J.J. Redick is one of the league’s best shooters and his gravity should help unlock the potential of Zion Williamson and the Pelicans.
For the Pelicans, trading Anthony Davis to the Lakers not only yielded Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and the No. 4 pick, which was packaged for the No. 8 and 16 picks (and became Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, respectively) but also the cap space to re-tool around their shiny new superstar, Zion Williamson.
Once David Griffin chose a bundle of draft picks over Kyle Kuzma, their first priority became to snag a shooter. Zion called Ingram a “bucket-getter” and he became an efficient isolation scorer last season. In three years, he has also yet to have a season of over 30 percent 3-point shooting on two or more attempts. If the funky shot-form doesn’t sound the alarms, Lonzo Ball’s 41 free-throw percentage should. Josh Hart looks like a reliable outside shooter but, combined, that trio isn’t doing much to maximize space on the floor.
The Pelicans first move of free agency was to snatch J.J. Redick, a signing that could propel them into the playoffs. Redick as it the only player besides Stephen Curry to shoot above 42 percent on six or more 3-point attempts for multiple seasons. He is simply a perfect fit on the Pelicans, who were last in 3-point attempts, makes and percentage last season.
Last season, Redick and Embiid formed a symbiotic duo, particularly using the DHO. It was a major reason Philadelphia was first in points per possession on handoffs. Sure, Embiid naturally cleared out space, but Redick played a bigger part. He recorded 1.6 more handoff possessions than the next player and still placed in the 85th percentile. Obviously, his first priority was to look for his shot, especially if the opposing big was in “drop coverage.”
Turning the wheels on this play is Redick’s low-maintenance nature. It starts with him veering around floppy screens, simultaneously loading his shot, dribbling once, then pulling the trigger. Off-balance or not, he made shots, and thus, applied gravity to defenders. If a help-side defender pulled towards him, he dropped a nifty pocket-pass to Embiid.
If Zion is to play Embiid’s role, he has to shift to the five. The lineup would likely be Zion, Ingram, Jrue Holiday, Redick, and Ball. It leaves Derrick Favors as the odd-man out. It’s not an accident; Zion needs space to operate. The NBA is shrinking to a point where Zion weighs more than any center except Boban Marjanovic and taller than most. In Alvin Gentry’s pace-and-space offense, he’d be akin to a super-charged Draymond in the Hamptons Five lineup.
The lineup would send a ripple effect throughout the roster. First and foremost, the two starting guards need to be versatile defenders who can offset Redick’s defensive issues. At 34, he’s not getting any younger and though he can keep up with similarly-built athletes — such as Joe Harris — he gets bullied in the post by bigger guards and torched on the perimeter by anyone. Teams will target Favors and Redick in the pick-and-roll, hoping to gain an unfavorable switch. It can’t be done with Holiday and Ball, who was fourth in defensive PIPM for guards. Though he came into the league as a point guard, Jrue Holiday shouldn’t have trouble defending wings; since that’s mostly where he’s defended the past two seasons while earning All-Defensive honors. The lineup can only be deployed in spurts because Ingram — who’s well below 200 pounds — can’t defend 4 on a consistent basis.
While Redick needs to be compensated for defensively, Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson need him — specifically, his shooting — offensively. Every lineup should anchor those three together as much possible. Philadelphia had a spacing problem because they used a point guard, Ben Simmons, like a power forward — in the dunker’s spot — off-the-ball. To combat the issue, the Sixers tied Redick to Simmons. The question is not whether Zion makes 3s; it’s whether he takes them. Though it didn’t touch the rim, Zion’s first shot in the summer league was a 3-pointer. To maximize Zion the Pelicans need to have the same strategy of LeBron’s teams (read: except the Lakers) and the Bucks with Giannis: flank him with shooters.
Another play in which Brett Brown leveraged Redick’s ability to shoot was the inverted ball-screen. Embiid recorded more possessions as the pick-and-roll ball-handler of any center. Redick, who was second amongst guards in ball-screens, was the ball-screener in those situations.
Redick’s catch-and-shoot prowess forced his defender to stick to him rather than switch onto Embiid.
Aside from Cam Reddish, Zion wasn’t surrounded with shooters at Duke. Redick unlocks a brand new part of Zion’s game. Whether in the DHO or pick-and-roll, Redick brings gravity to the table. A simple ball-fake to Redick often sufficed to slide to the cup unbothered.
Though he boasted a relatively high usage rate (28.2 percent) Zion didn’t have as many plays run for him as should have been — by comparison, R.J. Barrett had a 32.2 percent usage rate. From day one, though, Zion will dissect defenses, despite the fact that his handles need some tightening. Using elite stop-and-go momentum and one play ahead vision, Zion certainly makes the kick-out feed to Redick in plays like below:
Despite being a valuable shooter, Redick is far from a flawless player. As mentioned, he struggles to with on-ball defense and his finishing attempts induce laughter. Offensively, he’s positive, but he’s not a primary nor secondary creator. As such, he shouldn’t come off the pine. He came off the bench the first 13 games last season and had more minutes with non-creators Saric and Covington than Simmons, and as such, his shooting percentages were the lowest they’d ever been (38.4 on field goals and 35 percent on 3-pointer). His game needs Zion to create and Holiday and Ball to play defense.
The relationship between Redick and the Pelicans is symbiotic. If nothing else, he will aid the Pelicans’ development. His ceiling is what he was for the Sixers and his floor is what Otto Porter is to the Bulls: a floor-spacer. In other words, a kick-out option when all other options dry up. That might happen: his teammates — Ingram, for example — will need the ball in their hands.
Signed to a two-year deal, Redick doesn’t necessarily align with the timeline of the Pelicans — the youngest team in the league (24.1) — either. Any way you look at it, he’s a bargain at $26.5, allowing the Pelicans flexibility next off-season to swing for a max player.
The Redick signing signified David Griffin and Swin Cash legitimately believe the playoffs are within reach. It’s re-tool, not re-build. Now, it’s up to Alvin Gentry to bring that to fruition.