The Sacramento Kings (3-7) fired their head coach after just two weeks, as the chances of making the postseason appear increasingly dim in the condensed 2011-2012 NBA season.
But there are still some bright spots for the organization.
One positive for the rebuilding Kings this season has come from their prized rookie. Reserve guard Jimmer Fredette has had the typical ups and downs of a first-year NBA player, but the former Brigham Young star has already shown signs that he will be sticking around the league for quite some time.
Two games from Fredette have stood out thus far. Against the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 29, Fredette knocked down five-of-10 shots to finish with 14 points, while also adding three assists.
On Jan. 3, Fredette scored a season-high 17 points on six-of-12 shooting against the Memphis Grizzlies. It was als Fredette's best game of the season from beyond the arc, as the 6'2 guard knocked down four-of-six three-pointers.
What's been holding back Fredette has a lot to do with what's been holding back the Kings: too much guard play due to a lack of a low-post presence. Sacramento's big men have almost been non-existent this season.
DeMarcus Cousins is shooting just 43.2 precent from the field, while power forwards J.J. Hickson, Jason Thompson, and Chuck Hayes are all averaging less than eight points a game.
Fredette is the fourth-leading scorer on the Kings, averaging 8.4 points per game, while playing just less than 24 minutes a game. The combo guard would probably get off the bench more if it wasn't for the play of starters Tyreke Evans, a former Rookie of the Year, and leading-scorer Marcus Thornton, who is averaging 18.7 points per game.
While Fredette makes the most of his minutes, he also has room for improvement. Fredette turns the ball over a little too much, and is shooting just 36 percent from the field.
But compared to other rookies, Fredette has faired well. The Bobcats' Kemba Walker is averaging nearly 10 points per game, but also has a 36 percent field-goal percentage.
Rookies like Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely, and Klay Thompson have seen limited time so far, and haven't done much when given the opportunity.
Former Duke Blue Devil Kyrie Irving, the first-overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, has lived up to expectations. The Cavaliers' guard is averaging 15.6 points per game, and 5.1 assists per game, while shooting 44.4 percent from the field. Having missed a good portion of his only season with Duke, Irving appears to have fully recovered from a toe injury that sidelined him in 2010-2011.
Irving may have the inside track on Fredette and Walker for the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award, but as the season drags on, players who were accustomed to long seasons in college basketball tend to fare better than those who played intermittenly.
Fredette played nearly every game for the Cougars in his final three seasons, and that should bode well for both him and the Kings. He has proven to be a dedicated athlete and a quick learner, and should make adjustments as the season progresses.
As the Kings struggle this season, expect new coach Keith Smart to tinker with the lineup, and perhaps put Fredette on the court with Evans and Thornton more often. The Kings will need to explore as many new ways to win as possible, and Fredette might be key to Sacramento rebounding from a poor start.
BOTTOM LINE: Fredette is a pure shooter, and there is no such thing as a pure shooter who is consistently hot from the perimeter. Expect a breakout game from Fredette in the upcoming weeks in which he scores over 25 points, but also some games where he is nearly nonexistent as Smart gives extended playing time to Evans and Thornton at the expense of the bench. Fredette needs to fine-tune his game a bit, and make a more conscious effort of protecting the basketball in his rookie season. Still, he is a talent and the Kings know it.