Reclamation projects: Jimmer Fredette, others who could benefit from change of scenery
Every arrangement between NBA player and team is a working relationship, complicated by differing interests and fluid compatibilities. As such, it’s not uncommon for a role player to find himself in an unfavorable situation at some point in his career. Team needs change, and players do, too. As circumstances develop, a once logical fit may wither, begging the thought of whether the player in question might be better off elsewhere.
Below are five such players, omitting the most obvious on the board: Houston’s Omer Asik. At this point, it’s well established that Asik would like to move on after his minutes and role diminished with the arrival of Dwight Howard. Beyond Asik, though, which other players might benefit from relocation?
Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento Kings
Fredette is good enough to intrigue but not so effective as to warrant playing time without question. That helps explain why Sacramento never fully committed to the idea of grooming his game. In 2010-11, fellow rookie guard Isaiah Thomas made an immediate impact in a way that Fredette wasn’t capable, leaving the No. 10 pick to struggle through limited minutes. And struggle he did. Fredette couldn’t defend, didn’t have a grasp of NBA offense and failed to make shots — the crux of his basketball value — at a respectable clip.
As a result, Fredette was marginalized in his second season despite obvious improvement. His shooting percentages rebounded. His handle grew steadier. But iffy NBA veteran Aaron Brooks — in addition to Thomas — was logging minutes at Fredette’s expense last season, denying developmental opportunities to a player who badly needed them. Through two seasons, Fredette averaged a mere 16.2 minutes, a mark that ranked 27th in his draft class.
So much in Sacramento has changed since then, from ownership to management to the coaching staff to the roster. Thomas has continued to thrive, further separating himself from Fredette. Brooks is gone, but in his place is the far more capable Greivis Vasquez — a pass-first point guard who justifiably plays regular minutes at both backcourt positions. The acquisition of Vasquez, coupled with Sacramento’s decision to draft rookie shooting guard Ben McLemore with the seventh pick, seemed to be a rather clear statement about Fredette’s status and value to the franchise. The Kings then declined the fourth-year option on Fredette’s rookie deal, which will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Fredette’s situation has changed recently, too, after Marcus Thornton — Sacramento’s well-compensated shooting guard — went from being a starter to falling out of the rotation. In the last two games, the 24-year-old Fredette has been the prime beneficiary of the minutes Thornton left behind, and the former BYU star played a subtle role in back-to-back victories over the Suns. That makes things even more uncertain in Sacramento than usual, but the Kings’ opinion of Fredette was laid out plainly when they declined his option. Thornton’s struggles are a wild card, but they don’t change the fact that Sacramento valued $3 million over the ability to keep Fredette for an extra season and reserve the right to match any offer he could have received next summer. Desperation won’t make the Kings invest all that much in a player they’ve already consented to let go, though in the meantime it could help Fredette see some developmental opportunities.
“Some” is a key word in this case, as it’s one thing for coach Michael Malone to trot out Fredette for a few games and another entirely for him to commit to this new rotation to the extent Fredette needs. Thornton isn’t a bad player, but he’s perhaps a bit too well paid (at $8 million this season and $8.6 million next season) to either be a decoration on Sacramento’s bench or to be traded easily. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Thornton as a Kings regular for those reasons, which leaves Fredette in a limbo state on a team that isn’t terribly interested in his future.
Don’t get me wrong: Every bit of playing time will help. The only way for Fredette to play better basketball is for him to play more basketball — to experience a wider variety of in-game situations and to have more repetition in reading and reacting. But overall, a developmental prospect like Fredette needs more than bits of playing time whenever things go awry for some other player. What he needs to succeed is a commitment on even the most basic level: an arrangement that would give him a window to work out his growing pains. Learning to beat traps off the dribble and make the right defensive rotations takes time and consistent opportunity, neither of which is on Fredette’s side in Sacramento. Maybe things change if the Kings shake up their roster with a trade, but at this point it seems doubtful that any move would truly be to Fredette’s long-term benefit.
Landry Fields, Toronto Raptors
I still refuse to believe that Fields is as bad as he’s shown in Toronto, but with Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross gobbling up the majority of the minutes on the wing, he’ll have scant chance to prove much at all. Still, somewhere underneath the mire of his first two seasons with the Raptors is a useful, unassuming contributor, capable of so many of the little things that help teams win.
