Jimmer Fredette celebrated his birthday on Monday, but it is doubtful that the Sacramento Kings guard has been jubilant about his recent playing time.
The 24-year-old played just nine minutes against the lowly New Orleans Hornets on Sunday, as Kings head coach Keith Smart used just six players for more than 15 minutes. Smart appeared eager to push his main players harder than usual against one of the weaker teams in the NBA.
The strategy didn’t work, as the Kings dropped their road record to a miserable 5-25, as the Hornets broke the game open in the final eight minutes, 110-95.
The loss had to have been particularly difficult for the former BYU guard, who spent much of his college career energizing crowds with his precise outside shooting and his intense drive to win, but is now stuck on the bench of a team that was essentially eliminated from postseason contention since December. The Kings are heavy at guard, and thin at the frontcourt, which has been a major reason for their woes.
Smart, who is known for his amicable and positive personality, might be angling for the Kings to finish ahead of the Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves to strengthen his case to remain head coach by sticking with veterans ahead of Fredette. It might be too late for Smart to save his job, but it’s not too late for the Kings to build toward a stronger 2013-2014 season by increasing playing time for up-and-coming players.
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Of the 14 players on the roster, four players have expiring contracts. Fredette has two more full seasons remaining on his deal.
On ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” Tony Kornheiser cited how Fredette is averaging just 14 minutes per game, while co-host Michael Wilbon echoed the sentiment that the college star was not receiving his proper respect by yelling “Free Jimmer!”
The additional bad news for Fredette is that he is stuck with the Kings for the rest of the season. With the trade deadline passing last week, not only was Fredette not moved to a contender, but the Kings added another point guard in Toney Douglas.
It will be interesting to see how much time Smart gives to bench players like Fredette against the Miami Heat on Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena.
The defending champions have won 11 games in a row behind the inspired play of LeBron James. The chances of Miami blowing out Sacramento seem high considering how strong the Heat have been at home and how dreadful the Kings have been on the road.
The Kings are searching for moral victories, and providing more opportunities to niche players like Fredette could do wonders for the confidence of the team in 2013-2014. Fredette is a rare “catch-and-shoot” player who also can find his own shot on the perimeter. He also has shown improved footwork, and has grown more comfortable in the NBA-style offense after a rookie season that was hindered by a labor-shortened season.
It isn’t just Fredette that probably needs to be more involved in the final stretch of the season. The addition of forward Patrick Patterson could be a great opportunity for Sacramento to develop a frontcourt partner for DeMarcus Cousins. Like Fredette, Patterson has made adjustments from his rookie season, and might thrive in an offense that caters to his skill set.
The Kings are not devoid of talent, and don’t necessarily need to go back to the drawing board with their play calling. However, experimenting with a new rotation is probably imperative to become a playoff contender next season, or risk yet another season in the Western Conference cellar.
Finding more time for burgeoning players like Fredette is a start.