AP Photo/Charles Cherney
This could finally be J.J. Redick’s year. Which makes it easy to forget that J.J. Redick used to be a horrible bust that proved just how insignificant one’s college career can be.
He could always shoot. His long range acumen carried him at Duke and even when he was manning the Orlando bench for a living, he knocked down threes whenever he took the court. His worst season from behind the arc was in the 2008-2009 season when he shot a very solid 37.4 percent and his career percentage of 40.2 percent is enough to rank him 32nd all-time and 16th among active players. J.J. Redick can stroke it, man, there’s no doubt about that.
But early in his career, it just wasn’t enough. He played 79 games and 919 minutes total in his first two seasons. He got more playing time in his third season, but was fairly atrocious whenever he took the court because he was so bad at everything but those threes. His turnover percentage was nearly 14 percent, way too much for a spot-up shooter, and once he wandered inside the three-point line, his shot was almost certain to be a long two-pointer — and a missed one. It was not a fun time to be J.J. Redick.
As Orlando got deeper and went further into the playoffs in 2009, Redick finally broke through in the Eastern Conference Semfinals against Boston. Reverse-engineering his own experiences running off screens and trying to get open for threes, the unproved Redick played some surprisingly effective defense against Ray Allen, helping the Magic win the series in seven hard-fought games. The vast majority of his playoff minutes came in this series, but it was an important stretch because it proved Redick could be effectively utilized on the defensive end, the sort of valuable skill that upgrades a shooter from a potential asset to a tangible one (think pre-2012 Steve Novak and post-2012 Steve Novak).
As far as career turning points go, Redick’s is unheralded, but the data bears this one out. The following season in 2010, Redick played in all 82 games and saw his minutes uptick to 22 a night. His three-point shooting crossed the 40 percent barrier and stayed there ever since (fine, he was at 39.7 percent in 2011. Jeez), he cut down the turnovers and upped his assist numbers, and posted a 15 Player Efficiency Rating, cementing himself as an NBA contributor.
It was fitting that Redick got an offer at an above-average salary once he became an above-average player. But the Magic were already all-in and instead of becoming a starter in Chicago, Redick came back to the bench. In these days, when Oklahoma City breaks up a title contender because of financial concerns, that sort of decision would be applauded, but it caused Redick to stagnate. Vince Carter first, Jason Richardson second, and Stan Van Gundy’s system all around just didn’t afford Redick the opportunities his play had warranted. Redick’s usage rate would budge, his shot attempts consistently hovering around 11 or 12 per 36 minutes with half of them coming from three.
This is the year where that dynamic changes. It’s not just the minutes. It’s the opportunity to make plays for himself and others. Between departures and declines, a large portion of the offense is up for the taking and Redick has stepped up. It’s how a guy who was once solely single-minded offensively is now creating for others. The impressive True Shooting percentage of 65.5 percent that Redick has posted so far will eventually revert back to his career norms (58.5 percent), but the ability to create for others is what stands out.
Redick has 20 assists through four games and longtime viewers needn’t be surprised. He’s both a good and a fast decision maker — whenever he gets the ball, usually on the wing running off a screen, he either goes up, immediately swings the ball to the open man or aggressively drives to the hoop, at which point he’s excellent at recognizing off-ball cutters or freed spot-up shooters. And we haven’t even discussed pick-and-rolls, an area where Redick has been typically elite. He averaged 0.90 points per possession for both 2011 and 2012, which ranked him 26th and 31st in the league, respectively, per Synergy. But he hasn’t been utilized too much so far this season.
The great irony with Redick is that if staying with the Magic in 2010 hurt his ability to contribute on the court, upping his contributions hurt his chances of staying with the Magic. J.J. was likely trade bait regardless, with an expiring contract at a comfortable $6.2 million, a skill-set that fits virtually anywhere, and the main return from the Dwight Howard deal sitting above him on the depth chart. A player of Redick’s caliber might be worth a low first rounder or fringe prospect in return and if the Magic are willing to take back major salary, the reward could go even higher. One can easily envision him fitting on a shooting-starved, cap-strapped playoff team like the Grizzlies, Pacers (especially with Danny Granger out for three months with an injured left knee), Jazz, or Nuggets.
What comes back isn’t as clear -– Denver has a glaring iffy long-term deal in Wilson Chandler and some young players vying for burn in Quincy Miller, Jordan Hamilton (whose seeing minutes early on but might get pushed out of a rotation that includes Redick), and Evan Fournier.
The Pacers have little cap flotsam, unless they’re already willing to give up on the D.J. Augustin Experience, and I assume both them and Orlando wouldn’t want George Hill in any deal, with Indiana lacking in depth and Orlando in financial wherewithal.
Utah would love to unload a disgruntled Raja Bell after they couldn’t get a buyout, which takes them halfway to Redick’s salary and within a Randy Foye or Earl Watson contract of sealing the deal, but they’re very high on their youngsters and I wouldn’t count on an Alec Burks-type being surrendered.
Memphis could theoretically surrender one or more young players between Tony Wroten, Quincy Pondexter, or Wayne Ellington, but those are hardly enticing names. And with the Grizzlies pushing the tax line, they’ll need to throw in at least one major rotation player to make the finances work, which probably takes them out.
All four teams could offer middling-to-low first rounders at best.
If you envision Redick being part of a larger deal, the kind that involves Orlando sending out the prospects and getting the big name player — well, you’re more of a believer than I am. I’d venture that a trade of the kind described above is the most likely result. Expiring contracts aren’t as valuable as they were even two or three years ago, especially since so many are available and teams that are salivating for J.J. could stand to wait for him to be freed in the summer. Disappointing as it may be, this is the reality of NBA rebuilding, where first round picks and flexibility are at a premium and steps that are philosophically groundbreaking — Redick has been in Orlando for seven years now and is as much a fixture of anybody on the roster — bring back incremental progress.
But progress it is. Redick will probably play career-best basketball this season, make momentum-swinging threes and gorgeous passes, and benefit the franchise on the way out. Not bad for a former scrub.