Those audacious signature pull-ups from 30-plus feet have returned to ESPN airwaves and with them a familiar question, one that will always percolate across social media platforms when a shot of his touches the twine of the net.
Can he? Can he still do it?
If the answer is yes, then there is a more pertinent question, which is: should he? The debate over Jimmer Fredette’s game has been seemingly waged forever, because he represents something spectacular that should work, but up to this point hasn’t — at least not the way his supporters have always envisioned.
So as the former BYU megastar is back in American gyms across the country rising from unfathomable distances, still draining highlight-reel 3’s, still cutting through the lane and finishing at the hoop from awkward angles, that debate that has raged on in the depths of the sports Twitterverse for nearly a decade has returned.
Is Jimmer Fredette ever going to make an NBA roster again?
Just as it’s been since he left the league in 2016, there is no definitive answer right now. He’s currently motoring Team Fredette, now in the semifinals of The Basketball Tournament (TBT), a 5-on-5 event featuring 72 teams from across the U.S. playing for a winner-take-all $2 million prize. In four wins, Fredette is averaging 32.7 points per game and has made 11 threes in the team’s march to the semis.
When Fredette went off in one game earlier in the tournament, Fran Fraschilla was tuned in when two text messages hit the home screen of his phone. They were from two different NBA assistant coaches, guys who have known Fraschilla a long time. The two texts were identical.
“Jimmer can still play in the league,” they read.
The reality of Fredette’s situation is a little more complicated than can he or can’t he, Fraschilla explained. The ESPN analyst, who tracked Fredette’s rise at BYU from young bench scorer to college basketball phenomenon as the eventual National Player of the Year in 2011, said the decision-making process for Fredette at 29 with a young family is different than Fredette at 22 when he was picked 10th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft.
“The dilemma is that as much as I have a sense that he wants to be back in the league,” Fraschilla said, “I think he’s got to do it on his terms.”
Since moving overseas to play with the Shanghai Sharks in China in 2016, Fredette has become the icon of Chinese professional basketball. He has earned the nickname “The Lonely Master,” is the main attraction in a basketball-crazed country and earlier this year scored 73 points in a game. Fraschilla took in a Shanghai game in November 2016 and said he was floored by the atmosphere surrounding Fredette.
“There’s a unique celebrity status about Jimmer playing in China that is hard to quantify it in the U.S. or even Europe,” he said. “He’s the Steph Curry of China.”
Fredette will never have a problem taking it to defenses. It’s what still makes him a draw on the hardwood across China or in The Basketball Tournament across the U.S., a point-scoring artist who wows with an ability to pour in a myriad of shots. Does the 6-foot-2 guard, however, want to sacrifice financial stability and stardom in a land far, far away for perhaps that one last shot at maybe earning minutes in an NBA rotation?
“What we all think about is, get Jimmer on an NBA team and let him shoot threes, and it’d be amazing,” said BYU coach Dave Rose.
The solution isn’t that straightforward. It’s clear to those closest to him that he’s happy with this stage of his career.
“The fact that he has the ball in his hands and he’s playing every night,” Rose continued, “there’s a lot to that as far as how it makes you feel as far as your life is concerned.”
What NBA teams would want to see in Fredette is his ability to play off the ball and be a complimentary piece to a team that can stretch the floor, which would run counter to where he’s at his absolute best, ball in his hands, freestyling atop the arc or in the paint.
Launching 3-pointers no one else dares — except for maybe Curry himself — still reminds Rose that a 3 from distance to Fredette “looks like a lay-up to him.” And in today’s NBA that essentially demands the ability to space the floor on nearly every possession, it seems Fredette’s abilities could be used by at least someone.
“I think there are a number of teams where I think his particular skills would fit,” Fraschilla said. “But that’s just the opinion of one man who isn’t in the league on a day-to-day basis. It will take a coach and a general manger saying, ‘Hey, ‘let’s give him a shot.’”
Fredette still has one year left on his deal with the Sharks. In an interview with Sports Illustrated during TBT, he acknowledged how much the NBA has evolved since he came into the league and eventually bounced around four teams nearly a decade ago.
“There’s a lot of transition, a lot of moving the ball, things I can excel in,” Fredette said, “so I think the league has really changed to my favor since I got into the NBA.”
For at least for one more night on ESPN, this resurrection of Jimmermania lives on.
If Team Fredette wins Thursday night at Morgan State University in Baltimore, $2 million will be on the line Friday evening in the championship game. The team, pieced together by Fredette’s older brother TJ and co-general manager Dan Britten, also features former BYU stars Brandon Davies and Charles Abouo.
Turns out, TJ Fredette initially had to twist little brother’s arm a bit to even suit up. Jimmer told TJ he’d play in the first round just to help out, but after the first win, he was immediately hooked. Now Jimmer is back on SportsCenter turning in throwback performances to 2011 when he put up gaudy numbers and led the Cougars to the Sweet 16 and became, well, Jimmer.
The endless point-counterpoint regarding Jimmer’s potential NBA return will again power on, as it always does. And fans will continue to ask why a guy who can do what he does in such mesmerizing fashion on the court can’t — at least — get another shot.
“I think he does want that opportunity to show itself,” TJ Fredette said, “but I don’t think he’ll sacrifice the amazing things he has in China if he doesn’t feel like he’s going to get that opportunity to help. If he feels like he might just be lost in the mix and on the bench, I don’t think just the status of being in the NBA is enough. He actually wants play and contribute, and help a team win.”