Photo from Rafe Saltman via Flickr
NBA fans are interesting. Every so often, for reasons that escape any scope of rational thought, a player that everyone loves to hate emerges. Be it because of a rumoured arrogance, his collegiate history or his late-blooming NBA relevance, J.J. Redick has been something of a punching bag for disgruntled fans that see him as the poster-boy for what they deem as “everything that’s wrong about sports”: a sense of entitlement before achievement, elitism, and of course, wearing a Duke Blue Devils uniform for four years.
The reputation Redick acquired thanks to his time at Duke quickly evaded him as it became apparent that he’s almost exactly the opposite of what he was touted as. In reality, J.J.’s characteristics — an unrelenting work ethic, a fundamentally intelligent playing style and the sense that he stayed true to his dream — are qualities we’re conditioned to adore. In a few arenas, the boos will forever echo at the sight of Redick but the majority of the animosity towards J.J., the person, has withered away.
Still, the criticisms of Redick as a player continue to prevail in some circles. Despite the mounting evidence, there’s one label Redick can’t seem to shake: that he’s a one-trick pony. On the court and in the gym, Redick has done everything in his power to shed that one final denunciation. At 29 years old and in the prime of his professional career, he’s finally maximized his potential but this newly-discovered state of tranquility doesn’t quite feel authentic. J.J.’s path to success was littered with speed bumps (his undersized, unathletic frame, Stan Van Gundy’s abhorrent affinity to keep him glued to the bench) and it’s apparent in the mechanical nature of his game. Aside from connecting on long-distance bombs, nothing looks easy for him.
Every time Redick makes a great play, you get the feeling that he’s barely threading the needle, that he’s grasping for straws and he’s not far from relapsing into mediocrity. Redick successfully made the same cringe-inducing, heart-stopping plays for an entire season with every made basket and assist screaming louder and louder, “THIS IS WHO I AM. WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE ME?” but while it’s easy for the eyes to defy the mind, it’s nearly impossible for the mind to betray its eyes. It’s almost as if there’s a chasm between the J.J. we see and the J.J. that is.
Of course, it didn’t help Redick’s case that he wasn’t given a chance to showcase his full array of tricks until after Dwight Howard’s departure from the Orlando Magic. Boiling under Redick’s sharpshooting surface were tenacious defensive instincts and a unique intelligence on offense that finally came into fruition. He defended the ball better than the majority of shooting guards in the NBA, allowing just 0.7 ppp (points per play) in isolation, per Synergy — good for 57th-best in the NBA — and 0.67 ppp as a pick-and-roll defender, which puts him at an impressive 26th-best in the league. With no one watching, Redick was quietly turning in the best season of his career.
Today’s Redick, a representative of the “3 and D” prototype, is an inversion of his younger self: reserved, cerebral and, above all else, unnoticed. Even more surprisingly so, he’s become more of a celebrated figure than an object of derision. After multiple seasons warming the bench for more aggrandizing and less effective players, an up-close and personal experience of the Dwightmare, and being exiled to Wisconsin for a few months, it’s finally become recognized that Redick has paid his proverbial dues. The “entitlement before achievement” tag has officially been removed as the basketball world rejoices at the fact that he’ll likely be a starter for his new team, the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the NBA’s most exciting squads.
With the bright lights in Los Angeles looming, the spotlight won’t be as fixated on the ever-improving and voracious J.J. Redick as it was during his days in Durham, but the opportunity to shatter any remaining misconceptions is his for the taking.