Commentary

Knicks must pass on Jimmer Fredette

BYU sharpshooter from Glens Falls has got game, but 'Bockers need D to beat Heat

Updated: June 3, 2011, 8:11 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

It would be a heck of a story, a kid from Glens Falls plunging in the NBA draft as if he were tumbling down a map of the state, landing in the backcourt of his dream team, the New York Knicks, who encourage their shooters to fire away from all corners of the gym.

Jimmer Fredette is most certainly Mike D'Antoni's cup of tea. Fredette is an open-court player who prefers to let it rip in six seconds or less, never mind seven, and next season he will be among the few players in the NBA who need to be guarded the moment he crosses midcourt.

[+] EnlargeFredette
Chuck Cook/US PresswireDrafting Jimmer Fredette might be tempting, but the Knicks need defense to get to the next level.

So the Knicks are scheduled to work him out Thursday just like they worked him out last year, when Fredette suffered a quad injury and pulled his name from the draft. The Knicks wanted the Brigham Young star to leave school early, wanted him to stay on the board so they could grab him in the second round at No. 38 or 39, and instead Fredette made the smartest choice of his charmed basketball life.

He became a coast-to-coast phenomenon as a BYU senior, running and gunning his way to a likely place among the top 15 picks on the night of June 23. But there's a legitimate chance Fredette might fall to No. 17, his preferred destination, and if the most recognizable name in college basketball does indeed put Donnie Walsh on the clock, the Knicks should do the one thing Fredette wasn't asked to do in school:

Pass.

This is no sweeping indictment of Fredette, who should have a long and productive NBA career in someone's rotation. At a muscular 6-foot-2 with a jump shot to die for, Fredette could end up as another Vinnie Johnson, a microwaveable option off a lucky coach's bench.

Only Fredette doesn't match up with any of the Knicks' pressing needs. They are short on size, rebounding, and interior and perimeter defense. They need a shooting guard with a reliable jump shot, but not one that comes packaged inside a point guard's body.

"In some ways Fredette is a perfect fit for D'Antoni's system," said one Eastern Conference executive, "because Mike doesn't put as high a premium on defense as some other coaches do.

"But how many guys can you hide on that end of the floor? You already have two stars in [Carmelo] Anthony and [Amare] Stoudemire who don't play defense like the stars in Miami do. At some point the Knicks have to get some complementary players in there who can get you stops and do the dirty-work things that Anthony and Stoudemire aren't going to do."

Walsh and D'Antoni should find one of those complementary players at No. 17. For all of the offensive firepower new-look Miami has showcased on its virgin voyage to the Finals, defensive tenacity separated the Heat from the less committed Eastern Conference pack.

Fredette's supporters will argue that he didn't play any defense at BYU because he wasn't asked to play any defense at BYU. They will argue that Fredette was weighed down by the burdens of carrying a relatively weak NCAA contender.

They will argue that he was forever asked to score 30 to 40 points a night for the Cougars, forcing him to conserve every ounce of energy for the offensive side of the ball.

Whatever. Any right-minded observer who watched Fredette in college knows that with a lot of work he will be a mediocre NBA defender, and probably something south of that.

The Knicks can't give another roster spot to another player who fits this profile. The Heat represent their mountain to climb over the next four years or so, and the Knicks aren't beating Miami -- or an aging Boston, for that matter -- in a seven-game series until they find a Joel Anthony or two to call their own.

Fredette's funky skill set presents other issues. He thrived on constant touches at BYU, and yet would have no such freedom to dominate the ball in a Knicks offense designed to be all Melo, all the time.

He can't play shooting guard in a league where the much bigger and much better likes of Dwyane Wade man that position. At the point, Fredette's lack of lateral intensity will leave him vulnerable to the Derrick Roses, Rajon Rondos, Russell Westbrooks and Chris Pauls of the league.

On the plus side, Fredette has an absurdly quick first step and a crossover dribble that would break both of Allen Iverson's ankles. He also has a 36-inch vertical leap that serves his perimeter shot well, and defies those evaluators who subscribe to Jurassic stereotypes -- whether they realize it or not -- by constantly comparing Fredette to white players they believe to be athletically challenged.

As a semi-local who wants to be a Knick, and as a celebrity instantly recognized by a first name ripped straight from a Hoosiers script, Jimmer would be a hard kid to ignore with the 17th pick of an underwhelming draft. If the Knicks sold tickets to their pre-draft workouts, Fredette would be the one prospect to draw a standing-room-only crowd.

Only Walsh has been in this position before. In a different life, while running the Indiana Pacers, Walsh listened as a vocal segment of his fan base campaigned for one of Bob Knight's All-Americans, Steve Alford. Walsh drafted some stiff named Reggie Miller instead.

Maybe Utah at No. 12 or Phoenix at No. 13 or Indiana at No. 15 will pick Fredette and leave Walsh with an easier call. Or maybe not.

If Jimmer does make it unscathed to No. 17, the Knicks have to resist the temptation to take a high-profile player with a high-octane offensive game.

They don't need someone to put the ball in the basket.

They need someone to stop the Miami Heat from doing the same.

Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter."

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

EDITORS' PICKS