Dealing with Clippers Guard J.J. Redick Is the Thunder's Secret Challenge

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Dealing with Clippers Guard J.J. Redick Is the Thunder's Secret Challenge
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Through the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Clippers guard J.J. Redick has been in devastating offensive form.

He's scored 15 points per game on a scintillating 12-for-18 shooting from the floor—and he’s done this despite rarely touching the ball. His movement off the ball and the threat of his pure shooting ability has created opportunities for both himself and his Los Angeles Clippers teammates.

Per NBA.com’s SportVU tracking system, a whopping 65 percent of the Clippers’ shot attempts were uncontested in Games 1 and 2.

During the regular season, 45 percent of shots were uncontested, though the Clippers were the best in the league at generating these open looks at 51 percent. Of course, the primary engines that drive the Los Angeles offense toward these open shots are Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but as the examples below will show, Redick’s presence and shooting ability contribute mightily.

While the Thunder understandably focused their defensive adjustments on Paul following his Human Torch-like performance in Game 1, Redick was even more effective in his ability to shake free off the ball in Game 2 than in the first contest.

As the series progresses, Redick’s subtler impact on the game may require some serious defensive adjustments from OKC. His ability to attract defensive attention away from the ball continues to open up space and opportunities for both himself and other Clippers.

The threat is obvious, Redick is one of the deadliest catch-and-shoot players in the league, especially from three-point range, where he ranked 24th out of the roughly 160 regular rotation players who took at least one catch-and-shoot three per game, according to SportVU.

The mere threat of Redick spotting up forces the defense into uncomfortable decisions. For example, here Thabo Sefolosha is forced to decide between crashing the paint on Blake Griffin’s roll to the basket or staying home on Redick in the corner:

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With Serge Ibaka locked onto DeAndre Jordan in the post, Sefolosha has to choose quickly between covering Griffin or to staying home on Redick.

In Game 1, OKC’s indecision in the face of this scenario led to players doing neither well. For example:

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Reggie Jackson is in a pretty good spot to prevent Griffin from getting to the basket, but you can almost see him thinking, “Wait, I can’t leave J.J. Redick in the corner,” as he allows Griffin to go right past him:

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And if the defender does choose to leave Redick to rotate into the lane, well, this happens:

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Similarly, despite Paul having missed approximately never to this point in Game 1, Kevin Durant feels he can’t leave Redick to contest Paul on this play, leading to a corner three:

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While Redick presents a great threat with his catch-and-shoot ability, he truly can bend the defense by drawing defenders out of position with his off-the-ball movement. The combination of his shooting skill with his use of screens to find shots and his ability to catch and shoot accurately while on the move is nearly unparalleled in the NBA. He ranked seventh in the NBA in terms of scoring efficiency when using a screen, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).

The Clippers like to run Redick off a series of baseline picks to open him for these shots. The former Duke standout is proficient enough at using screens that if he does not draw extra defensive attention from the players guarding the screeners, he ends up with open looks.

For example, in this play neither Ibaka nor Kendrick Perkins offer Sefolosha much in the way of help as Redick uses staggered baseline screens from Griffin and Jordan:

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Ibaka is focused on Paul at the top of the key. Thus, when Griffin wipes out Sefolosha with the screen, Ibaka does not bump Redick or really impede him in any way as J.J. runs the baseline towards the second pick:

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Sefolosha is left scrambling to recover, and as he approaches Jordan’s screen on the opposite block, Perkins is completely focused on the ball as well: 

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In a desperate attempt to make up ground, Sefolosha tries to go “over” the pick. Redick, an expert at reading screens, fades to the corner for a wide open shot. Similarly, Redick is able to lose Sefolosha in this play from a “floppy” set to open himself for an open corner three.

So how can the Thunder defense counter? As mentioned above, a common tactic is for the man guarding the screener to “check” Redick’s cut or at least get in his way so he has to change direction and slow down. Ibaka does just that here:

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He takes one extra step to his right and into the paint, but that small step is just enough to allow Paul to set a pin-down screen on him to open Griffin for a jumper:

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Though the shot misses, this was an open look created as a result of Ibaka reacting to Redick’s movement.

And even if his defender is able to navigate the first screen, Redick can put help defenders in an awkward situation by curling around the second screen:

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Either because of the play call or Durant’s alert defense, KD is able to stay on Redick as he cuts past Griffin and under: 

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Again, by reading the screen and knowing he won’t be able to catch and shoot from either the corner or the wing, Redick curls around Jordan’s screen: 

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Durant has been forced to go just wide enough around the screen to allow Redick, still moving at close to full speed, to turn the corner and attack the paint:

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Perkins is now stuck guarding two players in the paint, and though he does well to force Redick into a tough floater, Redick is capable of making that shot. And of course a benefit of forcing Durant to cover Redick on these curls is allowing Jordan to get the occasional free hit in on Durant.

The following play demonstrates Perkins’ dilemma in these situations:

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As Redick cuts along the baseline, Perkins stays slightly higher up the floor on Jordan’s screen, in part to dissuade Redick from curling around the screen:

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However, between Perkins stepping up and Durant having to respect Redick’s ability to shoot the three from the corner or wing, Jordan is left with an open lane for a lob to the rim:

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And finally, Redick’s movement can be “noisy” in that it draws all kinds of attention to his movement in such a way as to provide open passing and cutting lanes for a teammate. Here, the Clippers run a nice set to get the ball to Redick on the move towards the right wing:

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As Redick dribbles to the wing, he draws the attention of three defenders, including Caron Butler, who is ostensibly guarding Griffin on the play: 

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This allows Redick to hit Griffin on the baseline for a layup. While this is a clear breakdown on Butler’s part, the constant threat Redick poses contributed to the mistake.

Over the rest of this series, the Thunder will have to do a better job both slowing Redick’s movement and staying disciplined in their schemes.

On the first front, they simply need to be more physical with the bigs getting little chips, bumps and hip checks on him as he cuts along the baseline. The intent is not to stop Redick in his tracks, as a full-on body block will either result in a defensive foul or an easy opportunity for Griffin or Jordan. Rather, the goal is to slow him down enough so that his defender whether Sefolosha, Durant or someone else can stay tight enough to him to force him to go wider around the screens and thus force him to try to be effective off the dribble if he wants to penetrate. Not Redick’s strong suit.

In terms of discipline, defenders must know their assignments on the Clippers’ most common sets and execute without hesitation, neither losing sight of their assigned men (as with Butler) nor covering nobody through sheer uncertainty, as demonstrated above by Reggie Jackson.

The Thunder simply cannot continue to ignore Redick’s contributions. Oklahoma City needs to appropriately adjust to avoid a continued avalanche of open looks for Redick and the rest of the Clippers.

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