Jimmer Fredette will be a player in this league, OK? In an era when the dribble-drive is the tendency du jour, and at a time when the extra pass would be the holiday gift Kings coach Keith Smart couldn't wait to unwrap, the second-year guard is offering hints of what the fuss at BYU was all about.
Though his minutes are sporadic, Fredette is using ball and body fakes to create space, curbing his habit of throwing passes while in the air, making better decisions when probing defenses, and gradually making a strong case for more playing time.
But here's the problem. The Kings have an abundance of guards who shoot first and answer questions later – say, why they ignored an open teammate in the corner – and four of them could play in the now-defunct 6-foot-4-and-under league.
After one sluggish performance, Smart summoned his guards for a tutorial on playmaking and ended the discussion with a challenge.
" 'Why is it that you guys aren't averaging six assists?' " Smart said. " 'Can you guys become playmakers? A lot of times there's probably a good shooter in the area, or an opportunity for a drop-off pass to a finisher, and you miss those guys.'
"All our ballhandling guards are scoring guards. But sometimes you have to back off that strength to allow other guys (to flourish)."
With Tyreke Evans shifted to shooting guard and established as a committed defender and primary scorer, and Marcus Thornton perceived as a streaky Vinnie Johnson-type sixth man, the major scramble for minutes involves Aaron Brooks, Isaiah Thomas and Fredette.
Of the three, Fredette – who has made what Smart termed "a gigantic leap" following an uneven rookie season – is making the hardest push for a larger role. After struggling last season against long, athletic defenders, Fredette dropped about five pounds to enhance his quickness, worked on midrange jumpers and one-handed floaters and added to his repertoire of ball and head fakes – progress reflected in his improved field-goal percentage (38.6 to 45.8).
"There definitely were times last year when I asked myself, 'What's wrong? What's the deal?' " Fredette said Thursday after practice. "I think it was a matter of feeling things out, finding how I could score in the league, where and how to get my shots, what to expect. While I'm not shooting any differently (mechanically), I'm shooting with more confidence and not hesitating, so I'm releasing the ball quicker."
Then there's Fredette's charisma factor, the importance of the Kings giving long-suffering fans more of what they want. And based on tweets, emails, phone calls and the discernible uptick in energy whenever he steps onto the court, more of Fredette is what fans want.
Brooks has been inconsistent and hasn't charmed his way into the good graces of the fans. The community's love affair with Thomas also seems to have peaked, commensurate with reality; Thomas is who he is – 5-foot-9, maybe.
Fredette remains a curiosity. Does he have the quickness to consistently penetrate and snap passes? How much can his ballhandling improve? Will he learn to utilize his compact, 195-pound frame and become a more aggressive, physical defender?
"The main thing is, he has to become more engaged and tougher defensively, anticipating, taking a guy a certain way," Smart said. "Bump and release, and get up on guys, push through screens."
Fredette also has to adapt to his coach's fluctuating substitutions. Smart has been unwilling to designate Fredette or Thomas as the backup to Brooks.
"I'm going to fight this as much as I can and stay away from the traditional thinking," Smart said. "I know they won't like it, but you know what? There are many guys who would love to be in their position."
He's right – they don't like it.
"It's hard on all three of us," Fredette said.
But one month into his second season, the one-time college sensation is developing at an intriguing clip. And if this continues, more playing time would make his coach look awfully smart.