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natemup

The personal blog of Nate Tinner.

All Jimmered Out

It's a sad sight to behold, but we may have finally reached the end of Jimmer Fredette's ominous NBA career. Of course, this has been the refrain of many a sportswriter for the past few stops on Jimmer's bus ride to the D-League.
To be honest, I don't even think it's true—because I believe he really is that good of a player (on offense, at least). But since I am weak, and susceptible to media bandwagons, I join the chorus of doom and pronounce his end. But not without a story.

Before our friend Jimmer was waived more times than Queen Elizabeth's right hand, he was one of the most prolific scorers in the NCAA and perhaps of all time. During every college basketball season since about 2010, I carve out some time to check who the best scorers are in the country. I Google a couple of standouts, then I head to YouTube. This tradition started with Jimmer for me. His YouTube repertoire was impressive then, and has only grown since. The point totals alone were gaudy, and the shots that got him there were even more absurd. I remember thinking to myself: "How does a guy pull up from within the half court logo? And make it?!"

But, all things considered, scoring a lot of points is something dozens of college players do every year, and yet we were laser-focused on Jimmer during by his senior year at BYU. It was one thing to score 25+ points a game, but another thing entirely for him to nonchalantly—nay, cavalierly—launch three-pointers from well beyond the arc, perplexing defenders and coaches alike.

He was the kind of player who makes you want to watch a game just to see what he might come up with. It's the same kind of sensation swirling around Stephen Curry these days, and I would be the first to admit that I often am more excited about a Warriors game than those being played by teams I actively root for (e.g. the Nets and Lakers; no further comment). There's just something about a guard who can score at will and make defenders look silly—even useless—while doing it. But why did Jimmer, unlike Steph, fall so hard?

I think it comes down to a number of things:

1. The BYU Factor: The college system he played in is built for singular superstars. I don't know that anyone (be it fans at home or the AP rankings committee) paid particular attention to BYU basketball before Jimmer, but in the years since his departure, players like Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth have performed similarly as high volume shooters who dominate the offense and keep BYU afloat in a mediocre conference and eventually in the March Madness bracket. The downside of this is that while their college careers are flashy and stat-heavy, these players' ability to replicate that success in the NBA is nearly impossible, as it is incredibly unlikely that a team would draft them with the intention to give them anywhere near the kind of offensive autonomy they were afforded at BYU where their teammates offensive contribution was largely to pass them the ball. Since teams generally haven't drafted players this way since the the prep-to-pro era, Jimmer may have been doomed from the start.

2. The Nash factor: Very few players can get by with defensive ineptitude in the NBA. You must be an extremely high-profile scorer along with either the surrounding cast that makes up for your deficiencies, or an offensive system that really doesn't value defense. Enter Mike D'Antoni and his "7 Seconds or Less" scheme. It put up astronomical numbers on offense (due to intentionally short offensive possessions with quick shots) while devaluing defense and still winning games. Steve Nash ran the show at point guard, but, as (the late?) Bill Simmons put it, "over the years he was exploited defensively more times than Lindsay Lohan". This is shown in his repeated failures in the playoffs against the West's elite scoring point guards after they shut down the Lakers in the first round every year. Jimmer has turned out to be Steve Nash without the passing expertise or palliative offensive scheme. And, in an odd twist of fate, he has ended up on teams coached by notoriously defense-minded coaches, namely Keith Smart, Monty Williams, and (especially) Tom Thibodeau. Thus, he has been on the bench more than Judith Sheindlin.

3. The White Guy Factor: It's the ugly truth. The NBA, in 2015, is not the most colorblind league. It's not even that the fans don't like White people or are in love with Black people (I don't take either to be the the case in the slightest), but the characteristics most often associated with NBA superstardom quite simply are not found in the White players that manage to thrive in the league; this is more a matter of statistics than anything else (i.e. Black players make up almost all of the league), but perception is reality. While it could be said that nobody quite plays the way Jimmer does (or did, at least), regardless of race, I find it a safe bet to say that few teams are looking for a 6'2" White guy to chuck 3s from distance at the top of the shot clock. It's a cognitive mismatch, and that's probably part of the reason we loved Jimmer in the first place. He was the most awe-inspiring Caucasian in basketball since Jason Williams, but there was a reason we called J-Will "White Chocolate" and Jimmer just doesn't have that kind of urban persona that underlies the NBA and basketball culture in general. We can't pretend owners, GMs, and coaches don't know it.

Do I think Jimmer can still be successful? Yes. A thousand times, yes. A guy with his talent, defense or not, can be an integral part of a number of floundering offenses that need a shooter, or even just a spark off the bench who isn't afraid to let it fly. He would do well to work on his defense, but players like Steve Nash have shown that it isn't an absolute must (though I am baffled that we don't talk about deficiencies like this more often when we're evaluating legacies and potential). What he needs is a coach who recognizes him for what he is and who is willing to give him the reins to the offense and say "Go."

Apparently the Westchester Knicks have wasted no time figuring out that much:

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