Hate Mail: Holding a monopoly on readers' minds
ORLANDO, Fla. -- J.J. Redick isn't lousy.
Do you have any idea how much this means to me? More than you know. More than I thought I knew. Watching him in the Eastern Conference finals for Orlando -- watching him be the Magic's most consistent performer; not their best player, but their most consistent one -- has put me in a great mood. Look at me. I'm gushing right now.
But I like this kid. Well, this young man. He's no longer the college kid of 2002, when I got to know Redick. He was playing for Duke. I was writing for the Charlotte Observer. Does this sound like a love story? It's not. Can we please not go there?
|J.J. Redick has contributed solid defensive work off the bench for the Magic. (Getty Images)|
That doesn't make sense to me now, and it didn't make sense to me then. Some of those other guys from Duke, sure, it made sense to me. I liked, and I still like, Collins and Wojciechowski, but I get it. When he wasn't flopping like a fish, Collins played with a smirk unearned by his career 9.1-point scoring average. And Wojo played so hard, to the point of floor-pounding derangement, that it could be grating. He played like a born-again religious zealot talks -- sincere as can be, but so over-the-top that it irritates the rest of us.
Redick wasn't like that. He was cool on the court, almost aloof. Did he smirk on occasion? Maybe so, but you know what? He was one of the best shooters in the history of college basketball. Guys like that are allowed to smirk. I wasn't alive for Rick Mount or Jerry West, and I was too young for Rodney Monroe or Dennis Scott, but Redick's the best I ever saw.
There have been great shooters in college basketball, not just one-trick ponies like the former NCAA record-holder for career 3-pointers, Curtis Staples of Virginia, a brilliant but one-dimensional shooter who scored most of his points (1,239 of 1,757) on 3s. Redick broke Staples' record for 3s, but he scored a lot more ways than that. Redick finished his Duke career with 2,769 points -- 17th all-time in Division I -- and scored more points inside the arc (1,398) than outside (1,371).
I note that statistic to bolster my argument that, in my 15-plus years of covering college basketball, Redick is the best shooter I've ever seen. You can find easily enough someone who shot better than his 40.6 percent on 3-pointers. You might even find someone who was better than his 91.2 percent on free throws. I don't care. Redick is the best shooter I ever saw, and there's not a thing you can say, not a name you can name, to tell me I'm wrong.
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But then he got to the NBA, and the NBA told me I was wrong. The NBA told me Redick wasn't nearly as good as I had suspected, because for two seasons with the Magic he barely played. He was like Adam Morrison or something -- but Redick wasn't Morrison. Mentally they were joined at the hip in college, far and away the best two players in the country in 2006, but Morrison was always going to struggle as a pro because of his inability to defend and to create shots against NBA quickness and length.
Redick wasn't going to have those struggles, I told myself. Not like the last great shooter out of Duke, Trajan Langdon, who was drafted No. 11 overall by Cleveland in 1999 -- the same slot Redick went in 2006 to Orlando -- but who made just five starts over three years before being released in 2002.
Redick was more athletic than Langdon, and more skilled. Better handle. Better passer. Better defender. Even a better shooter. Redick wasn't going to bomb in the NBA. And then ...
For two years Redick couldn't play, and eventually he asked for a trade. The Magic didn't give in, because they knew what they had. They had someone who should be able to contribute at a high level, but they couldn't do it for him. He would have to do it for himself.
From there, give Redick credit -- because he worked his way into the Magic's rotation. He redefined his body, chiseling away the party fat he had carried since Duke. The Redick I see walking around the Magic locker room isn't the Redick I saw at Duke. That Redick was coasting on natural gifts, in decent shape because he was young and a college athlete, but if he thought he had been working hard in the weight room, he thought wrong. This Redick has worked hard. This Redick is lean and hard, like Brad Pitt in the greatest book-movie of all time, Fight Club.
"Ultra-competitive," Redick said to explain the motivation behind his makeover. "I want to be good. That drives me."
Stronger and quicker than he was three years ago, Redick is no longer a defensive liability or a pigeonholed shooter. He's not a lockdown defender, no, but he has done a credible job on Boston shooting guard Ray Allen. He's not a slick point guard, but he attacks the lane and finds open shooters on the perimeter, like in the first quarter of Game 5 when he created a 3-pointer for Matt Barnes. And Redick is still a terrific shooter, going 9 for 16 on 3-pointers in the East finals (56.3 percent), averaging 12 points and -- again -- scoring more of his 60 points in five games inside the arc (33) than outside (27).
Add it up, and Redick is outplaying the man who starts ahead of him, eight-time All-Star Vince Carter. Celtics coach Doc Rivers called Redick the Magic's "most consistent player" in the series, and he's right. When they're good, Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson have been much better. But they've been up or down, whereas Redick has been the most consistently effective reserve on either team. In five games, Redick has scored nine, 16, nine, 12 and 14 points.
He's not lousy. He's actually pretty good. Am I relieved? I am. Am I surprised?
Not for a second.