I probably need to clarify that I have no invested interest in what I am about to write, which concerns one of the most celebrated and equivocally detested college basketball players of all time.
I'm not a Duke fan, nor am I a Duke hater.
Former Duke University star J.J. Redick is much more valuable to the Orlando Magic than the stat sheet may reveal. In fact, the Magic cannot win a playoff series without him.
(Please refrain from coarse language and crass comments until further reading).
Sure, the numbers don't jump off of the stat sheet thus far in the playoffs (6.1 points, 2.1 assists in just about 23 minutes a game), but he brings certain qualities and a basketball IQ that makes everyone around him a little bit better.
Redick started playing a more active role when Courtney Lee went down with an injury in the Philadelphia series. Prior to game five in that series, he played only 12 total minutes. From game five onward, he averaged nearly 27 minutes per contest.
The increased minutes did not result in increased points from the regular season. The point was not for Redick to replace Lee, because quite frankly, Redick's game is not Courtney Lee's. Redick rather has filled in as a quintessential role player.
Redick's contributions have Orlando coach, Stan Van Gundy, realizing Redick is not someone he can just part with now that Lee has returned.
Offensively, Redick's execution of the high pick and roll with all-star center, Dwight Howard, has been masterful. He has not shown much of an ability to create for himself off of it (he's shooting below 40 percent in the playoffs), but he is successful at drawing both defenders and making a timely pass through the trap.
If the defender follows him over the screen, Redick takes a sharp angle as Howard creates space on the roll. Howard's man, mostly in the Boston series, looked to close out on Redick and force him into a trap, especially off the baseline side of the screen.
Reading the defender the whole way, Redick has been making pinpoint bounce passes to the rolling Howard. Few times has the defender went underneath the screen because Redick is still feared as a shooter.
How valuable is this?
Many players might become a little too greedy off the pick and roll and get caught in a trap or force a shot. Not Redick. He knows the game plan and follows it precisely. It establishes their best offensive threat early and potentially puts opposing big men in foul trouble.
It also establishes an inside-out game plan that completely opens the floor in the latter stages of the game. Boston had trouble defending this, even though they knew when it would be run, because Redick executed it so well. Redick also does it without turning the ball over (four total in the 2009 playoffs).
When the pick would not come, Redick became an ideal perimeter teammate. If open, he shot (though not too well). If not, Redick would allow the defense to close down on him and quickly reverse the ball. With defenders committing on one side of the floor, a quick reversal opened up backside options for the Magic.
Hedo Turkoglu, Mikael Pietrus, and Rafer Alston benefited from such altruism; they often found themselves with open shots or, in Alston's case, an open lane with an opportunity to attack the basket when the defense did not rotate quick enough.
Redick has been no slouch defensively either. For most of the Boston series, he had to defend Ray Allen. This is where the little, subtle things make a player quite valuable to his team.
In the Boston-Chicago series in the first round, Ben Gordon spent most of his time defending Allen. He followed Allen through all screens. Mistakenly, however, Gordon would widen himslef out on cuts without working to keep between Allen and the basket.
As a result, Gordon chased Allen more than defended him. Any time Allen used multiple screens and re-screens, Gordon became completely lost.
Redick defended Allen much more aggressively. He would stay in front and force Allen to go through him to reach the screener. This often caused Allen to round off his cuts through screens and gave Redick's teammates opportunities to bump him as well. Because Allen was not cutting as precisely and sharply, it was easier for Redick to close out on his shot.
Whereas Gordon relied too much on his speed to defend Allen, Redick never really chased, probably because he knew it would have been in vain. Instead he made it a wrestling match between the two as Allen tried to run the resilient Redick into screens, though often to no avail.
Allen's field goal and three-point percentage took a big dive between the two series'. Against Chicago, he shot 45 percent from the floor and 47 percent from beyond the arc. In the Orlando series, Allen only managed 34 percent from the floor and an abysmal 19 percent (8-42) from three-point range.
Was Allen's decline due solely to J.J. Redick? Certainly not, though the way in which Redick defended had to play a role in Allen's comfort level and fatigue late in games.
Redick will probably never live up to the expectations of being a lottery pick, but he doesn't have to. His merit isn't in the points column. His merit is something more intangible.
Contrary to popular anti-Duke belief, J.J. Redick will be an NBA player for years to come. And if you are a Duke fan, that gives you yet another NBA veteran and even more haters.
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