Mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, JJ Redick showed the fragility of the NBA shooting specialist. In the eight games that Joel Embiid missed after the All-Star Break, Redick came out of the gate shooting blanks, connecting on just 29 percent of his 3-point attempts. Without their best player and receiving minimal contributions from their sharpshooter, the Sixers stumbled to a 4-4 record. Redick, often the forgotten man in the Sixers star-powered starting five, might ultimately prove the determinant of whether Philadelphia can fulfill its potential and make a run to the NBA Finals.
For better or worse, the Sixers can’t quit Redick.
On one hand, Redick is not only one of the most prolific shooters in the league history, but one of the most tiring defensive assignments in the league. As he weaves through the half-court, Redick’s primary defenders are either forced to fight over screens from the Sixers’ colossal stars or switch. Choose the former and Redick is getting a clean look; choose the latter and one of the Sixers’ 6-foot-8 or larger stars is on his way to the rim, likely with a mismatch in hand.
In the clip above, the Sixers used an Embiid screen to wipe out Redick’s primary defender and completely freeze Embiid’s man, Hassan Whiteside. Even if Embiid were covered by a more competent perimeter defender, they would have been met with a choice: contest Redick and hope he doesn’t hit a wide-open Embiid rolling to the rim, or stay with Embiid and leave Redick open in the corner.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr once said the reason that his team screens so much, both on- and off-ball, is to increase the likelihood that the defense makes a mistake. Brett Brown and the Sixers take that thinking a step further in their deployment of Redick. No player in the league creates more offense out of hand-offs than Redick, with Philadelphia getting 1.04 points per possession on his 5.1 hand-off attempts per game, something that likely appears on every scouting report on the Sixers. Run an action enough, and defenders will begin to cheat and set up their defensive positioning early, just as James Johnson does in the clip above, as he gets flat-footed leaving the lane wide-open for a galloping Ben Simmons.
On the other hand, JJ Redick is a 6-foot-4 guard with a 6-foot-3 wingspan, and a glaring weakness in the Sixers’ starting five defense. In the regular season, Redick’s presence doesn’t hinder the Sixers defensively; the Sixers’ points per possession with Redick on the court is actually in the 97th percentile, likely due to his frequent pairing with Embiid.
The Boston Celtics, however, offered a glimpse into the future with their targeting of Redick in their matchup with the Sixers in February. Boston repeatedly posted Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on Redick, hunting the mismatch.
In the playoffs, teams will continue to search out Redick and attack him one-on-one. So far in the regular season, Redick is in the 27th percentile for isolation defense and the 32rd for post defense. Top Eastern Conference teams have the stretch bigs to drag Joel Embiid away from the rim, taking away Redick’s defensive safety blanket.
Tuesday night versus the Hornets, with the Sixers once again without Embiid, Redick delivered. His offensive explosion keep the Sixers in the game during the first half, and he reignited to hit some big 3s down the stretch. If he had continued his down performance of recent games without Embiid, the game would have been a different story.
Redick is often the key that can unlock Sixers’ stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in the half-court, but to stay on the court in the playoffs, his offensive impact will have to continue to outweigh the negative on the defensive, which means his shooting cannot take its typical postseason dip.
The career 41 percent shooter falls to 36 percent in the playoffs, including a 34 percent effort in last year’s ten postseason games with the Sixers. The Sixers’ revamped starting lineup has the talent to get to the NBA Finals, but to get there, they’ll need a positive output from their sharpshooter.