It was billed as a short, compact 66-game schedule. An NBA season played on fast-forward.
No rookie summer ball. Forget about preseason camp. And practice? Man, there would be games, but practice? With up to five games a week, practices weren’t the norm.
Still, with all Jimmer Fredette missed out in his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings, he had experiences in the Association some may never have.
He was drafted into a league that was in a lockout. He joined the Kings as college basketball’s player of the year with expectations as high as any coming into the league.
Fredette was welcomed by thousands as he held an autograph signing in Sacramento. Despite being drafted 10th overall, his jersey flew off the shelves weeks before the top pick, Kyrie Irving, even saw his jersey in the Cavaliers’ pro shop.
Seven games into the season, reality sunk in. The Kings fired his head coach, Paul Westphal. Keith Smart then took the reigns.
“The toughest part was the change in role we all had from one coach to another,” Fredette wrote in an email interview. “Even the style of play changes and you have to find your new role.”
His new role was a diminished one. Under Westphal, Fredette averaged 25 minutes a game, scoring 10.7 points per game. He reached double figures in three of the seven games.
Under Smart, who has a history of developing superstar college guards (Stephen Curry in Golden State), things decayed before eventually rising.
Through the rest of January (13 games) Jimmer’s minutes dipped to 20 per game. But he did log six of his seven starts.
In four of the final five January games, he scored at least 13 points. But soon after he dropped a career high 20 on Jan. 21 in Memphis, he experienced the lowest valley of his young career.
February didn’t treat the Glens Falls native too well as fellow rookie guard Isaiah Thomas began to cement his spot in the starting rotation. The month began with two DNPs (did not play). Before February was through, he watched the game from the bench twice more.
“I never sat out an entire game before,” Fredette told The Sacramento Bee on Feb. 5 after the two straight DNPs. “Not even in high school, unless I was hurt or something. But I’m just trying to be a good teammate. I’ll keep working and finding ways to get better.”
Even when he did see the floor, it was limited. In nine games in February and 14 in March, Fredette average 14 minutes a game.
February also saw his brother, TJ, tweet “can we please get rid of this interim coach who should be an assistant at best and bring in a real head coach!!”
TJ later deleted the tweet and apologized.
The controversy stirred the pot even more from Sacramento fans, some calling for more playing time, others beginning to call the pick a bust.
“(I) stay focused, I don’t listen to other people too much,” Fredette wrote in the email interview. “I stay positive and have confidence in my game, which I still do.”
Smart shared in the confidence in the final month of the season. Fredette’s minutes jumped back to more than 20 a game. He also saw his points and assists return to around where they were under Westphal at nine points and about two assists.
The season concluded like it began, with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers and optimism going forward. Fredette played 24 minutes scoring 10 points, including two 3s and three assists.
He can take that momentum into a full offseason, not having to worry about off-court distractions.
“I need to work on pick and roll situations both offensively and defensively, and making sure to keep my dribble alive,” Fredette wrote.
Overall he finished the year averaging 7.6 points, 1.8 assists and 1.2 rebounds. His scoring ranked 13th among rookies and 11th in scoring per 48 minutes. Thomas ranked sixth and fifth, respectively.
He may not have had the best rookie season on his team, but the fans, who worshiped him as royalty, might think differently.
The Kings’ website recently allowed fans to choose the top plays of the year.
Thomas earned two spots on the ballot, which also included Jimmer’s favorite moment, a nationally televised victory.
“I think what stands out most was the win that we had at home against Oklahoma City,” Fredette wrote. “It was on national television and it was just a cool night.”
But despite those options, including a put back reverse dunk by Donte Greene, fans voted most for flashes of Fredette draining deep jumpers from the wing and atop the key.
It wasn’t exactly a perfect season for Jimmer, but in Sacramento’s eyes, its 10th overall pick was still No. 1.