What’s ailing Jimmer?

Originally published 12 pm on Saturday, January 14th

For a third-consecutive game, rookie Jimmer Fredette started in place of the injured Marcus Thornton.  And for a third-straight time, Jimmer struggled.  This is something Kings fans are beginning to expect.

This isn’t a hammer piece on the 22-year old BYU product.  I won’t call him a bust or tell you the Kings made a mistake.  This is about what ails this talented, young man – nothing more.

It seems there’s a huge responsibility being Jimmer Fredette.  When he steps on the court, he’s playing for something bigger than just the Sacramento Kings.

He’s playing for a crowd of people who are either there to cheer him or jeer him.

Comparisons have been made between Jimmer and the Denver Broncos ultra-religious quarterback Tim Tebow.  I don’t see it.  Jimmer is a religious guy, with values and morals, but that’s only part of who he is.  He isn’t a walking billboard for the LDS church like Tebow is for the Christian faith.  He is just a young guy trying to make his way in a very noisy world.

There is an athlete that Jimmer does remind me of.  A player that captured the imagination of a nation, perhaps even a continent.  A player who embraced the hype and let it elevate him in every way, similar to the way Jimmer did in college.

This may seem dated, but in my eyes, Jimmer  is a whole lot more Fernando Valenzuela than he is Tim Tebow.

Fernando Valenzuela you ask?

Fernando busted onto the major league baseball scene as a 19-year old phenom for the Los Angeles Dodgers during the 1980 pennant chase.  But,  Fernandomania really began the following season when the portly young man out of Navajoa, Mexico stormed the NL, winning both the Cy Young award and the Rookie of the Year trophy.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Fernando embraced the noise.  He embraced the fame and each and every night, he rose above his own talent level on the backs of adoring fans.

Are you starting to understand the correlation yet?

Like Jimmer and his loyal group of LDS followers, Fernando had to carry the torch for the Mexican people.  Both men achieved iconic status before they were old enough to drink.  The pressure on both?   Tremendous.

So why is Jimmer struggling now?  What’s ailing one of the best shooters to ever play at the NCAA level?

Jimmer stopped buying in.

Somewhere along the way, Jimmer stopped believing in Jimmermania.  While trying to be a good teammate or fit into an NBA locker room, Jimmer forgot what made him great – he forgot that when fans in the crowd started yelling at him to shoot, it went in a high percentage of the time.

Right now, it looks like he has the yips.  Jimmer feels it and so do his teammates.  There is a certain amount of hesitation in his actions.  That hesitation is causing him to be what many experts believe he would become – a rotational player, but a back-up.

“I’m just trying to get into the flow, help my teammates out, try to do what is right during the game,” Jimmer said earlier this season.  “Maybe there have been a couple of shots that I have turned down. I don’t think there has been too many, but there probably have been a couple.”

An video illustration of Jimmer Fredette’s hestitant play of late.

It turns out Jimmer is too nice.  You can watch him ask for the ball.  With the clock winding, you can almost hear the please and thank you.  His teammates act accordingly, passing to the other guy, the one who is yelling at them, not the guy who is asking politely.

The coaches tell him to be more aggressive, first Paul Westphal and now Keith Smart.  They know his potential, but similar to Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, they have yet to figure out how to fully harness or unleash Jimmer’s talents.

Sure, he has a lot to learn about the NBA game.  He needs to stay on the balls of his feet.  He needs to slide along the three-point line to give teammates better passing lanes and he needs to find his balance.  He needs to keep his dribble longer and not leave his feet to pass.

More than that, he needs to start playing the game and stop worrying about being the perfect teammate.  Teammates cheer when the ball goes in the basket and they cheer when they win.  Jimmer can help both those issues.

Jimmer needs to find his machismo.  He needs to find the moxie that made him a great college player.  He needs to harness his inner Fernando.  It’s time for Jimmermania.

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James Ham

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