Asked if he’s more comfortable in his current role as the Kings’ backup point guard than he was when this season began, Jimmer Fredette made a comparison sound nearly impossible.
“I didn’t know what I was in the beginning of the season,” Fredette said.
Fredette didn’t get off the bench for seven of the first nine games of his third year in the NBA and played sparingly when he did. Only in recent weeks have his minutes become more consistent – and the fact his numbers also have ticked upward, he and coach Michael Malone said, is no coincidence.
Three of Fredette’s four double-digit scoring games this season have come in the last five games. That included a season-high 15 points in the Kings’ loss to Philadelphia on Jan. 2, and 11 points in 13 minutes Friday night in a 103-83 win over the Orlando Magic, keyed by a second-quarter run during which Fredette scored eight consecutive points.
The December trade that sent Greivis Vasquez to Toronto and elevated Isaiah Thomas to the starting lineup opened up minutes behind Thomas that have gone to Fredette. Malone said Fredette now knows most nights he’ll play in the second and fourth quarters, running a second unit that often includes Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray.
“When you have a role, you feel more comfortable, (and) get more comfortable as the season goes on,” Fredette said. “You know what you’re supposed to do when you get out there, so that helps a lot.”
For Malone, the difference has been visible. The Kings’ first-year coach on Saturday used the terms “confidence” and “aggressive” in describing Fredette’s play of late.
When Fredette is playing with confidence, Malone said, “he’s out there coming down the floor looking for his shot, no hesitation. And when they close out hard to him, because he can shoot, he’s attacking that close-out, making a play to the rim – not looking over at the bench (saying), ‘Am I coming out? Am I OK?’ ”
The hesitation has been absent, Malone said, leaving Fredette “looking to make plays for teammates but also being mindful to make plays for himself at the right time.”
“I want him to go out there and run his team, but I also want him to be Jimmer Fredette,” Malone said. “Look to score, look to shoot in transition. We’ve got Quincy and Aaron Gray setting screens for him, and he can take that shot, knock it down, step into it with confidence and make plays like he’s done lately.”
Friday night, the Kings trailed 24-18 after one quarter – a deficit the second unit closed at 26-26 before Rudy Gay checked in for Gray. The Magic then took a one-point lead before Fredette made two 3-pointers and a layup to make the score 34-30 in favor of the Kings, who didn’t trail again.
The layup came after Fredette drove into the paint, pivoted as though wanting to pass and came back to the basket with a clear look.
“A little up-and-under,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to do those types of things when you’re a smaller guy getting into the paint. You’ve got to be tricky and get your shot off in different ways.”
Fredette acknowledged some frustration with his sporadic early role, which included five consecutive games from Nov. 29 to Dec. 7 in which he didn’t play.
“My first couple years, there’s been stretches like that as well ... but you’ve just got to stay ready and be prepared,” he said. “Now that you’re getting consistent minutes, it definitely helps.
“When you get consistency you’re able to get into a rhythm, get into a flow and just do what you’re able to do on the floor. It’s been good.”
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