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JJ Redick’s shooting gravity will unlock New Orleans Pelicans offense as it did for Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid enjoyed the spacing Redick provided over the last few years. Now it’s Zion Williamson’s turn.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

In the modern NBA, shooting is everything, hence why JJ Redick represents a major coup for David Griffin and the New Orleans Pelicans from the free agent market.

One of the most common tropes of the “pace and space” era, floor spacing has evolved from a luxury to a prerequisite for success in today’s game. At this point in basketball history, players of every variety focus on the three pointer. Pass first point guard? Back to the basket center? Defensive specialist wing? Assuming the player doesn’t have any outlier traits, they most likely have to shoot threes to be valuable.

The 2019-20 Pelicans were poised to have a lot of good to work with roster-wise. Rife with turbocharged athletes, creative scorers and passing virtuosos, New Orleans’ puzzle had most of the pieces necessary to form a winning team. The status of one piece though, the piece holding the team together with uncanny floor spacing ability, could have been murky. Jrue Holiday had a down three-point shooting season last year. Zion Williamson, Derrick Favors, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are all non-threats from beyond the arc. It is easy to argue those are the five best players on the Pelicans and most of them will not offer much of a threat from three-point land, at least in the short term. It goes without saying, but this could have been quite problematic.

Insert JJ Redick, one of the greatest three-point snipers in NBA history, to unfurl the Pelicans’ half-court offense.

“We had a very keen awareness that the ideal player for us was someone very much like JJ Redick,” said Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin to select media during Tuesday’s conference call. “And we never really dreamed that we would be able to land ‘The JJ Redick.’ So this is an exciting thing for us.”

Though Redick departed from the cozy confines of Philly, his situation doesn’t change much. In Philadelphia, Redick helped balance and unlock an awkward medley of talented players, with their three best players (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler) all devoid of a reliable long-range jumper.

In order to remedy the spacing issues their stars brought, the Sixers tailored their offense around Redick in many ways, milking every last drop out of his shooting greatness. Through handoffs, screen and death by a thousand triples, the Sixers opened up the floor with JJ Redick alone. Few shooters in the NBA have the gravity to open the floor like JJ Redick does. Gravity is the key word here, as it goes beyond the shooter who sits in the corner and drains nothing but corner threes.

What makes Redick an all-time marksman goes deeper than his elite efficiency from deep. That efficiency is a key component of this equation, as the shots need to go in for this whole thing to work (though just making the shot is far from the whole story). By his standards, Redick had a down year from three, shooting a still wonderful 39.7 percent from range. In his four previous seasons before 2018-19, Redick shot above 42 percent from three in each year. Few players can shoot above 40 percent from three and even fewer can do it with such consistency as Redick does.

Aside from making or missing the shots, there are two more things we have to consider: volume and shot diversity/location. Counterintuitively, three-point volume is more important than accuracy when it comes to shooting gravity. Compare the Houston Rockets’ three-point barrage offensive philosophy to the Pacers’ more mid-range heavy offense. Last season, the Rockets shot the most threes per game by a country mile, raining 45.4 long balls per game and hitting 35.6 percent of them, good for 12th in the NBA. The Pacers placed fifth in three-point percentage at 37.4, but attempted them at the second lowest rate in the NBA at 25.4 a game. Even though Indiana hit their threes at a higher clip, teams feared Houston’s shooters more because they shot the ball far more often. The math is simple, a team is better off shooting 20 threes and making 30 percent of them than taking 10 threes and making 40 percent.

JJ Redick is not only one of the most accurate three-point shooters in the NBA, but he attempts threes at one of the highest rates of any NBA player; this past season he took a ridiculous 12 threes per 100 possessions. Even if Redick isn’t hitting his threes, teams know he is going to shoot them, so they guard him accordingly. If Redick didn’t take threes often, defenses wouldn’t respect him as much even if his accuracy was high. One of the most jump shot heavy players in the league, a whopping 89.3 percent of his 1,027 were jump shots and 58.9 percent of those shots were threes.

