Find out how Thomas and Fredette have put themselves on the short list of candidates to be selected to the Rising Stars Challenge. Plus, is the NBA 3-Point Contest in No. 7’s future?
Following a string of spectacular performances in recent weeks, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette – two of the most electrifying first-year players in the League – have their sights set on making a trip to 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend in Orlando and a spot on the Rising Stars Challenge roster.
“It would be an honor,” Thomas says. “(Knowing you’re) one of the top rookies would be a blessing. You’d know that you worked hard and things were going your way the first half of the season.”
The 5-foot-9 guard has averaged 10.2 points (48.9 FG%) and 3.7 assists over the last six games, while also providing a huge spark on the defensive end by coming up with incredible plays and drawing 13 charges – the 11th-most in the League according to Hoopdata.com.
“My dad always told me, ‘Be a leader, not a follower,’” he says. “When I was little, I took that to heart.
“When guys see you working your butt off, they can’t do anything but respect it. ‘Okay, I have to listen to the little fella – even though he’s a rookie – he might know what he’s talking about.’”
Coach Keith Smart attests the 22-year-old has quickly commanded the esteem of veterans with his insatiable work ethic and undeterred confidence.
“He was a dynamic leader in college, he has that leadership ability and he is vocal – very, very vocal,” says the Kings coach. “And he doesn’t care who he talks to – it can be a veteran, it can be a second year player – it makes no difference.
He’s going to let it be known ‘I’m in control,’ and that’s very powerful for a basketball team.”
Smart has, in turn, rewarded No. 22 with more playing time after noticing the integral role the guard has played in keeping the Kings in close games, and the determined Thomas has not disappointed by routinely producing in crunch time. The rookie scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the final frame against the Jazz on Jan. 28, and led a furious Sacramento comeback by hitting three triples during the final three minutes against the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 31.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself so I’m not amazed by the things I’m doing right now, but I know a lot of people are, and I’m just trying to do whatever I can to make this team a better team and get more wins in the win column,” says Thomas. “If that’s me cheering on the bench, if that’s me going out and stopping the best player on the other team, I’m going to try my hardest to do that.”
Fredette echoes his teammate’s sentiment, and, also, has earned consideration for the mid-season classic.
The former Brigham Young University standout has scored in double-figures in four of his last five appearances, averaging 14.2 points per game – including a blistering 15-of-25 from behind the arc. In the process, the rookie has increased his three-point percentage from 27.8 to 38.3 percent – tops on the team and 33rd in the League among all players with at least 50 attempts from downtown.
“When I get into the game, (I) just play as hard as I can,” No. 7 says. “The shots will fall. I just go out there and (do) whatever it is that the coach wants me to do and whatever it is that’s best to help the team win.”
Although the sharpshooting rookie has not played in the last two contests following the return of Sacramento’s leading scorer, Marcus Thornton, Fredette set NBA career-highs in points (20), assists (6) and free throws (7) against the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 21, and once again paced the team with 19 points, including a career-high five three-pointers, versus the Denver Nuggets four nights later.
Fredette, who ranks second in three-pointers (31), seventh in scoring (8.6 points per game) and ninth in assists (2.0) among all first-year players, says he’d feel privileged to be selected to the Rising Stars Challenge and team up with many of his long-time collegiate foes.
“It would mean a lot,” says Fredette. “It would be a lot of fun to be able to play, and just to be a part of that whole weekend is something you dream about as a kid.
“I’ve been through a lot with the rookies who are in the NBA right now, with the combine, and all the (pre-Draft) workouts and all the (games) last season when we were in college. We’ve seen each other a lot, and it would be fun to see them and play with them again.”
The team’s dynamic first-year duo could also be joined by second-year center DeMarcus Cousins at the Feb. 24 affair.
“I’m sure we’d have a (good) little battle there, talk some trash and everything to each other – just friendly stuff,” says Fredette of the potential face-off with his Sacramento teammate.
“It would be fun, just being around your teammates, and then being around the other rookies and second year players,” added Thomas. “Hopefully it happens, but it not, I’ll try to get it next year.”
If their latest feats have been any indication, Sacramento’s young stars would put on quite a show on the League’s biggest stage.
– The Kings have previously had three pairs of teammates selected to the Rising Stars Challenge in the same year: Cousins and Tyreke Evans (2011), Evans and Omri Casspi (2010) and Brian Grant and Michael Smith (1995).
– Fredette, whose 1.5 triples per contest are the most by a Kings rookie since Jason Williams (2.0) in 1998-99, would enjoy the opportunity to compete in the NBA’s Three-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend.