One was a top-10 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. The other was the NBA’s version of Mr. Irrelevant; the last pick in the 2011 Draft. When the Kings selected Jimmer Fredette out of BYU the notion was that the pick coming 50 slots later wouldn’t mean much.
The fact is that pick, traditionally a throw-away, turned into Isaiah Thomas of Washington.
Instead of drafting an unknown international player with no intention of ever coming to the NBA, the Kings took a flyer on a talented young player and he took advantage.
Draft night was an interesting one for the Sacramento Kings as they played fast and loose with a high-profile, big-time trade. They were slotted to draft No. 7 overall, No. 35, and then eventually, after a few hours No. 60. They had plenty of needs on draft night to try and build around the core of Tyreke Evans (SG) and DeMarcus Cousins (C). The rest of the roster was interchangeable and not locked in.
Throughout the 2010-2011 season, the team fluctuated between Beno Udrih, Pooh Jeter and even Marcus Thornton at the point guard position. None of them were the answer or even averaged five assists per game.
With two young stars in Evans and Cousins, this team needed a leader that could jell the team together with leadership and steady distributing. Heading into the draft, there was a plethora of quality point guards on the board expected to go high. The Kings passed on Kemba Walker (Charlotte Bobcats) and Brandon Knight (Detroit Pistons), and instead selected Jimmer Fredette.
That pick came after a draft day trade between Sacramento, Charlotte and Milwaukee. In the trade the Kings acquired the 10th pick and John Salmons in exchange for the 7th pick and Udrih. With the 10th pick they took the most polarizing prospect since Adam Morrison. It was hot or cold with The Jimmer. He was either a future All-Star or a bust.
Inversely, the Kings used the 60th pick on Thomas who, after playing well throughout January, is now the Kings’ starting point guard. The 60th pick. Mr. Irrelevant. The last pick.
[RELATED: Dime’s NBA Draft Diary With Isaiah Thomas]
How did Thomas become a starting point guard just a few months after being an afterthought on draft night?
“I just played hard. Every chance and opportunity I got I played hard and coach noticed it,” Thomas told me when I headed out this weekend to watch the Kings fall by eight in Phoenix.
It is an utter amazement that the player picked in that slot even makes it to the NBA and plays. Looking back over the past 21 years, it’s beyond incredible. It is miss-miss-miss-HIT. A few players, namely Will Blalock (Detroit Pistons) and Semih Erden (Boston Celtics), have made an impact. That is it.
It’s something that does not happen, well, ever in NBA history.
Teams do not normally take a player that has potential with their late second-round picks. Sure Thomas, Blalock and Erden got into the league and made an impact. Then you have international picks that are throwaways like Zeljko Rebraca (Yugoslavia), Roberto Duenas (Spain), Andreas Glynidakis (Greece), and Milovan Rakovic (Serbia). The misses are numerous because nobody strives to pick at No. 60 and no player works to get selected there. Thomas is not the norm, he is the exception.
Still, the relationship between Fredette and Thomas is remarkably good.
“Jimmer is a great guy, even better basketball player,” Thomas says. “We are just trying to get better each and every day as rookies come in and work hard.”
Both of these guys are trying to make each other better and the fact that one went 50 picks after the other is not an issue.
Kings’ coach Keith Smart knows he has something in Thomas.
“I think the young man is doing a great job, considering he was the last pick in the draft and he is not supposed to be in this position right here,” he says. “He is growing at a great rate and I do not want to put any additional pressure on him.”
Watching them on the court, Smart is right on about Thomas (9.1 points a night, 16.02 PER). He gets it and is now trying to manage the game for a team sorely lacking leadership. On the flip side, watching Fredette (7.9 points a game, 11.53 PER) is a bit frustrating. He barely plays and normally doesn’t look engaged on offense. His body language and demeanor aren’t that of a player with confidence.
Even Steve Nash admitted it, telling me, “They are both going to have great careers, obviously right now Isaiah is playing more, maybe a little further along.”
This is just the start of the careers of both Fredette and Thomas. Considering this is one of the strangest, fastest-paced seasons in NBA history this odd couple is turning into exactly what the Kings needed.
Who will have the better career?
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