A few hours prior to tip-off of the Sixers’ preseason opener against Melbourne United, Brett Brown announced the team would be starting Markelle Fultz and bringing JJ Redick off the bench. Brown explained the move as something influenced by his time with the Spurs, comparing Redick to former Spurs sixth-man Manu Ginobili, and saying a possible move of Redick to the bench could help him stay around the league longer and ultimately prove beneficial to the team.
Moving Redick to the bench doesn’t seem like a thing we’ll see from Game 1 of the regular season, unless things go incredibly right with Markelle Fultz during the preseason, but 82 games is a long time for things to change and develop. If Redick ends up on the bench at some point this season, what would it mean for this Sixers team?
The Sixers bench unit gets a huge offensive boost
Against Melbourne, Redick didn’t record an assist. Or a rebound. Or a steal. Or a block. Or a turnover. Instead, we just saw Redick shooting the ball. 11 field goal attempts, including seven from deep.
Moving Redick to the bench gives that unit an elite three-point shooter. Right now, the bench has a handful of guys who are good at shooting from outside — Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler come to mind— but no one who can drain shots at Redick’s level. His presence on the floor creates a kind of gravity, drawing defenders his way and opening up other spaces on the floor that just wouldn’t be there if Markelle Fultz was playing that bench role. Life becomes easier for the other players. T.J. McConnell scored 76.5% of his points last season either in the paint or in the mid-range; Redick makes that easier, because defenders can’t sag off him like they will with Fultz.
Less minutes for Redick = Better Redick?
JJ Redick is 34 years old, but he only ranks 63rd among active players in minutes played, thanks to a fairly light workload in his pre-Clippers days. He has played around 2,000 fewer minutes through 12 seasons than the player Brett Brown used as a comparison, Manu Ginobili, did through his first 12 seasons.
The point? Despite his age, JJ Redick has a lot of tread left on his tires. A move to reduce his minutes from 30 per game down to something closer to the 23 per game that Ginobili was playing at this stage in his career has the potential to help Redick play at his current level for a longer period of time.
Redick could also see a rise in efficiency in this role. Ginobili had the best three-point field goal percentage of his career in the season where he dropped from 30 minutes per game to 23 per game.
Brett Brown starting Markelle Fultz means that maybe Markelle Fultz is ready to be something resembling the player we thought he was
It can be really, really easy — especially for people who aren’t paying attention to the daily happenings with the Sixers — to forget how good Markelle Fultz was in college, how easy the choice was to take him first overall, and the height of a pre-injury Fultz’s ceiling. I’ve seen re-drafts of the 2017 NBA Draft that have Fultz going outside the top-five, with people rankings guys like Dennis Smith Jr. and Kyle Kuzma over him.
I get it. Fultz has had to completely rebuild his jump shot. He basically redshirted his first year. In a world where our attention spans continue to grow shorter, forgetting the potential Fultz showed isn’t necessarily excusable, but it does make sense.
But if, at some point this season, JJ Redick is moved to the bench and Fultz is inserted into the starting lineup, it means the team believes Markelle is back to being something close to what they expected. We know Fultz can get to the basket. Having him on the court with Ben Simmons gives Philadelphia two extremely skilled passers, and his athleticism can help him disrupt opposing offenses. Brett Brown putting Fultz into the starting unit implies that while his jumper might not be “fixed”, it isn’t the liability that it was last season.
Redick’s shooting would help the bench, but can the starting lineup afford to lose it?
Ahh, the double-edged sword. Fultz starting implies the team is comfortable enough with his shot to put him out there, but there’s no conceivable universe where Markelle Fultz even begins to replicate the things JJ Redick does as a shooter. There’s a big gap between “not a liability” and “is an asset that improves his game.”
On Friday, Fultz didn’t attempt a three, passing up a few good looks. It’s that hesitancy that worries me more than anything; even if he can be an average shooter after working with Drew Hanlen in the offseason, it’s all for naught if he’s not willing to take the shot when he gets the look. This starting unit can survive with the downgrade in efficiency from Redick to Fultz, but can it survive if that downgrade in efficiency is coupled with an unwillingness to take shots? You can’t have defenses refusing to guard both of your starting guards when they’re beyond the arc.
We’re projecting here, but it doesn’t seem like a reach to say Markelle Fultz will be a better defensive player than JJ Redick this year. Redick had a D-PIPM of -0.54 last season, compared to Fultz at -0.30. That gap should widen this year as Fultz becomes more familiar with the NBA game and more comfortable defensively. Just in that first preseason game, we saw what he can do on the defensive end with this chase-down block:
Markelle Fultz with the chase-down block! pic.twitter.com/iglWX26XuI— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) September 29, 2018
It’s obviously an oversimplification to say “Redick can’t do that!” Of course he can’t, and Fultz making that one play doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things. But Fultz is young, athletic, and capable of things that Redick is not.
Last year, the Sixers had a luck-adjusted defensive rating of 106.2 with Redick on the court, while the luck-adjusted defensive rating with Fultz on was 104.6. When Redick left the court, that number barely moved, but when Fultz was off the court, the rating went up to 106.5. While Redick barely impacted the on/off defensive numbers for Philadelphia, Fultz did — moving him into that starting lineup moves an impactful defender out of a bench unit that could be left with some issues defensively.
Simmons is better next to Redick
I’m not going to spend much time on this point because one of our other writers tweeted out a pretty good summation. (He thinks Dario Saric should move to the bench instead of Redick, by the way, and I hope he writes something about that):
More reasons why I think Saric should go to the bench, not Redick:— adam (@SixersAdam) September 29, 2018
-Simmons significantly less efficient with JJ off the floor
-Saric excelled in second unit lineups where he wasn’t playing with Embiid
-Covington is much more impactful on offense when he’s the offensive PF pic.twitter.com/2dG5hQaUt1
If you don’t feel like clicking on that chart, the big takeaway is that Simmons shot 58% with Redick on the floor, against just 51.2% with Redick off the floor.
Markelle Fultz is destined for the starting lineup eventually. I would have concerns if Brett Brown decides that “eventually” means October 16th against the Celtics, especially if Fultz remains timid with his shot for the rest of the preseason, but I have enough faith in this coaching staff to safely assume that Redick will be starting in that game.
But the bench could use a guard who can drain threes, and Redick fits that job better than anyone (barring Furkan Korkmaz unlocking something on the defensive side that would make him a viable rotation piece). Once the team is comfortable deploying Fultz in the starting lineup, Redick being used as the sixth man makes a lot of sense.