NEW YORK – JJ Redick is among the NBA’s best outside shooters, and his absence from this year’s shooting-deprived 76ers has been noticeable.
After last season, Redick chose to sign with the young New Orleans Pelicans as a free agent. The Pelicans are still playing without their brightest star rookie, Zion Williamson, and destined again to be in the lottery.
So could he have come back?
“There was an opportunity,” Redick said earlier this month before a game in Brooklyn against the Nets. "I knew there was going to be a lot of movement [in free agency] and a lot of what-ifs. I made the decision and live with the decision.”
During Redick’s two seasons with the Sixers, he achieved career-high scoring averages both years, 17.1 points per game in 2017-2018 and 18.1 ppg. last season. In his two years in the playoffs with the Sixers he averaged 18.1 and 13.4 points per game.
The Sixers entered the weekend shooting 34.6 percent from three-point range. That ranked 17th in the NBA.
Last year the Sixers shot 35.9 percent from three-point territory, when it was not considered a team strength.
Don’t be surprised if they look for another shooter off the bench, somebody who can provide to a degree what Redick was able to offer during his two seasons.
An NBA scout said Redick’s absence from the Sixers has been glaring.
“I think they miss his shooting and more so his presence on the court as a threat,” said the scout, who requested anonymity. “Teams had to honor that, so it created more spacing for a guy like Ben [Simmons] or a guy like Joel [Embiid].”
When asked what he missed most about Redick, Sixers coach Brett Brown quickly replied, “Where do I begin?”
And then Brown tried to explain how much Redick meant.
“You can go to the obvious place of shooting, but I go to about several other areas that come to my mind with his personality and spirit,” Brown said. “I was personally as fond of him as any player I have ever coached. No doubt. I really respected him. I thought his sense of humor was off the charts and he is highly intellectual and curious.”
“I was personally as fond of him as any player I have ever coached. No doubt. I really respected him."
And then comes the basketball evaluation.
When judging an NBA player, Brown has three criteria: “Can you coach him, is he manically competitive, does he have a skill set that is elite,” Brown said. “JJ is off the charts in all of those and he is fantastic and tremendously missed.”
Redick, who appeared in the playoffs in each of his first 13 seasons, is shooting better than 41 percent from three-point range in his career. He shot 42 percent and 39.7 in his two regular seasons with the Sixers. In his two playoff seasons he shot 34.7 and 41.4.
Teams did attempt to take advantage of the 6-foot-3 Redick on defense, but on offense he was able to space the floor and provide his teammates open looks.
The Sixers have replaced Redick in the starting lineup with Josh Richardson, a much better defender but nowhere near the shooter. The Sixers’ slower-than-expected start has partly been due to their inconsistent three-point shooting.
With New Orleans, Redick isn’t as big a part of the offense, but he is still important. Entering the weekend he was averaging 15.0 points and shooting 47.5 percent from three-point range.
“His scoring numbers haven’t been as much as they were last year, but part of it is that the Pelicans don’t really run as many plays for him like the Sixers did and don’t have players like the Sixers who will get doubled and attract a lot of attention,” the scout said.
Redick is such a dangerous player because he is always moving, running off screens, and making life miserable for defenders.
Sixers swingman James Ennis knows firsthand about the difficulties of guarding Redick. He had to do it when he played for Memphis and Redick was with the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I always told people who asked about the hardest player to guard and I said, ‘JJ Redick,’ ” Ennis said. “Just because he moves so well without the ball, consistently moving and always trying to get your blind spots, coming off screens.”
Redick’s former backcourt mate Simmons, for one, talked about his former teammate in the same reverential tones as his coach.
“He was an amazing scorer, an amazing teammate,” Simmons said recently. “I loved playing with JJ, he was a down-to-earth guy and he was really good to me.”
Simmons said that Redick’s leadership was invaluable.
“He was a great leader in terms of when I was on the floor, he tried to help me get better as a player,” Simmons said. “I loved playing with him and am sad to see him go, but I am happy for him.”
The scout agreed with that assessment.
“Two things the 76ers miss is his shooting and his leadership,” the scout said. “JJ built up equity with all the years he was in the playoffs and they see how hard he works his butt off every day. Al [Horford] is a nice leader but he doesn’t have the fire of JJ.”
Horford signed a four-year contract with the Sixers as a free agent after spending the previous three years with the Boston Celtics.
Wanting to be a Sixer for life?
A day after the Sixers’ 92-90 loss to Toronto in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Redick, who then became a free agent, said, “I’d love to be back.”
Redick originally signed with the Sixers for one year and $23 million before the 2017-2018 season. He then re-signed before last season for one year and $12.25 million.
Instead of returning for a third year, Redick signed a two-year deal totaling $26.5 million with the Pelicans.
He didn’t want to delve into the specifics of why he chose the Pelicans. But, at 35, he was obviously happy to secure a two-year deal for the amount he signed for. Still, he admitted the decision could have gone a different way. When asked to elaborate, he suggested checking out his podcast, which ran shortly after he signed with New Orleans.
“I thought for sure I would retire in Philly, and that was even a conversation I had with Josh Harris,” he said on the podcast, referring to the Sixers’ managing partner. “Sometimes the economics of things don’t work out.”
While he misses his old team, Redick likes the makeup of the Pelicans, even though Williamson has yet to play following arthroscopic knee surgery.
“We have depth, talent, and youth, which can be a positive,” Redick said.
Redick, who will make his only appearance at the Wells Fargo Center when the Pelicans visit the Sixers on Dec. 13, thoroughly enjoyed his brief tenure with the team. In fact, upon departing, he took out a full page ad in The Inquirer, thanking the fans. He also made strong bonds with teammates.
“It is remarkable to be in a place for two years and really build amazing relationships,” Redick said. “I have so many friends and real relationships.
“I still talk to Joel [Embiid] and Tobias [Harris] and people on the training staff since the season has started,” he said. “Philly is a special place for me.”
Like Simmons, Ennis had great admiration for Redick as a teammate.
“He is a genuine guy,” Ennis said. “He always wanted to help people with shooting mechanics and any knowledge he had for the game and was always willing to share it.”
His new teammates have a similar view. Former Sixers guard Jrue Holiday, now in his seventh season with New Orleans, is among Redick’s biggest boosters.
“I watched him play since he was at Duke,” Holiday said. “He’s also my mom’s favorite player. My mom loves him.”
So does her son.
“The energy he brings is incredible and a lot of guys don’t have his stamina,” Holiday said. “The threat of him being able to shoot is always there and he is so smart as a basketball player.”
While Redick said he had great moments with the Sixers, his final one remains painful.
That would be the aforementioned Game 7 loss to Toronto when Kawhi Leonard’s game-winner bounced four times before going in at the buzzer.
“It hurt at the time and obviously because I didn’t go back it is different now, but I didn’t know at the time that would be the last shot I would see in a 76ers uniform,” Redick said. “That is a difficult moment in time and you are reminded of it at times and it doesn’t get easier.”
Nor is it easy this season for Redick’s new team or, at the moment, his old one.