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Former local college stars Jimmer Fredette and Damian Lillard both recorded career highs in scoring during the last week of NBA action, reaching 22 and 29 points, respectively.
Lillard's career high came against the San Antonio Spurs in a 98-90 win last Thursday. He added seven rebounds and six assists in that contest.
Three nights later, Lillard matched up against the league's other top rookie, Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets. With the game tied late, Lillard hit a 3-point shot from the angle right with 0.3 seconds left to give the Blazers a three-point victory and extend their winning streak to three games.
Performances like that that led to Lillard, the former Weber State star, being named the Western Conference's NBA Rookie of the Month for October/November. He averaged 19.1 points and 6.3 assists during that time and started all 18 games.
For all his early success, some say he's capable of playing even better. Jay Wierenga of Bleacher Report gives four ways that Lillard could improve, while Henry Abbot of ESPN's True Hoop believes Lillard's game winner will only make people believe he is something he's not.
Abbot writes: "Sometimes things seem true just because we want them to be true. We want some NBA players to be superheroic with the game on the line. Who doesn't want to believe there are Supermans and Batmans poised to save us? It's a lovely thought. Our love of that idea causes us to edit the misses of those players from our memories ...
"Lillard is a very good young player as evidenced not just by any one moment but by all the moments of his young NBA career. If coach (Terry) Stotts deploys Lillard as one of his team's many weapons, but still adheres to the basic principles of basketball — most importantly by attacking the defense where it is weak or absent — then Lillard can be not just part of a mythical closer club, but part of a team that wins more than a random number of close games."
Fredette's career high of 22 points came in a 101-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns Monday night. The second-year guard scored 12 in the first half but sat on the bench for most of the third quarter and watched the Kings squander a 19-point lead, resulting in their fifth straight loss by double digits.
Fredette hit 3-of-5 shots from behind the arc and all five free throws in addition to collecting three rebounds and finishing with plus-5 efficiency when on the floor.
Minutes have been sporadic for Fredette, the former BYU star, so far this season and there's no telling what lineup moves Kings coach Keith Smart might make next.
In the last few weeks Smart has experimented playing Fredette alongside fellow second-year guard Isiah Thomas, which led to some success for the team in its win over Orlando.
“It was a great dynamic,” Fredette told Jonathon Santiago of Cowbell Kingdom. “I think it’s two guys that can shoot the ball, but also can make plays for other people, can get into the lane and penetrate.”
With the recent poor play of veteran guard Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans out with an injury, and Marcus Thornton missing the last few games for personal reasons, Sacramento may turn to small ball more frequently.
“We just played hard. We’ve been on the court together a few times last year and we were pretty successful," Thomas said. "I tell him when I’m in, ‘When I pass it to you, just shoot it.'"
Fredette and Lillard engaged in some friendly bantering this week over the matchup of their two former schools, BYU and Weber State. The Cougars beat the Wildcats 78-68 and Lillard tweeted "ya'll got us tonight" to Fredette and former BYU basketball player Jackson Emery.
Andrew Devey is a BYU senior studying communications. You can follow him on Twitter @adevey or watch him follow Fredette and Lillard's NBA season at bit.ly/JimmerLillard