In the first three weeks of his third NBA season, Jimmer Fredette seemed to be yet another former college star who couldn’t dominate as a professional.
The Kings had declined to pick up the guard’s contract option for 2014-15, making him a free agent at the end of this season.
He was out of the regular rotation, spending most game nights cheering for teammates rather than being cheered.
But that has changed in the past two games as the Kings seek consistent shooting and playmaking.
Coach Michael Malone gave Fredette a chance to play this week, and this time Fredette believes he will be given a legitimate opportunity to prove that, at the least, he belongs in an NBA rotation.
“It seems like that,” Fredette said. “I played in two games, and we won both of them, and it was great to be a part of that. Hopefully they will, and I think they really will. They’re trying to find a chemistry on this team and help us get wins. It’s up to them, but I think they’re true to that.”
Entering Thursday, the Kings ranked 24th in the NBA with a 42.6 shooting percentage and 23rd with a 32.9 3-point percentage.
So Malone decided to give possibly his best jump shooter the chance to show what he can do.
Fredette made 4 of 11 field-goal attempts, including 3 of 4 3-point tries, in the two games for a total of 11 points. He also had five assists in more than 31 total minutes.
“What I like about Jimmer – and he’s been played almost exclusively at (point guard) in the past – we’re kind of playing him more off the ball,” Malone said. “What I like about him and Isaiah (Thomas) together or (with) Greivis (Vasquez) is he can make plays, he can make shots, he can put the ball on the floor.”
Malone acknowledged that Fredette will need time to find his rhythm. That’s why, when Fredette struggled early against Phoenix on Tuesday at Sleep Train Arena, Malone played him in the second half.
Fredette made a key 3-pointer, his only basket that night, and had a key assist in the Kings’ 107-104 comeback win over the Suns.
“When you’re in there, and you haven’t been playing, you don’t want to make any mistakes and you try to play perfect,” Malone said. “I think he was probably wondering if I was going to put him back in the game in the second half because he didn’t play great in the first half, but I did not want to kill his confidence. I think the greatest thing you can do as a coach is give a guy confidence.”
Fredette has never lacked confidence in his ability. He only lacked opportunities in his first two seasons as he was buried on the bench behind Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans (since traded) and Thomas, among others.
Fredette, who made 41.7 percent of his 3-point attempts last season, can’t be left open. He and Malone expect his shooting percentage to be solid with steady playing time this season.
And while first-year general manager Pete D’Alessandro and the new coaching staff hadn’t seen enough of Fredette to pick up his contract option for next season, he’ll show the Kings – and other teams – what he can do if he gets consistent playing time.
“I feel like I’m ready and I’ll keep getting better,” Fredette said.
As popular as the former BYU superstar is among Kings fans, his teammates are also fond of Fredette.
When Fredette made a 3-pointer against Phoenix on Wednesday night, the bench – led by DeMarcus Cousins – jumped to cheer and support him.
“It’s always good when Jimmer plays,” Thomas said. “I love it because I feel I can get a few more assists, and I tell him every time he comes in, ‘Get ready to shoot because that’s what you do best.’ I think the last two games, he’s come in and been aggressive and tried to make plays, and that’s what we need from him.”
Note – The Kings assigned rookie guard Ray McCallum to the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League.
McCallum has not played in the regular season.
The Bighorns have three players who were invited to the Kings’ training camp: forward DeQuan Jones and guards Brandon Heath and Trent Lockett. Reno’s season starts Friday at Sioux Falls.