JJ Redick is not a significant player on the court, nor is he a revolutionary off of it. His meaning to the Association is still mysterious, a rare white American professional basketball player, not one of those invading multi-talented Euros who have populated the NBA. He is everything scouts assumed he was going to be; yet his career is still disappointing.
I’m not going to withhold my affection for Redick, the All-American golden boy from Duke with the killer jumpshot. But I don’t adore JJ because of that; I adore him because he has fallen from being the privileged, preppy white boy, to the unmerited underdog role, scrapping for minutes throughout the season. While at Duke, JJ had legions of fans singing his praises and one of the best shots in a decade. He was a contender for player of the year alongside Adam Morrison, consistently pouring in over 30 PPG. He had virtually unlimited range and was unafraid to take any shot in any situation. He was basically Stephen Curry without the success in the NCAA tournament and the heritage. In the NBA, he is little more than a glorified role player who fights for playing time alongside less touted players.
Redick was drafted with the 11th pick in the 2006 NBA draft by the burgeoning Orlando Magic, only eight picks after friendly rival Adam Morrison who was selected 3rd overall by the Charlotte Bobcats. After being the big man on campus at Duke, Redick was immediately thrust into a reserve role for Orlando, forced to sit behind up-and-comer Trevor Ariza and Keith Bogans for the primary shooting guard spot. Injuries would only aid to the struggle of this white man who failed to realize any of his potential in his first couple of years.
Perhaps foolishly, the Magic traded away the talented and lanky Ariza to the Los Angeles Lakers and Bogans fell out of favor. However, the Magic would draft a slightly undersized 2 in Courtney Lee and had brought in the notorious Mickael Pietrus in from Golden State. Each had various skills to offer that Redick simply did not possess, such as the ability to drive to the lane and stellar defense. Again, Redick would have to sit behind other, slightly more capable shooting guards.
His pampered, preppy, the world-deserves-to-be-mine attitude would unearth itself in the form of trade demands because he lacked the minutes he thought he deserved. Orlando’s stance was resolute, deciding that Redick would not be traded before the deadline, nor will he earn more playing time. His whining aside, Redick “persevered” and continued working on the other aspects of his game.
I enjoy JJ Redick in the same way that I enjoy a meteor shower: it is a rare sight that continues to bedazzle no matter how often it happens. Could it have been slightly overrated? Sure it could, but you don’t watch it for any actual significance, you watch it because of the aesthetic nature of it. Obviously, Redick is not a tremendous player who defies classification due to his peculiar style of play. He is easily classified (a shooter for those of you keeping score) and not too great of a player besides that. He just looks different, easy to pick out in the team picture or on the bench. He sticks out like a sore thumb, usually the lone white guy on the court (unless Marcin Gortat is seeing time).
His struggle to carve a spot in the NBA is just a microcosm of the quandary of white Americans in the Association. Ever since Larry Bird walked away from the court, the NBA hasn’t had a truly great white American basketball player. The actual need for one is debatable; I personally think it isn’t needed for the Association to flourish. Sure, if the great white hope emerged from the depths of America, lets say Iowa, and stormed onto the scene and became an MVP candidate, jersey sales would skyrocket and ratings would probably soar. But even Bird himself wasn’t a tremendous athlete nor was he particularly fast, but he knew basketball. He had a ridiculous basketball IQ that allowed him to remain in the same strata as Magic or Michael for all of these years, and some of that might also be his skin color. This league is an entirely different animal than it was a few decades ago, an athletic evolution has occurred in a such short span that any comparisons are full of countless qualifiers.
Redick, like many of his white colleagues, has had expectations thrust upon him to bring some vanilla flavor into the NBA. The reason why there hasn’t been a great white player in the NBA delves into some sensitive subjects that aren’t merited for a JJ Redick article (in an uninformed opinion, the accessibility of basketball, the rise in popularity of football, and the new hip hop culture that permeates through the league have contributed to this effect).
