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SALT LAKE CITY — Former local college basketball stars Damian Lillard and Jimmer Fredette recently crossed the midway point of the NBA season and both players appear to be streaking — in opposite directions.
Lillard, halfway through his rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers, is averaging 18.1 points per game and 6.5 assists per game to go along with two NBA Rookie of the Month awards and a selection to play in the Rising Stars Challenge as part of NBA All-Star weekend.
The Blazers have won three of their last four games and are currently positioned just outside the playoffs at ninth place in the Western Conference, but could make a strong move this weekend as they face the Jazz in back-to-back games.
The reason for Lillard’s success can be seen in his stats, but some feel that it can largely be credited to his passing. Grantland writer Brett Koremenos gives an in-depth look at Lillard’s passing ability, and ESPN.com’s David Thorpe writes about the rookie’s distribution of the ball and playing balanced as cause for his success.
“This gives the Blazers the advantage of having their point guard as a threat, so when he's on the attack, he draws attention from help defenders, which gets his teammates open. He's also a willing passer who wants to make the right pass, quarterbacking his team to the upper half of the league in offensive efficiency, the only rookie doing so.”
The Weber State product will be on the court participating in the All-Star Weekend festivities, while Fredette is hoping to get a chance to join him in Houston and take part in the 3-point shootout.
The former BYU standout is currently tied for 12th in the league when it comes to 3-point percentage with 42.3, but has been as high is third in recent weeks. However, the contest usually only takes six participants, and there are only two weeks until the break.
Meanwhile, the Sacramento Kings have lost six of their last eight games with the two wins coming against two teams tied for the worst record in the NBA this season, Charlotte and Washington.
During this stretch, Fredette hasn’t scored more than seven points and recorded two DNP’s. His spotty minutes aren’t anything new, but fans and media continue to wonder why the Keith Smart won’t play a man the organization won’t trade.
In an interview with James Ham, Smart says that Fredette doesn’t need to focus on playing a certain guard position right now, but needs to work on developing into a good basketball player fit for the NBA game. With so many guards on the team, Fredette is the odd man out, but Ham suggests that Fredette speak up and demand playing:
“First and foremost, he needs to fight. On a team filled with selfish players, the strong-willed voices are being heard and he is not. The last thing Jimmer will ever be is the squeaky wheel, but his unselfish approach has once again led to him to become forgotten.
“Is Smart right to sit Jimmer? That’s not really for me to say. The kid has proven he’s an NBA player. He is a scoring machine and he provides spacing and perimeter shooting. Unfortunately, he’s lost in a numbers game.”
With his numbers and minutes continuing to drop, Fredette's team is sitting in 13th place in the West, he's bound for the lottery again, and looking at moving cities. This can’t be what Fredette expected the NBA to be like.
Fredette and the Kings are on the road in Philadelphia and New York before coming to Utah to face the Jazz on Monday.
Andrew Devey is a BYU senior studying communications. You can follow him on Twitter @adevey or watch him following Fredette and Lillard's NBA season at bit.ly/JimmerLillard