Jimmer Fredette Is the Steph Curry of the D-League
Jimmer Fredette was a star in college and then he was a washout of a lottery pick. Now in the D-League, he's back on top again with the Westchester Knicks. Can he ride this second wave into the NBA?
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
As tip-off nears, a small crowd gathers on the sideline to watch the point guard whose scintillating shooting has taken the league by storm warm up. Fans sport jerseys and shirts with his name and number; some are waving markers, clamoring to get an autograph, and others brandish iPhones in hopes of a selfie. The object of their attention reached celebrity status in just his mid-20s, and his play has turned his team's fortunes around. His name is not Stephen Curry.
"To be out there and play through mistakes, be able to shoot the ball, has been fun," Jimmer Fredette told VICE Sports. He was fresh off a near 25-point triple-double, and an hour away from scoring another 27 points on 12 field-goal attempts for the Westchester Knicks. "The support has been great. The community is really rallying around this team. It's been really cool to watch."
Anyone who has followed Fredette's career knows that this isn't his first time going through Jimmer-mania. Fredette was a national sensation at Brigham Young University not too long ago, averaging 28.9 points a night in his senior year. He attempted more than eight threes a game, many of those from 30 feet and beyond—the aptly dubbed "Jimmer range." The Sacramento Kings took Fredette tenth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, betting that his dominance would translate to the pros.
It didn't. Fredette struggled to penetrate and defend at the next level, and quickly found himself playing behind the last overall pick in his draft, Isaiah Thomas. His plus-minus numbers painted him as a major liability, and his playing time suffered accordingly. The DNP-CDs accumulated until the Kings eventually waived Fredette 57 games into his third NBA season. He signed with the Chicago Bulls for the remainder of 2013-14, appearing in just eight games and playing over ten minutes in just one.
This became a new reality for Fredette. He averaged a career-low 10.2 minutes a game over 50 games with New Orleans the following year. This past summer, the San Antonio Spurs signed Fredette before waiving him during the preseason. Without a NBA home, Fredette was selected second overall in the 2015 D-League Draft by the New York Knicks affiliate in Westchester County, less than an hour north of NYC.
"I was pumped," Matt Holzer, who attended a recent Knicks win over the Delaware 87ers, said. "I texted all my friends I had to come."
Fredette had yet to make his minor-league debut and fans were already salivating.
"The second I heard Jimmer was on the team, I was like, now I have to get out to a game," said Simon White, rocking a BYU Fredette jersey.
It almost didn't happen. Before he got a chance to make his Westchester debut, New Orleans picked Fredette up once again in the middle of November. They waived him six games later.
"I think the biggest thing is I haven't been able to find consistent playing time," Fredette said. "I've been on teams where I've played spotty minutes, some here, some there, but I haven't been able to be in the rotation consistently. I feel like if I can find an opportunity to do that, I can produce."
The NBA may not have given Fredette ample opportunity, but he had the green light from the outset once he made his way to Westchester, and he took full advantage. In his debut against the Grand Rapids Drive on November 30, Fredette scored 37 points on 12-for-17 shooting from the field. In 14 games with the Knicks, he is averaging 23.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game, shooting 51 percent from the field, 46.8 percent from three, and 92.2 percent from the free-throw line. Fredette has done this just as he always has, with pull-up threes in transition and hesitation dribbles galore.
"He draws a lot of attention, which opens up other things," Knicks head coach Mike Miller said. "[Defenses are] trying to make him give the ball up. They're trying to do different things to disrupt him a little bit. Be physical, put a bigger guy on him. We've seen a lot of different things. His demeanor never changes. He just goes out there and plays the same way."
Fredette is third in the D-League's Prospect Watch, which ranks players weekly on their allure as a potential call-up. He isn't just adding incendiary D-League stats to his resume, though. Westchester is currently 13-7 on the season, good for second in the East. Last season, the Jimmer-less Knicks finished 10-40, dead last in the conference. Fredette has turned the team around, and become its most important player: opponents outscore Westchester by 12.3 points per 100 possessions when Fredette is on the bench this season. Fans have taken notice.
"It's definitely a more exciting team to watch this year," Mike Bornn, a frequent attendee of Knicks games, said.
But while the team is certainly improved, many fans are only interested in seeing one player.
"I came to see Jimmer," said Jonathan Gross, who traveled from New Jersey to do so. "I see a little bit of Steph Curry [in him]."
Fans like Gross have journeyed from all over the Tri-State Area to watch Fredette, and what would otherwise be merely a successful stint in the D-League has become an authentic, if scaled-down, version of Golden State's traveling spectacle.
"We've been getting more and more fans every game," Fredette said. "I definitely have had a good following throughout my career. All the BYU fans and then the fans from my area, they've been faithful and they've definitely followed my career and I'm appreciative of that, but definitely surprised of the attention that I've been able to get and that this team has been able to get here in Westchester. It's a cool thing. It's great for the team and great for the county."
Since Fredette arrived, the average attendance at Westchester County Center has increased from 1,564 to 1,780 per game. It doesn't quite look like the home arena of a professional basketball team and its megastar—it boasts a cramped lobby, has just two concession stands whose lines block foot traffic, and the whole thing doubles as a theater—but the atmosphere makes up for it. It's intimate for fans, bringing them closer to NBA-caliber talent than many would otherwise get, and they love it. They gather to watch Fredette warm up and anxiously await a chance to meet him post-game. They wear Fredette merchandise from his days at BYU, his stops in Sacramento and Chicago. He's the guy they applaud the loudest, and they shake their heads in giddy disbelief when his 30-foot bombs hit nothing but net.
"It's the only reason why I came, is to see Jimmer," Jaime Ketchabaw, sporting a Kings Fredette jersey, said. "One hundred percent."
Fredette's mark has been felt outside of Westchester County as well. Ever since he joined the team, viewership of Knicks games on YouTube have averaged 6,516 views, compared to 3,416 before his arrival. Fredette sees fans wearing his jersey during road trips.
"They're everywhere," Fredette said. "It's awesome to be able to have that support."
Fredette doesn't use the word "support" lightly. Fans realize Westchester is just a pit stop for him, and hope he gets to reach his main goal.
"We're here because of Jimmer, to cheer him on," said Cathy DeDe, who drove three hours from Fredette's hometown of Glens Falls, New York, to root for him. "We want to see him playing up in the NBA, honestly."
As much Fredette has been embraced as a star, many share this sentiment. With teams now able to sign players to ten-day contracts, and with the New York Knicks desperate for improved guard play, Westchester fans may not be able to experience Fredette first-hand for much longer.
"I think that a lot of really good players in this league will deserve call-ups," Fredette said. "Hopefully I'll be one of those guys."