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Jimmer, Isaiah Aim for Rising Stars

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Filed under All-Star Weekend, Analysis, Big Post, Hoops.

Jimmer, Isaiah Aim for Rising Stars

Find out how Fredette and Thomas have elevated their play as sophomores and earned consideration for the All-Star Weekend event featuring first- and second-year standouts.

Establishing themselves as two of the League’s top up-and-coming guards, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette – showcasing improved all-around skill sets and noticeably greater confidence as sophomores – have made strong cases to earn spots on the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend Rising Stars Challenge roster.

“It would be great and it would be fun to be selected,” says Fredette. “It’s a cool game to be a part of and it’ll be interesting to see what happens. It would be very exciting to be able to get there and be a part of All-Star Weekend – just the aura of it.”

Kings Assistant Coaches Bobby Jackson, Jim Eyen, Alex English and Clifford Ray – who will submit a ballot to help select the participants in the exhibition contest – unanimously agree both standouts deserve to make the squad.

“I think one of the things you have to look at with young players is not only what kind of season they’re having, but their development (from) where they were last year,” says Eyen. “You can tell what they worked on in the summer. I think they’ve both added to their games, and I just think there’s an overall confidence that they’ve created in feeling comfortable about the NBA game.”

“I’d take both of them,” affirms English. “Jimmer is much stronger with the ball, he’s shooting the ball better and he has a lot more confidence on the floor. I.T. has been steady – he’s learning how to read pick-and-rolls and doing a good job of finding the guy rolling to the basket or find the open man.”

No. 22 quickly made a name for himself around the League last season, showing he’s far from being “Mr. Irrelevant” by averaging 14.8 points and 5.4 assists per game in 37 starts, earning two Rookie of the Month awards and capturing an All-Rookie Second Team berth.

Yet, despite the accolades, the 5-foot-9 guard was left off the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge roster, attributing the snub to his early-season reserve role.

“I was disappointed a little bit but, at the same time, I think I started maybe two games before the All-Star break,” he says. “So I knew even if I didn’t make it, it wasn’t because people outplayed me, I just didn’t get the chance I did towards the second half.”

In 2012-13, No. 22 has picked up where he left off, ranking fifth among sophomores (minimum 10 games played) in points per 36 minutes (17.3), sixth in free-throw percentage (85.7 percent – 19th in the NBA), eighth in assist percentage (22.5) and three-point makes (1.1 per contest) and 10th in Player Efficiency Rating (15.4).

The lightning-quick guard notched a career-high 34 points against Miami on Jan. 12, connecting on six of eight attempts from downtown. Over the last six games, the Washington product has sported a 3.20 assist-to-turnover ratio, twice tallying a season-high seven assists.

In addition, Thomas’ teammates disclose he’s taken on a greater leadership role.

“Isaiah is more vocal,” says veteran Chuck Hayes. “He isn’t afraid to speak his mind, which is what you need in a point guard.”

The Tacoma native hopes NBA assistant coaches will recognize his all-around improvement.

“It would mean a lot to be able to play in (the Rising Stars Challenge), but it’s out of my control,” he says.

“I think I’ve improved a lot. When given the chance, I feel like I produce at a high level – that’s just me always staying ready and that’s what I have to do from now until the end of my career.”

Fredette has similarly increased his efficiency in 2012-13, ranking second in the League in free-throw percentage among players with at least 50 attempts (91.4 percent) and 10th in three-point accuracy (43 percent).

“He’s really worked on his game and he’s flourishing in the time he’s out on the floor, “ says Jackson. “I think he’s far ahead of where he was last year.”

No. 7 also places second in points (20.1) and three-pointers (2.5) per 36 minutes, as well as sixth in PER (16.7) among sophomores who’ve appeared in at least 10 games.

“I’ve definitely improved a lot – the numbers and stats have shown that – and my play on the court, the confidence level when you watch me play and I watch myself play on tape, looks a little bit better out there,” he says. “I’m feeling pretty good, so hopefully it continues to get even better.”

Against the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 17, 2012, the BYU product notched a career-high 22 points, connecting on three of five shots from behind the arc, in 22 minutes of action.

“He’s taking every minute and making it count for something,” says Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving. “I’ve seen his stats, and I think he was averaging at one point, like 10 points in 14 minutes. Every opportunity that’s afforded to him, he’s taking advantage of it.”

The second-year Kings guards are pulling for each other to continue to thrive and earn a trip to the mid-season classic.

“Isaiah’s come on very strong over the last few weeks and has been playing really well, (earning) the starting job and doing a good job running the team, getting the ball where it should be and scoring himself,” says Fredette. “He’ll continue to get better, too.”

No. 22 graciously repays the compliments to his backcourt teammate.

“I feel like he should be in consideration (for the Rising Stars Challenge) as much as I should be, because he’s been playing well and (there aren’t) too many second-year players playing better than him,” says Thomas. “He’s been making strides, he’s been playing a lot better than he did last year and he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”

Regardless of whether the pair ends up making the team, Eyen envisions a bright future for both up-and-coming players.

“Hopefully, they’ll get another shot, but I’ve seen plenty of players get overlooked in their rookie and sophomore years and go on to do even bigger and better things than the ones who had the accolades early,” he says. “It’s a process, and I think their process has just begun.”

Free Throws

– Grabbing double-digit rebounds four times in January, rookie Thomas Robinson – who ranks fifth in boards per 36 minutes (10.6) among first-year players – says he’d be thrilled to have the opportunity to potentially join his teammates in the All-Star Weekend festivities.

“It would mean a lot to me if I could make that game,” says No. 0. “Hopefully, I’m blessed enough to get picked for it and, if so, then it’ll be a good weekend to enjoy a new experience.”

– In addition to Fredette, Thomas and Robinson, Hayes reveals he’d vote for numerous teammates to partake in 2013 All-Star events.

“I’m putting DeMarcus (Cousins) in the All-Star Game,” begins No 42. “I’m putting Marcus Thornton in the Three-Point Contest. I’m putting Tyreke (Evans) in the Skills Challenge and, (if it still existed), the H-O-R-S-E Competition because he’d make all half-court shots.”

And One

– The Kings have been represented in the Rising Stars Challenge in three consecutive years, including 2010, when Evans notched 26 points, six rebounds and five assists to capture MVP honors.

Fan Take

Which Kings players would you like to see represent the team at 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend?

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