They are the minority in the NBA populated mostly by African Americans and Euros, serving mainly as role players. This has happened mostly because the NBA is a fair league, preferring to showcase the superiorly talented players. After all, the win comes above all else (barring cheap owners) and just because you have a fan favorite doesn’t secure 45 victories. Redick, while at Duke, was considered by some to be the next great white player in the NBA, which we can all see is more than unlikely. Perhaps this is unfair to JJ, who himself admitted that he is best suited as a role player who can radically impact the game with his shooting.
If there is one thing that JJ Redick can do well, besides style his hair and keep it perfect throughout the game, it is shoot the ball. His ability to shoot has never been in doubt, even when he hardly played in games. If he is given space and is able to set his feet, not an easy task in the NBA, he will drain the shot. His form is flawless, rising up and releasing perfection as the ball rolls gorgeously rolls off of his fingertips.
He struggles in the other aspects in the game, which is the reason for his prolonged absences from the court. He can’t create his own shot with consistency, relying on a rigid pass outside of the arc for his shots. He runs around screens like a Rip Hamilton or Ray Allen, a tireless drone desperately seeking his next opportunity to hoist up a shot. He isn’t a terrific ball handler either, unable to weave his way around defenses. His defense is, to put it politely, less than stellar. He approaches defense with the same vigor that offensive studs normally do. He sees the defensive side of the ball as a 15 second timeout for him to rest up for the next possession. This trait is usually reserved for those in the league who post high scoring totals, such as a Carmelo Anthony or a Kevin Durant.
The notable exception to his defensive inertness is his diligent hunting of Ray Allen in the playoff series between the Magic and the Celtics. He stalked Allen around hard picks and screens and chased him off of the 3-point line, effectively shutting him down. For some perspective, Allen had just lit up the Chicago Bulls for idiotic point totals with the undersized Ben Gordon trading clutch buckets with him. He came into the series absolutely blazing, the player who could be relied on to score. Yet, coach Van Gundy felt as though the defensively maligned Redick could stop, or at least trip up Allen’s astrophysical scoring.
His watertight hairdo never waivered as he hounded Allen, playing with a Battier-esque relentless vigor on defense and keeping Allen within tolerable point totals. His offense expectedly suffered, his point total nothing splintering in effect. He left the rest to his more than capable teammates, guys like Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. It is odd that Redick’s most significant and important contribution to the Magic had nothing to do with a three point shot or clutch free throws at the end of a game. It had everything to do with his suspect defense tightening up, showing his Duke roots with sound fundamental basketball.
What are the odds that Redick would meet his rival, Adam Morrison, in the Finals when Orlando met Los Angeles? An implicit clash of the titans of former collegiate greatness, the two unfortunately never were on the court together. Morrison was dressed in a suit for the entirety of the matchup while Redick hardly managed to see the court despite the Magic facing gigantic deficits perfectly suited for a three-point specialist to come in and start a shooting frenzy.
Redick is the typical looking/playing/dressing white guy, which is why he is such an oddball in the NBA. He is so unique because he is so common, if that makes any sense at all. He seems like a kind man, someone who understands his role and abilities on his team and in the league. He isn’t a transcendent player, nor is he a particularly good player. He can shoot the lights out if given ample playing time and the proper setting, but the NBA is bigger and more complicated than he who has the best shot will get the ball. He is a shooter on a team full of snipers, each capable of hitting three-point shots, which means that his one role is not as critical.
Redick seems doomed by his own attributes. The Orlando Magic attempted to build a team of excellent shooters around Dwight Howard so that he could easily dish the ball to any one of the outside shooters. Redick amply fit the bill and Orlando drafted him, only for the Magic to then continue to harvest more shooters (Rashard Lewis, Mickael Pietrus, Hedo), pushing Redick down farther and further down the totem pole.
His perfectly adequate shooting capabilities were nothing unique or special on Orlando as they would be on a porous shooting team (like the Cavaliers). His whining and trade demands have been largely ignored, like a cantankerous toddler who is spoiled with attention from an adoring mother. The solution for the situation lays in either a trade for Redick, or for him to mature and accept the fact that he is not a magnificent player like he was at Duke. I root for Redick because his success would flaunt its nonsensical nature in the face of basketball wisdom.