LOS ANGELES—On paper, the Los Angeles Clippers have all the ingredients a team needs to cook up a run to the NBA Finals.
A top-notch, two-way playmaker in Chris Paul. A highly productive big man in Blake Griffin. An athletic rim-protector in DeAndre Jordan. A game-changer off the bench in Jamal Crawford. A battle-tested coach in Doc Rivers who's put those pieces to good use, fashioning a top-10 outfit on both ends of the floor.
And, of course, a shooting specialist, in J.J. Redick, whose ability to run around the floor and knock down jumpers has unlocked L.A.'s offense like never before.
Even Rivers' vaunted Boston Celtics squads, as great as they were in winning the title in 2008 and coming oh-so-close to doing so in 2010, could hardly have dreamed of an offense as blindingly efficient as the one Doc's Clips have put together with Redick on hand. According to NBA.com, L.A. led the league in offensive efficiency in 2013-14, scoring a whopping 109.4 points per 100 possessions. That's up from 107.7 a year ago, when Vinny Del Negro was running a show that won a then-franchise-record 56 regular-season games on the way to the team's first-ever Pacific Division title.
Rivers' arrival, as a well-respected sideline commander, had something to do with that. So, too, did Griffin's growth into a legitimate MVP candidate, particularly while Paul missed 18 games with a shoulder injury between January and early February.
Still, perhaps no player has had a bigger impact on the Clippers' emergence as an offensive juggernaut—and will be more crucial to their cause in the playoffs—than Redick. The eighth-year sharpshooter out of Duke came to L.A. by way of the same three-team trade that sent former CP3 understudy Eric Bledsoe to the Phoenix Suns.
There's room for debate as to whether the Clips ultimately got a good return on Bledsoe. Redick played in just 35 games this season due to injury, and Jared Dudley, who accompanied Redick in that trade, struggled to find any consistent rhythm before being demoted to the bench in mid-January.
Redick, though, was clearly a game-changer when he played. Per NBA.com, the Clippers' offensive output improved by nearly five points per 100 possessions, with an effective field goal percentage (which accounts for the added value of three-pointers) of 54.5 percent when Redick was healthy enough to play.
Which he just so happens to be right now. The Clips left him at home to rest during their season finale, but could only have been encouraged by the 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting (4-of-6 from three) for which he was responsible in his last game of the campaign against the Denver Nuggets. His performance in Game 1 of L.A.'s first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors (22 points on 8-of-11 shooting) practically kept the Clippers from completely collapsing under the weight of Griffin's foul trouble. His nine points in Game 2, while relatively modest, weren't too shabby, either.
If that J.J. is the same one who shows up from here on out, the Clippers will be as tough an out as any in the Western Conference. Here's why.
The Right Touch
Most (if not all) Redick-related discourse begins with his shooting stroke. His four-year tenure in Durham, which ended with him as the collegiate national player of the year in 2006, was marked by, well, his marksmanship. He hit 40.6 percent of his threes as a Blue Devil and has since gone on to nail 39 percent of them as a pro, including 39.5 percent in his first season as a Clipper.
Redick is particularly dangerous off the catch. According to NBA.com's SportVU stats, nearly half (7.0) of Redick's 15.2 points per game this season came off catch-and-shoot opportunities.
And not by accident, either; Redick registered an astronomical effective field-goal percentage of 59.7 percent on such shots.
That level of productivity from long range is pivotal to the Clippers' success. L.A. averaged 9.3 three-point makes on 38.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc in its 57 wins this season, but saw those numbers drop to 6.5 on 27.9 percent in its 25 defeats.
On its own, this isn't exactly Earth-shattering news. After all, if a team's scoring nine more points on three more made threes per game, it's far more likely to wind up as the victor than it would otherwise.
Redick is particularly integral to L.A.'s efforts from the perimeter. With Dudley struggling to find his way, Redick now stands as the Clippers' lone three-point specialist. Chris Paul, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison and Dudley are all capable of knocking down long balls here and there, but none demands the same attention from opposing defenses for that ability than Redick does. They have to respect his ability to shoot, whether or not the shots are actually dropping. His lethality from that range is well established, and if he's afforded any open looks, he's liable to catch fire.
The mere threat of Redick's jumper, then, can be enough to create space for the rest of the Clippers to operate. If Redick's around, L.A.'s foes have to think twice (if not three times) before crashing down on the paint to disrupt drives from Paul and Crawford or challenge Griffin in the post.
"He opens up the floor for everybody," Griffin said of Redick's impact after a recent Clippers practice. "His presence alone, whether he's hitting shots or not, is big for us. And when he is hitting shots, it just makes it extremely tough for defenses and allows everybody else to get open shots."
Griffin has plenty of firsthand experience with this phenomenon. He shoots better from the field and scores a higher percentage of his points in the paint when Redick's on the floor with him, per NBA.com. With Redick around, L.A.'s opponents have often been hesitant to double down on Griffin in the post, for fear that J.J. will burn them.
As is the case here, where even the Chicago Bulls, pioneers in the practice of clogging the paint at all costs, decline to double Griffin in the post, in part because Redick is lingering on the opposite side.
Putting those two in the pick-and-roll only multiplies their combined effectiveness. According to Synergy Sports, Redick ranks third in the league in pick-and-roll efficiency, with the Clippers scoring 1.05 points per possession when he handles the ball in the NBA's pet set. Plays like the one below certainly help.
