BOSTON — Seven years removed from his last 3-pointer with Duke, J.J. Redick does not receive the same relentless treatment from fans as he did early in his career. Back then, the anti-Duke armies at certain arenas would boo loudly whenever the former NCAA Player of the Year touched the ball or kinda, sorta exaggerated contact whenever a defender bumped him. Although he never averaged more than 15 minutes per game until his third NBA season, a young Redick easily would have found his way onto the list of the most disliked players in the league.
Either some people’s memories have faded, or there is a renewed appreciation for Redick’s game, because whenever Redick hit a shot or tumbled to the floor during the Magic’s loss to the Celtics last Friday, there was no more than a smattering of boos from the stands of the TD Garden. Among those who have followed Redick’s career, there is at last a begrudging respect for the type of player he has become.
That player — one constantly in motion, careening around screens and slipping through cracks in the defense — could be one of the more intriguing players on the move as the trade deadline approaches. He has been featured in trade rumors involving several teams, most notably the Celtics, as his $6 million expiring contract and 3-point shooting range could make him a valuable rental player. The biggest obstacle could be convincing a new group of fans to root for one of the most polarizing players in recent college basketball history.
One of his former teammates does not think it would take much effort for fans to be converted. Courtney Lee played one season with Redick in Orlando, helping the Magic reach the NBA Finals before he was traded to New Jersey in 2009. He was charged with chasing Redick around the court last week, and although the Celtics got the better of the matchup, Lee admitted that guarding Redick is a challenge.
“He’s always moving,” Lee said. “One thing about J.J., it’s not just him getting his own shot. He’s making plays for everybody else. He’s an excellent passer and a good playmaker. People don’t give him credit for that, but he’s developed himself into a good player.”
Lee joined the Magic as a rookie in 2008, when Redick was still battling for playing time in his third professional season. Redick played less than 18 minutes per game and shot a career-low 37 percent from beyond the arc that year, although his playing time bumped up slightly in the playoffs. Even when healthy, Redick could not crack the starting lineup consistently, and his shots were few and far between. He averaged fewer field goal attempts per game than Keith Bogans and Anthony Johnson, veteran role players not known for their scoring abilities.
As Lee noted, Redick showed himself to be more than a one-dimensional shooter as he earned more playing time and became more comfortable in then-coach Stan Van Gundy‘s system. He has become one of the league’s most dangerous shooters while on the move, sort of a poor man’s Ray Allen or Richard Hamilton, while also exploiting the extra attention defenses must pay to him as he rolls around a screen. Under first-year coach Jacque Vaughn, Redick is averaging a career-best 5.1 assists per 36 minutes, more than double his average just two years ago.
“It’s good to see J.J. getting an opportunity,” Lee said. “When I was there, he played a little, not a lot, not like the opportunity he’s getting now. He’s developed into a great basketball player. He was always good, just now he has the confidence to go along with it and he has the opportunity to get out there, run plays and have plays run for him. He’s doing a good job.”
Redick’s next opportunity might not come for the Magic, who have fallen far out of playoff contention and have little need for a 28-year-old sharpshooter as they build for the future. Wherever he ends up, it should not take long for the fan base to embrace the player he has become. They just need to appreciate his on-the-go style while trying to forget, for 48 minutes, about all the expletives they threw his way as a Blue Devil.
Photo via Flickr/Keith Allison