season as a pro after Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011. Showing an unprecedented faith in Alex, coach Harbaugh turned the fortunes of the franchise around in his first year at the NFL level. He put Smith in a system that allowed him to flourish, throwing 17 touchdowns and five interceptions on his way to his first playoff birth. Harbaugh was able to put Smith in a comfortable situation for the first time in his career. Smith and 49ers’ season ended two fair catches short of a Super Bowl appearance.
For Fredette, the turnaround has been the first half of this season. After receiving a consistent time slot from coach Malone, Jimmer has played the best ball of his young career.
On October 29, 2012, Alex Smith played the best game of his career. He destroyed the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football, completing 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns. HIs quarterback rating that night was an absurd 157.1, a career high.
He would never play a complete game for the 49ers again.
Just two weeks ago, Jimmer Fredette played the best game of his career. During a 24 point outburst against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, he connected on six of nine three point attempts, had two assists, and two steals in just 27 minutes.
Since then, Jimmer has played just four minutes for the Kings.
He will likely never don a Sacramento uniform again.
This is where it gets interesting.
Smith was famously replaced by the enigmatic and supremely talented Colin Kaepernick, and banished from his starting role. Per his request, he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs following the 2012 season. Smith had another strong season in 2013, leading the Chiefs to the playoffs. He has established himself as a capable starter in the NFL and shed the failures of the past.
Only time will tell if Jimmer Fredette’s path continues to mirror Alex Smith’s. I believe that Jimmer can go elsewhere and become a solid NBA player if a Harbaugh-like figure enters his career. He has to enter a system that fits him and have a coach that’s willing to give him significant playing time.
I never understood why the Kings didn’t throw Jimmer in at shooting guard and give him a chance to play off the ball. While some might argue he doesn’t have the defensive skills to guard other two guards, it’s not like Marcus Thornton or Ben McLemore are elite defenders either. I would have liked to see the Kings give Jimmer more of a chance, but understand why they are buying him out. This is a move for the future.
Wherever Jimmer winds up, I’m sure Kings fans will continue to root for one of the NBA’s most entertaining heat-check players. After all, many 49ers fans (including myself) enjoyed seeing Smith’s success last year.
P.S. Kansas City, the city where Alex Smith currently plays, was home to the Kings franchise from 1972-1985.
UPDATE: Fredette’s contract is expected to be bought out today (Feb. 26, 2014)