It's about that confidence and knowing that you're progressing as a basketball player even if you're not on the floor all the time. That's what I was able to do last year and keep that mindframe, knowing that at some point, you're going to get a chance and when you do, you've got to take full advantage of it. —Sacramento Kings guard Jimmer Fredette
It's no secret that former BYU All-American Jimmer Fredette has had a rough, up but mostly down start to his NBA career.
Consistent playing time has been elusive for the sharpshooter during his two years with the Sacramento Kings. His rookie year, Fredette averaged 18.6 minutes and 7.6 points per game while starting seven contests. Last year, his numbers went down, as he averaged 14.0 minutes and 7.2 points while not starting a single game.
During that span, there have been 34 regular-season games Fredette has not played in.
Despite this, Fredette, who averaged 28.9 points and 4.3 assists per game his senior year as a Cougar, has focused on daily improvement to overcome any negative feelings as the Kings opened up training camp this week on the UC Santa Barbara campus.
"The biggest thing is to not get down, whether you play a lot or none," Fredette told Sacramento ABC News 10's Sean Cummingham during the team's media day on Monday. "It just depends. Last year, you had no idea if you were going to play a lot or if you were going to get zero minutes. You had to stay positive and make sure that every day before practice I came in to work out to make sure I was getting better that day, no matter if I played or not.
"It's about that confidence and knowing that you're progressing as a basketball player even if you're not on the floor all the time. That's what I was able to do last year and keep that mindframe, knowing that at some point, you're going to get a chance and when you do, you've got to take full advantage of it."
Fredette said the uncertain minutes was a team-wide issue: players weren't sure what the Kings' rotations were. His teammates didn't know when they would play and who they'd be on the floor with. It led to a 28-54 record and head coach Keith Smart was fired after the season.
Michael Malone, the lead assistant for Mark Jackson with the Golden State Warriors the past two years, has stepped into the head coaching position and has made solid defensive play the team's top priority. After the Kings' first practice Tuesday, Malone told reporters, "We still want to run, but we want to run with discipline. But none of that will happen if we don't commit to defending and rebounding at a high level."
"You can just feel, especially defensively, they have a solid defensive scheme that they want you to play into," Fredette told ABC 10 of the team's new coaching staff, which does not include anyone from the previous regime. "And if you're not there, they'll tell you about it. If you're not where you are supposed to be, they'll correct you and make sure that you're there. We're going over it constantly every day making sure it's ingrained in our heads so that it comes second nature to us. I think that's what great teams do."
Improving on defense, a well-known struggle for the former BYU standout, isn't the only thing he will need to do to find playing time this year, though.
He'll have to outperform several other young guards to earn minutes.
Sacramento drafted two guards — Kansas' Ben McLemore and Detroit's Ray McCallum — during the 2013 NBA draft. Also during the offseason, the team added point guard Greivis Vasquez, who started 78 games for New Orleans last year.
Add in holdover guards Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thorton, and it's a crowded backcourt in which Fredette, who's said he's more comfortable at point guard, may be asked to play off the ball, depending on the situation.
"I'd love to be on the floor wherever it is," Fredette told Sacramento Bee writer Jason Jones, who said he will be fighting for time as the team's third point guard behind Thomas and Vasquez. At shooting guard, Fredette's likely behind Thorton and McLemore.
Fredette will have his first chance to prove himself on Monday when the Kings play at Golden State in the team's preseason opener.
Malone said he was impressed with the first-practice efforts on Tuesday of rookies McLemore and McCallum, and their performances should be a sign to the entire team that consistent effort will be needed to see the Kings improve this season.
"They did a tremendous job. Now the challenge to them and the challenge to everybody else is to bring it again tonight, to bring it again tomorrow morning and tomorrow night," the coach said. "We can't just be happy we had one good practice; we have to demand it from ourselves every time we come on the floor."
While getting meaningful minutes and a chance to finally prove himself in the NBA is a top priority for Fredette, he also hopes to see his underdog team perform better and surprise some people.
"Hopefully this year we'll have more of a set rotation, so we'll know when we're going to play and who we're going to play with in different scenarios so we'll have more confidence in the team that way," he said.
"We'll see how it goes."
Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @brandonljudd