For the past few weeks, the most frequent question in my inbox goes something like this: "Why isn't BYU's Jimmer Fredette ranked higher on your Big Board?"
It's a good question. If you're a college basketball fan and don't know who Fredette is, you're missing something special. He's having a scintillating senior season, leading the NCAA in scoring with a 26. 1 ppg average while shooting 48 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3. He averages 4.4 assists per game, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
On Tuesday, Fredette went nuts on Utah, scoring 47 points on 16-for-28 shooting. He dropped 39 points on UNLV in Vegas and 33 points against Arizona this season.
But while Irving and Walker are frequently mentioned as potential lottery picks in the 2011 NBA draft, NBA scouts get a bit squeamish when it comes to Fredette.
Fredette, coming off a terrific junior season in which he averaged 22 ppg and shot 44 percent from 3, declared for the 2010 draft but failed to get a first-round promise. Fredette was so interested in the NBA that he gave a late workout to the New York Knicks on the premise that they promise to take him with their second-round pick -- and the Knicks passed after the workout.
While NBA scouts all say they appreciate him as a player, they say all the wrong things when talking about his pro potential. They emphasize that he lacks the lateral quickness to guard his position. They claim he doesn't have the top-end speed of today's great point guards. They position him as a 6-foot-2 shooting guard trapped in a Euroleague player's body. Almost all of them assert he's one dimensional in an Eddie House sort of way.
Of course, scouts said virtually the same thing about a skinny kid from Davidson named Stephen Curry for two years before eventually getting on the Curry bandwagon.
Like Curry, Fredette's been one of the best deep-range shooters in the NCAA for two years running. He's been quick enough to get past his defender and to the free throw line 355 times in the past season and a half. He has a great basketball IQ and would average twice the assists if BYU didn't ask him to carry the offense every night. He's tough, super competitive and fearless.
After Fredette lit up Utah on Tuesday, I went back to a number of scouts and executives to push a little more. Is Fredette really just a mediocre draft prospect? Most of the scouts I spoke with still insisted that he's a second-round pick. A few had him as a late first-rounder.
But two of the sources I spoke with had him in the 15-20 range. Interestingly, the two sources that ranked him highest had brought him in for workouts last year before Fredette withdrew from the draft.
Fredette's coach, Dave Rose, isn't surprised. Rose helped guide Fredette through the draft process last year and said the feedback from the teams he worked out for was positive.
"The underlying theme from all the teams was that they were surprised by how good an athlete he is," Rose told ESPN.com. "He may look a step slow, or maybe he doesn't look the part, but when they got him in and tested his athletic skills, they were really impressed."
Rose said that teams also raved about Fredette's shooting ability. So why didn't someone make him a promise? Rose said the timing was tough thanks to a new NCAA rule that gives underclassmen a narrow window to test the draft waters.
"They were all interested in drafting him, but it was just too early in the process to give him a guarantee. So Jimmer decided to come back and work on his game."
Rose said that Fredette has made his biggest strides transitioning from a scorer into a point guard. "He's really improved his ability to recognize defenses and be able to attack it. He's become really patient and now understands how to get his teammates involved."
So why, exactly, aren't NBA teams fawning over Fredette? Rose has a theory.
"Jimmer's a unique player, and unique players are just harder to scout." Rose said. "The NBA guys are all looking for a prototype. They look for long. They look for explosive athleticism. Jimmer isn't those things. But he does a lot of things that almost no other player in the country can do. Those are things that translate at the NBA level, too."
Rose might be right. One NBA exec said Fredette's workout last year, combined with his improved play this season, has erased most of his doubts.
"We really had all the concerns that you spoke about. Is he quick enough? Can he guard 1s? Will he be able to get to the basket at the next level?" the exec said. "So [when he came in for the workout] we put him up against the quickest guard we could find. And we were really blown away with how well he played. He defended and he still was able to do his thing. He's not a sure thing the way a John Wall or Derrick Rose was. He has to play on the right team with a coach who uses him the right way. But I wouldn't bet against that kid. He's tough, he's more athletic than you think and he really knows how to play.
"I don't know who will or won't be in the draft, and there's guys I'd take ahead of him, but I also know I'd want him on my basketball team. He's going to go higher than people think ... the same way Tyler Hansbrough did a few years ago. We spend so much time talking about tools or lack thereof, but sometimes a guy is just a basketball player."
Fredette has been stuck in the mid-40s on our Big Board all season based on the feedback we've received from NBA scouts and executives. However, after our latest round of interviews, we've moved him up to No. 30. Given that a handful of prospects above him on our Big Board won't declare for the draft, that would project him as a mid- to late-first-round pick. And if Fredette and BYU go off on a huge run in the NCAA tournament, he has the chance to rise even higher.