There was a time when Jimmer Fredette didn’t worry about getting into a shooting rhythm.
The 2011 Wooden Award winner out of Brigham Young spent his entire amateur career with the ball in hands, thanks to his dynamic scoring ability from all reaches of the perimeter.
But ever since Fredette was selected as the No. 10 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, rhythm has been an elusive attribute to find. Shuffled in and out of lineups on three different teams, the Pelicans reserve guard now sees a sliver of opportunity at the end of a particularly frustrating month.
When starting shooting guard Eric Gordon tore a labrum in his left shoulder Saturday, leaving him out of the lineup indefinitely, the crowded Pelicans’ backcourt thinned out, cracking the door open for Fredette. After playing in just seven of the team’s first 12 games, and averaging only 11 minutes in those appearances, Gordon’s absence might be the chance Fredette has been waiting for.
“It could be,” Fredette said. “You never know what coach is thinking. But I continue to work hard and have good practices and try to gain the trust of him and my teammates. And hopefully, I’ll be able to help out the team in any way possible. Someone is going to have to step up for sure with Eric going out, because a lot of minutes are gone and people are going to have to step in for him.”
Those minutes appeared for Fredette in a hurry.
In Tuesday’s 99-89 loss to Sacramento, Fredette was the third man off the Pelicans’ bench, checking in midway through the first quarter.
But he wasn’t focused on that shooting rhythm.
Instead, the perimeter threat generated offense by cutting through the paint and passing to cutting teammates, racking up three assists in his first seven minutes on the floor. He also defensively disrupted a Kings’ fast break and helped calm down Sacramento’s early offensive surge.
It was the kind of well-rounded performance coach Monty Williams said is imperative for Fredette to earn more minutes on the floor.
“I’m not concerned with guys and their shots,” Williams said. “That’s never going to be a concern of mine. You have to go into the game and play with a great deal of effort and make sure you can defend consistently. Shots will come.
“With guys in that role, that’s the last thing they should be thinking about. They should be worried about making other contributions to the team other than shooting the ball.”
Still, it’s Fredette’s shooting that carried him into the league and made him a legend at the collegiate level and across the state of Utah. Mike Malone, who coached Fredette in Sacramento last season, said his ability to catch fire off of the bench is a rare and coveted trait in the right circumstance.
Rarely was that more on display than on Feb. 4, when he entered the game late before drilling 6-of-8 on 3-pointers in just 24 minutes during a 106-101 overtime victory over the New York Knicks.
“Jimmer is a guy, who, you can sit him and then throw him in the game, and he can score a lot of baskets in a hurry,” Malone said. “We beat New York in New York last year because of Jimmer Fredette.”
However, those moments have been the outliers in his young NBA career.
Instead of gunning with abandon, he’s largely been relegated to trying to find his rhythm in small windows, under tight scrutiny and the under the cloak of a quick hook from the bench.
Fredette’s fourth-quarter appearance Tuesday highlighted the struggle. He missed a quick jumper, then allowed a Nick Stauskas jumper and fouled Ray McCallum before getting pulled in favor of Jrue Holiday with 11 minutes remaining.
“It’s important for shooters to get into a rhythm, and that’s important for lots of guys. But you have to take whatever minutes you get and try to get into the rhythm as fast as you possibly can,” Fredette said. “I’ve been unsuccessful at that in years past. I’ve had a couple of games where I’ve been able to do that, but I’ve found that it’s best to try to get into the rhythm as quickly as I can and try to get to the basket and see it go in. That helps me a lot.”