Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Former Nittany Lion Tim Frazier's Difficult NBA Journey To The Big Easy

Clawing out a career in the NBA has been a challenge for the Penn State product. But he is back in the league now, and feels "blessed" to have the opportunity.

Before Tim Frazier's NBA odyssey began, he had occasion to sit for an interview with the woebegone Philadelphia 76ers. And at one point the conversation turned to college degrees; Frazier earned two of them at Penn State, in supply chain and information systems in 2013, and communication arts and sciences a year later.

Sixers coach Brett Brown, a bright, curious man, honed in on the first of those.

“Give me an example,” Brown told him.

And it was then, Brown recalled, that Frazier began talking about all that was involved in moving some 2,000 crates of basketballs from the Hudson River to Guangdong, China.

“I’m like, wow,” Brown said Tuesday night, before his team earned a rare victory at the expense of Frazier and the New Orleans Pelicans. “Really, I’m like, wow. He was just impressive in his interview with us.”

Negotiating a path from the Big Ten to the NBA has not yet proven as wow-worthy for Frazier. The Pelicans are the fourth team for which he has toiled in two seasons, following Boston, Philadelphia and Portland. He has also had two stints with the Maine Red Claws of the Development League.

“You just don’t buy a house,” he said as he sat in front of his cubicle in the Wells Fargo Center’s road locker room before Tuesday’s game. “Other than that, you live out of your bags and you just continue to work. And hopefully in the long run you’ll find a place that will fit you.”

“You just don’t buy a house. Other than that, you live out of your bags and you just continue to work. And hopefully in the long run you’ll find a place that will fit you.”

It’s not as bad as it sounds, though.

“To be honest with you,” he said, “I feel pretty blessed to be able to be here, to be part of the NBA — being part of all these organizations and learning from all these great teams, great players. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

The Pelicans signed him to a 10-day contract on March 16, then for the rest of the season when that expired, after a devastating wave of injuries hit the team. It is one that has deprived them of eight of their top nine players, including star center Anthony Davis and the two best guys at Frazier’s position, point guard — Jrue Holiday and Norris Cole.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Frazier has as a result been presented something he never had at this level before — extended minutes across multiple games. And he is making the most of them, averaging 13.8 points and 6.4 assists in 12 games with the Pelicans, highlighted by a 19-point, 13-assist performance in Sunday’s rout of Brooklyn. Both those numbers were career highs.

Most noteworthy to date is the fact that he has made exactly half his shots (and is shooting a healthy 47.6 percent from 3-point range), as he had struggled on offense previously. His shooting percentage was a woeful 38.9 percent in his first 46 professional games, 33.3 percent from the arc.

Just a matter of getting in the gym, Frazier said. Just a matter of getting some shots up.

“I think you just put the work in, continue to work at it, and it pays off,” he said.

Seems true in a larger sense, too.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

“What he’s been able to do is take advantage of an opportunity,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I think that’s the main thing. Been real solid for us. Did a good job of running the team. I think he was over-penetrating at the start, trying to do a little bit too much, but he found out exactly the difference between being aggressive and getting himself in trouble.”

Gentry went so far as to give Frazier a start Tuesday in Philadelphia, the only one he has had with the Pels to date. He collected 12 points, nine assists and six rebounds, but did not play as well as those numbers might suggest. He shot just 4-for-12 from the floor, and while his team got off to a strong start, the Sixers overtook them in the second quarter and never looked back, their 107-93 victory just their 10th in 78 games this season.

Frazier bounced back with an 18-point effort in Wednesday’s loss in Boston, and is fully aware that while he is a fill-in on a 28-49 team playing out the string, players are always being evaluated, no matter their circumstances.

“And,” he said, “who knows what will happen this summer?”

Undrafted out of Penn State in 2014, he went to training camp with the Celtics but was cut. His first stint with the Red Claws followed, but the Sixers signed him to a 10-day contract in February of last year.

Note that Philadelphia, a team sacrificing the present in hopes of a better future, has had a never-ending parade of marginal players through its locker room the last three seasons. That has been particularly true as it pertains to backup point guards. Frazier was following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Eric Maynor, Casper Ware, Lorenzo Brown, Larry Drew, et al.

“It was the first team to give me an opportunity to play in the league,” Frazier said. “That was a blessing to come up here.”

He was able to learn from Brown, a terrific coach given little talent with which to work. And he earned his first start in his second game with the Sixers, going scoreless with eight assists in a victory over Charlotte, then started the next two games as well.

Philadelphia signed him to a second 10-day contract but did not keep him after that, and Frazier drifted to Portland, which gave him a two-year deal with two weeks left in the season.

Six games there. Thirty-five more this season. Followed, on Feb. 18, by a pink slip.

“Obviously it was difficult,” he said. “That was my first team I spent almost a full year with, and grew relationships. But the NBA is a business. It’s all a business.”

So it was back to Maine for a while, and, finally, New Orleans.

Supply chain? It bends, and sometimes breaks. But Tim Frazier still fervently believes he has something to provide. And doesn’t believe he will have to go to Guangdong to prove it.


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