Andrew Nelles, AP
SALT LAKE CITY — In 2011, the nation was only beginning to hear stirrings of a Latter-day Saints kid in Chicago who was going to be special. Jabari Parker hadn’t yet been labeled the best prospect since LeBron James. Nor had he logged a star turn at Duke.
Besides, America already had a Mormon Macroseism: Jimmer Fredette.
Nowadays the picture is far different. With Parker in Milwaukee, the prospects of the Jazz acquiring an LDS player (i.e. a marketing bonanza) rests on whether they want Fredette.
That depends on how big they want their headache to be.
Fredette is an outstanding teammate, a fine spokesman and a cool-eyed outside shooter. He’s also a free agent. The Jazz were 24th in 3-point shooting in the NBA last season. This isn’t algebraic geometry.
But it’s not simple addition, either.
Don’t plan on the Jazz making a strong play for Fredette this off-season. He would sell some tickets and generate merchandise revenue. He’d also land some bodacious 3-point shots. But most likely it wouldn’t work out.
The Jazz are looking for “stretch” shooters, big men who can draw their opponents out and open the middle for the slashing guards. Additionally, coach Quin Snyder made it clear at his first press conference that he intends to make defense a major issue. Small wonder. The Jazz were last in field goal defense last season.
“We’d like to have a defensive identity. I think that’s an area where we can try to take a stand,” Snyder said last month. “It involves habits. It involves energy, effort, focus. But that’s obviously something that we want to do.”
It’s also something that makes Fredette an unlikely candidate to join the Jazz as a free agent, no matter how well he shoots. After two stops in his young career, with similar results — long periods of bench time — he is reportedly being eyed by a team in Greece. It’s a place where he could thrive, since Europeans don’t play defense. Meanwhile, over in America, two-way players are becoming more valuable by the year.
The Jimmer-to-Utah movement never really had much traction to begin. It’s not because fans didn’t like him. Even longtime Ute fans who watched Fredette decimate their team in college had a hard time begrudging the humble, soft-spoken player. However, sources have said the Jazz were never planning to draft him in 2011, even if he had been available when they picked at No. 12. Fredette was selected 10th, while Utah took Alec Burks at 12.
After being waived by Sacramento following three disappointing seasons, Fredette was claimed by Chicago in February. Speculation was he could become a spot player to provide quick offense, while teammates helped offset his lack of speed and footwork on defense.
Yet in Chicago he slipped in every major statistical category, most notably minutes per game.
You can’t own what you can’t grasp.
While Jazz officials have never publicly said it, signing Fredette would almost surely become a migraine. They already have Burks, Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Dante Exum and John Lucas III, who can play one or both guard spots. Ian Clark or Diante Garrett, who already know the Jazz system, could also be back.
Odds are that Fredette would have no more success in Utah than he had in Sacramento or Chicago. Yet fans would demand he play increasing minutes. Pressure would be strong, thanks to the way he set the nets afire when he was in college. But setting the Nets afire? That hasn’t happened against Brooklyn or many other teams. In two games against Brooklyn, last year, he played just three minutes, scoring two points.
Last season he had a positive plus-minus rating 19 times, negative 27 times and didn’t play 22 times.
Moments after the free agency period opened on Sunday night, the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson tweeted, “NBA free agency has begun and my timeline still receives Jimmer Fredette questions.”
It was a wry take on Fredette’s enduring popularity with fans.
Surely some team will give him a try. But in the heart of Mormon Country, it seems like a prayer.
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