Once again, the threat of Redick's jumper is so real that the defense keys in on him rather than doing everything it can to stop Griffin. In this case, the defensively deficient Dallas Mavericks neglect to impede the Flying Lion on his path to the basket altogether, choosing instead to challenge what they think will be a long two from J.J.
The same can be seen here from L.A.'s opening playoff game, wherein the attention paid to Redick's shot leaves Griffin wide open for an easy flush.
Redick's impact in those actions stemmed from his shooting but wouldn't have been possible without his movement, both on and off the ball.
In truth, J.J.'s mobility is just as valuable to what the Clippers do as is his shooting, if not more so. By scooting around the court, Redick is able to activate himself as a threat wherever he goes. That makes him almost immeasurably more dangerous than he would be standing in the corner or on the wing, where he'd be much easier for defenses to neutralize.
Chris Paul hinted at as much during the Clippers' massive introductory press conference this past summer. "When I saw that J.J. signed here, I was overjoyed," Paul said at the time. "I told my wife, 'I'm so excited' because...I'm just so happy we're on the same team and I don't have to run around and chase him."
Rivers reiterated as much months later. "His shooting is huge, but the fact that he can shoot and move is the reason he's important for us," the Clippers coach said in praise of Redick. "There's a lot of guys that can shoot, but they don't have the impact of a J.J. It's more that he's a guy that can move without the ball. That makes him very dangerous."
Rivers should know. He witnessed the extent to which off-ball movement can weaponize a shooter when he coached Ray Allen in Boston.
It's no coincidence, then, that Rivers worked so hard to lure Redick to L.A. this past offseason—and even harder to keep him once team owner Donald Sterling attempted to nix the deal, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Nor is it a happy accident that Rivers runs plays for Redick that are similar, if not downright identical, to those he once concocted for Allen. As Bleacher Report's Fred Katz detailed back in January, the Clippers often call upon Redick by way of "floppy" sets, in which a shooter runs under the basket and either comes off a pair of staggered screens on one side or a lone pick on the other.
Here, the action results in a good look from the right wing, which Redick misses.
Sometimes, the "floppy" yields open shots inside the arc, as is the case in the clip below.
The Clippers needn't always craft such elaborate arrangements just for Redick's benefit. Sometimes, a simple screen is all Redick needs to get open and squeeze off a shot. According to Synergy, Redick is the league's ninth-most efficient scorer off screens, contributing 1.14 points per possession while shooting 48.1 percent form the floor, including a scorching-hot 59 percent from deep.
Thanks to plays like this one.
That never-ending cutting and darting can and does add up. Among those who played at least 20 minutes a game across no fewer than 30 contests this season, Redick ranked second in distance traveled per 48 minutes (3.6 miles) and tied for tops in average speed (4.6 miles per hour), right up there with fellow sharpshooter Danny Green (per NBA.com).
Such movement doesn't come without consequence, though. It requires peak conditioning and puts plenty of pressure on the body of the player in question. In Redick's case, the back injury that cost him nearly two months of games between February and early April also threw him out of his usual rhythm—a no-no for any shooter as meticulous about his craft as Redick is.
"Anytime you come back from an injury, there's the mental aspect of it as well as the physical," said Redick. "Just having confidence in your body, that it's going to respond the right way."
On the flip side, Redick's running around keeps defenders on their toes and can exhaust those charged with the unenviable task of checking him. "You can't load up or anything," said Jamal Crawford. "He's always there to keep guys honest. You'll look at him one possession, he'll be there. You turn your head, and he's across the court, so you always have to pay attention."
Everything In Its Right Place
As crucial as Redick's movement and shooting are to what the Clippers do, his impact on L.A.'s fortunes, short-term and long, runs to a degree that's deeper and more fundamental than X's and O's.
Even though he's played less than half a season in a Clippers uniform.
That's all a rather cryptic way of expounding upon an earlier point: that Redick changes things for the better for his teammates just by being there.
In Chris Paul's case, it means that defenses can't focus too much on him or hide the lesser of their perimeter trackers elsewhere, lest they open themselves up to Redick's wrath.
"Going into a lot of games, a lot of teams will try to put their point guard on me in order to save him a little bit," Paul explained. "But now, you put him on J.J., it's a lot harder to guard me."
It is, indeed. According to NBA.com, Paul's effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage both shot up when he shared the floor with Redick, as did the frequency of his assists. Redick's existence on the court pulls defenders away from some of CP3's other targets, thereby creating easy scoring opportunities.
That's the case in this play, during which OKC's Thabo Sefolosha can't contest a DeAndre Jordan dunk off a beautiful bounce pass from Paul because the Thunder wing has been drawn away by Redick in the right corner.
For the Clippers' key reserves, a healthy, effective Redick allows the rest of the backcourt rotation to settle into its proper place. With Redick starting at shooting guard, Jamal Crawford can focus on serving as L.A.'s superb scoring sixth man, while Darren Collison can dedicate himself to serving as CP3's backup, just as he did when the two were teammates with the New Orleans Hornets.
Truth be told, it's somewhat strange to think of an emerging power like the Clippers being so dependent on an oft-injured shooting guard like Redick to reach their full potential. Paul and Griffin were already L.A.'s backbone with Jordan maturing into the team's defensive anchor.
But Redick has made all of their jobs easier, as he has for just about any and every other player and coach in the Clippers' employ. They'll need every ounce of what Redick brings to the table—every crisp cut, every dart to the corner, every circumnavigation around a screen or two, every sweet jump shot—if they're to outlast the rival Warriors in the first round, much less win the West.
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