As the only elite shooter on the Sixers for most of the season, the Sixers constructed their offense in a peculiar manner. Instead of pick and rolls, Philadelphia’s primary action was a dribble handoff, which Redick is the master of. Last season, Redick placed in the 85th percentile off of handoffs, occupying a massive 32.4 percent of his possessions, a greater volume than the next two playtypes (spot-up, off screen) combined. Great shooters generate value with shot diversity rather than just efficiency. Redick breathes shot versatility, adept coming off of screens, pulling up off of the dribble, or off handoffs — his favorite weapon. Ben Simmons often dribbles the ball up to the line, waiting for Redick to sprint around him and dribble into a three. Slippery like a slot receiver, few defenders can keep up with the slimy Redick off the ball, even the tenacious Marcus Smart:

This handoff was an automatic in Philadelphia’s half-court offense: when Amir Johnson catches the ball at the top of the key, Redick immediately flows into a dribble handoff before the defense can react, splashing the triple:

Though he’s not spry in his elder years and his handle is nothing special, Redick is just as potent a shooter with the ball in his hands because of his elite pull-up shooting. Ranking in the 94th percentile as a pick and roll handler and the 89th percentile on jumpers off the dribble, Redick routinely takes a defender off the dribble and drills a three in his eyes:

Because of the Sixers’ hand-off heavy offense, Redick spent less time running off of traditional screens: pindowns, floppy, loop, flares, etc. Redick is just as dynamic shooting off of these traditional actions; Redick sat in the 80th percentile off screens last season. An underrated trait of Redick’s is his flexibility: coming off of motion left or right, he has a unique ability to contort his body in midair to square himself to the basket. The Sixers run floppy for Redick and he rises up and hits the three:

A savvy off ball mover, Redick locates open space and finds cracks in the defense — all he needs to get his shot off is a crack — to spray threes. When Kyle Lowry ball watches, Redick fills the open space behind him:

Redick is a nuclear shooter; this is crystal clear. In order to maximize their offensive centerpieces and make their shots as easy as possible, the Sixers weaponized his off-ball shooting gravity masterfully. Defenses have to allocate ample resources to neutralize a shooter as lethal as Redick. The more eyes focused on Redick, the less eyes focused on the rest of Philadelphia’s offensive monsters. While Philly eschewed the traditional pick and roll, they often chose to invert the action, running Redick as the screener. Some of the very best screeners are wimpy guards, as their shooting gravity diverts as much attention as the burly screens set by gargantuan centers. When the defense commits to Ben Simmons for just a split second, Redick pops behind them and has enough daylight to hit the three:

For a relatively puny 6’4 guard, Redick placing in the 79th percentile as a pick and roll roll man is remarkable. Defenses were aware of this and made sure not to leave Redick when he came to lay the wood. Problems arose when defenses placed too much attention, leaving lanes open for the ball-handler. Redick sets a back screen on Al Horford, befuddling him and Kyrie Irving and netting Ben Simmons a wide open layup:

With TJ McConnell isolated up top, Redick bolts to the top of the key and slips the screen, leaving the tiniest window for McConnell to penetrate and finish the layup:

In order to optimize their superstar big man, Joel Embiid, the Sixers symbiotically attached Redick to him, making sure Embiid had the maximum amount of space so he could freely bang down low. Last season, Redick and Embiid was Philadelphia’s second most played two-man lineup. The impact Redick’s shooting gravity has on Embiid is tangible, as it visibly improves his shot quality. Redick sets a back screen with Embiid and both defenders stick with Redick, fearing his shooting, opening up a lob opportunity for Embiid:

When JJ Redick Iverson cuts across the free throw line, Jaylen Brown can’t keep up with the squeaky off-ball deity, so the Celtics have to switch or risk conceding an open shot. Now, Jaylen Brown has to switch onto Embiid. While Brown is a sturdy wing defender, he’s no monster for the beast that is Joel Embiid, who bullies Brown into an open layup:

Alvin Gentry should take this page out of Brett Brown’s book and tether Redick and Zion Williamson together. The future superstar rookie is going to overwhelm defenses attacking the rim as is and Redick’s gravity will only serve to get Zion easier shots. With a shooter as formidable as Redick and a slasher as powerful as Zion, they should create easy looks galore for each other.

The Pelicans should implement a low-post split heavy offense as the Warriors do, taking full advantage of Redick’s screening gravity along with their excellent cutters. Like Redick, Curry’s screens warp defenses out of position because of the fear his shooting induces. With his athleticism and feel for the game, it is easy to envision Zion in the Draymond or Klay role here, feeding cutters out of the post or diving to the rim when Redick’s screen occupies two defenders like Curry’s does here:

Here’s Philadelphia running a low post split last season with Embiid and Redick, with Embiid freeing up Redick with a forceful screen:

The Embiid-Redick relationship was a mutual one, as Redick benefitted from Embiid’s gravity in the low post just as Embiid did from Redick’s shooting. The numbers are quite drastic reflecting this: with Embiid on the floor, Redick was smoking from the floor, shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 42 percent from three on a 63.1 true shooting percentage. When the Cameroonian giant sat, Redick’s efficiency plummeted to 38.9 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from three with a 54.8 true shooting percent. Like Embiid, Redick’s shot quality was visibly better with Embiid on the floor. Two of the best screeners, when they work in unison, they perplexed defenses on who to cover. Redick again back screens for Embiid and this time both defenders cling to the big man, springing Redick wide open:

