SANTA BARBARA Three days into his third season, Jimmer Fredette is as curious as everyone else. He wants to know, too.
Is he a legitimate, evolving NBA player, or a college phenomenon doomed by a skill set that doesn't translate at the major-league level?
The numbers certainly aren't in his favor. With the addition of rookies Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum, guards of all sizes, shapes and styles dominate the Kings' roster. Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas or Vasquez and Marcus Thornton are expected to start in the backcourt.
Which leaves Jimmer where, exactly?
Somewhere in the crowd. Striving to start over. Eager to forget the past and establish his value for a new front office intent on evaluating with fresh sets of eyes, partly because he possesses a skill that is forever coveted within the league: shooting.
"We always say as scouts and evaluators, 'What gets a guy on the court?' " Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro said. "Jimmer's a gifted shooter. We all know that. And when someone has a skill like that, it's compelling. What we're looking for is his ability to run a team vs. his ability to come off screens and shoot. We're excited to see him in the context of the new system."
The new regime has scrapped the old plan the one that had Fredette developing into a point guard and is more interested in utilizing him off screens and in catch-and-shoot situations. As coach Michael Malone noted not long after taking the job, the NCAA Division I record book isn't written in erasable ink. Fredette led the nation in scoring (28.9 points per game) as a senior at BYU.
He scored on floaters, deep three-pointers in transition, crafty layups and crazy one-legged, off-balance shots. He separated from defenders with ball and head fakes, with creative escape dribbles, and he had a surprising knack for shooting off the wrong foot.
In his two seasons with the Kings, however, Fredette has had trouble creating shots against taller, faster defenders, and he has struggled to contain his man defensively. His journey has been one shot forward, two shots back.
He would erupt for baskets in rhythm and in bunches, then force attempts, lose his dribble and have the ball swatted from behind. His erratic performances led to diminished playing time from 18.6 minutes a game during his rookie season to 14.0 a year ago.
But the NBA is a league of time and place, of new coaches and different circumstances. The Kings want to see more. They definitely want to determine whether Fredette can adjust to Malone's defensive schemes and more effectively utilize screens and picks.
"I didn't play a ton off the ball growing up," Fredette said. "But that's something I have to do to be successful in this league. I'm aware of that.
"The biggest thing is play to your strengths. Shoot the ball, be aggressive, go past guys if they're up on you. If you're double-teamed, get it to the open guy. Defensively, I have to cut guys off quicker, get the angles right. Stay in front of people as much as you can. I worked on that a lot all summer."
With a vacation to London and Paris squeezed into the offseason, Fredette spent most of the time training with his uncle in Colorado. To improve his ballhandling and catch-and-shoot skills, he dribbled around chairs and spent hours launching jumpers from all angles. He did defensive slides and used rubber bands for resistance, "which definitely helped me get quicker and stronger. Everybody has noticed it."
The real test begins with Monday's opening preseason game against the Warriors in Oakland.
"Coach said, 'Come in ready,' " Fredette said. " 'You're going to get a fair shot.' I feel I have two years' experience, and I'm ready to take a step forward. Everything feels different."
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter@ailene_voisin.