Scoring is apparently not among them, as Fields’ already limited ability to put up points has dipped since he arrived in Toronto as a free-agent signing in 2012. He hit rock bottom in averaging 8.3 points per 36 minutes last season (that’s Jan Vesely/Hasheem Thabeet territory), though at the very least Fields went about scoring in the least obstructive ways possible. Nearly a quarter of Fields’ used possessions came on cuts alone, according to Synergy Sports. Other hefty slices came in transition or spot-up situations, leaving only a few possessions where Fields actively took part in shot creation.
Where some might see that as a limitation, I see it as a virtue. Fields, 25, works consistently to make himself available as a cutter and puts in the kind of effort off the ball (both on offense and defense) that complements an already established lineup. That hasn’t worked all that effectively for a Raptors team with such a stagnant offense, but Fields has a clear NBA role and a skill set suited for it. He just needs to be relocated to a team with willing passers in order to fully actualize it.
Kris Humphries, Boston Celtics
Humphries is a nine-year veteran who very clearly — and understandably — doesn’t fit into the Celtics’ plans. The 28-year-old power forward is both too old and too marginal a talent to be of much long-term use to the franchise. He’s not so productive as to justify playing him ahead of the team’s developing big men, and his $12 million salary limits his value on the trade market. But in a league where a few contenders (not to mention a handful of playoff teams) are lacking even competent backup bigs, Humphries strikes me as a player who could benefit from relocation.
We live in a world where Reggie Evans, Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins are rotation regulars. Why couldn’t Humphries be as well, with his track record of volume rebounding in limited minutes? Humphries, strong and athletic, might not be as good a finisher inside as one would think, but he’s distinctly more capable in that regard than a player such as Evans, while generally more helpful than the likes of Mullens and Hollins. He’s toned down on the needless shooting, too, as evidenced by his career-low 9.4 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes with the Nets last season. With that vice squared away, Humphries could be useful rotation filler on a team with different goals than the rebuilding Celtics.
Ben Gordon, Charlotte Bobcats
Based on regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM), Gordon rated as the worst player in the NBA last season — largely because he was a miserable and disinterested defender. Then-Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap never succeeded in getting the veteran shooting guard’s buy-in; Gordon has never been anything more than a passable defender, but in the past he’d at least been committed enough to put in consistent effort as a member of the Bulls. He refused to offer the Bobcats even that much, at a time when his shooting percentages also fell sharply. It’s not surprising that Gordon and Dunlap seemed to rub one another the wrong way, or that new coach Steve Clifford has opted to leave Gordon out of his rotation completely.
Fundamentally, though, Gordon isn’t too far removed from the useful scorer he was just a few years prior. Even in Charlotte’s gross 2012-13 offense, he found the room necessary to be an effective catch-and-shoot threat off curls, and a quality spot-up option for a team that lacked credible three-point threats. He still shoots well as a ball handler, too, especially when he tucks behind a high screen to launch an early three-pointer out of the pick-and-roll. By no means is the 30-year-old Gordon good enough to play heavy minutes for a competitive team — and his $13.2 million salary won’t help his appeal with potential suitors – but plenty of playoff clubs could benefit from his scoring in moderate doses.
As for Gordon? I’d wager he’d like to play slightly more than the nine total minutes he’s logged this season.
Ekpe Udoh, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks’ frontcourt injuries have enabled Udoh to log decent minutes (19 per game). Larry Sanders is out after thumb surgery. Ersan Ilyasova is still sidelined with an ankle injury. Backup (and now-starting) center Zaza Pachulia had a brief absence because of a foot injury. In all, Udoh has played a bit more — and far more regularly — than he otherwise would, a trend that should change after Sanders (who signed a four-year, $44 million extension before the season) and Ilyasova (who is owed $7.9 million this season and the next two) return.
That’s likely best for the Bucks, who have the depth in the frontcourt to get by without Udoh’s help. Udoh might be better served by moving on — whether via trade this season or as a potential free agent next summer. If given the opportunity, Udoh should be able to solidify himself as a quality reserve center. He isn’t an explosive athlete, but he’s mobile and long enough to consistently alter shots — a rarity among backup bigs. He’s also only 26; it’s been easy to forget about Udoh since he was drafted in 2010, but he has a lot of basketball ahead of him and already plays solid team defense. Provided that a team could account for Udoh’s inability to finish inside and generally limited offensive game, he could be an effective counterbalance for bench lineups that often lack for quality interior coverage.