A wily veteran, Redick has learned how to exploit defenses’ overcommitment to his shooting to create open shots. While he’s no Steph Curry, Redick is good enough passing off of his gravity to add some bonus offensive value on top of his pure shooting. Running his patented dribble handoff, both defenders fly to Redick, so he finds Embiid on the runway:

Redick is crafty, flummoxing defenders with this little jump pass to further make them bite on his shot. At the apex of his jump, Redick audibles and pitches the ball back to an open Embiid:

Again, the subtle jump coaxes Al Horford into leaving the rolling Ben Simmons, leaving a window for Redick to slip a pass through:

He’s fantastic finding open teammates out of these set off-ball actions; here, Redick threads a pocket pass after he comes off of the curl screen:

Although Redick makes these reads playing off his his orbit with some regularity, his execution isn’t always great. Redick’s accuracy isn’t great, with easy passes often escaping him. He sees the pocket pass coming off of the curl screen like the last clip, but he can’t fit the ball through the opening:

Redick turns to his favorite jump pass, but sails the pass a bit high and is lucky Johnson collects the pass and converts the layup:

Defensively, Redick is predictably a negative, with minus size, wingspan, strength and athleticism. Especially in the playoffs, teams target Redick on switches where his lack of tools make him a liability on the ball. Isolated against Kyrie Irving, Redick has no chance against the greasy handle machine:

Bigger players will overwhelm Redick with size, strength and athleticism as well as his lateral quickness. Switched onto Jaylen Brown in the post, the hearty Brown spins by Redick with ease:

His lack of size and core strength makes Redick vulnerable to sticking on screens on and off of the ball. Here, he can’t keep up with Evan Fournier curling to the basket:

While Redick is a solid team defender, he is too prone to miscommunications and silly errors covering pick and rolls and off ball screening actions. Redick is playing hedge defense while Ben Simmons is switching, resulting in a breakdown and wide open three:

As a team defender, Redick is competent, with a good understanding of positioning and defensive awareness (team defense is vital and I harped on this more in detail in my last breakdown). With Terrence Ross beating Robert Covington running towards the basket, Redick steps in the passing lane for the interception:

Like a great safety, JJ Redick reads Aaron Gordon’s eyes and anticipates the drop-off pass to Nikola Vucevic, so he peels off of the corner and forces a jump ball:

In the 2019 NBA playoffs, Redick’s defense was a bit of a revelation. After the Celtics roasted Redick on switches in 2018, he adapted last season, refusing to switch any screens and clawing like a madman off of the ball. He largely shut down two movement specialists in Joe Harris and Danny Green: watch how Redick never leaves Joe Harris any room to catch and rise up for a three:

Because of his deficiencies, Redick is a player teams need to hide. Fortunately, the Pelicans boast a litany of fantastic defenders to make up for JJ Redick. Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday might make up the NBA’s best backcourt, Zion Williamson is a team defense wrecking ball and Derrick Favors is a steady interior presence. With a strong defensive foundation, the Pelicans will be able to reap all of the benefits Redick’s legendary shooting offer without bleeding too much value on the other end.

As I’ll emphasize in every article, the Pelicans’ primary goal should be the development of Zion Williamson. Redick is a perfect piece to accelerate and ease Zion’s transition, literally making the game easier for him by way of creating open shots with his gravitational pull.

“I think he’s a generational talent,” said Redick. “I think in watching him I always said, ‘yeah, he needs more shooting around him.’ They need more shooting around him. I didn’t actually think at the time it would be me.”

It is reasonable to ask if Redick can keep up his elite shooting at age 35 and without his running mate in Joel Embiid. Assuming father time keeps away from Redick, the Pelicans should have plenty of offensive threats to make Redick’s life easier. If he pans out like I expect, Zion Williamson could approach Embiid level gravity by year two.

Teams value players who make everyone around them better. Traditionally, we reserve this moniker for the elite distributors in the league: LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Trae Young, Chris Paul type players. A lot has changed in the last five years, and with shooting being paramount as it is, elite shooters make everyone around them better. Just as an elite passer can locate shooters in the weak side corner with a skip pass, elite shooters widen passing lanes so teams don’t need these high leverage passes to create open shots. With JJ Redick’s shooting gravity in the fold, countless doors should open for the Pelicans to elevate their half court offense and reach their ceiling. It is up to Alvin Gentry to choose the right doors and make the most out of his sparkling new shooter.