J.J. Redick seems to know the moment and exactly what his team needs. More importantly, he seems to know to be in the right place at the right time.
As the Magic were pulling away from the Knicks on Monday, J.J. Redick took advantage of such a moment. He leaked out on a one-man fast break that took a little too long for Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson to figure out. Eventually Nelson found Redick and he needed to make a wild reverse layup for the basket. He then got free again to score the Magic's only two fast break points of the game.
It was a solid, relatively non-noteworth 21 points from Redick against the Knicks. The only thing notable about it was that it was his first start of the season with Jason Richardson down with a bone bruise.
Even Wednesday night against the Spurs, Redick struggled throughout the game and then came alive scoring the final six points in regulation to force overtime and that 3-pointer that came just after the final buzzer that would have won the game.
These kind of performances are becoming old hat for Redick. He is averaging a career-high 12.4 points per game, is shooting 44.1 percent from the floor and playing a career-high 27.3 minutes per game. He is also, quite surprisingly considering he is playing more minutes, shooting a 51.2 percent effective field goal percentage while taking about the same amount of 3-point attempts per game.
Out of every player on the team, Redick has made the biggest leap and most improvement on the floor. There may not be a player whom Stan Van Gundy trusts more on the roster outside of the team's captains, Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. That is why Redick has been getting more of the "crunch-time" minutes and why Redick is playing the majority of the game in splitting time with Jason Richardson and even playing alongside Richardson in several small lineups.
Richardson has gotten off to a slow start this season -- 11.1 points per game, 43.2 percent shooting for the year -- and his shortcomings, especially on the defensive end, remain apparent. Richardson is not quite the athlete he used to be and has struggled to fit in offensively as a spot-up shooter. Stan Van Gundy has tried to work him into the offense more with curls to set him up for mid-range jumpers.
Still, Richardson has not quite been right individually.
Redick is a fan favorite. Orlando drafted him. The fans have watched his development into a strong contributor. The next step in his career is to earn his chance at starting.
Redick has started 22 games in his career and has averaged 11.9 points per game while shooting 41.7 percent from the floor. Those are not completely stellar numbers. But Redick is enjoying a career season now and is pushing Richardson for playing time more and more often.
When you look at the team's best lineups, though, Redick's presence changes the production and efficiency on the floor.
According to 82games.com, the lineup of Jameer Nelson/J.J. Redick/Hedo Turkoglu/Ryan Anderson/Dwight Howard is the top lineup for the Magic. This lineup is +51 and posts 1.36 points per 100 possessions and 0.94 points allowed per 100 possessions. That includes a stellar 61.6 percent effective field goal percentage. That sample size is admittedly small (about 54 minutes on the floor together), but those numbers say a lot.
Replace Redick with Richardson, Orlando's starting lineup and most used lineup, and the results are different. Orlando is only +1 with this lineup on the floor, posting 1.09 points per 100 possessions and a 47.7 percent effective field goal percentage.
Competition has some to do with the discrepancy, but the numbers are pretty far apart in a significant manner.
There has been some experimentation of playing Redick and Richardson on the floor together to mixed results -- the team is +5 with the two on the floor together thanks in large part to a little-used lineup of Nelson/Redick/J. Richardson/Anderson/Howard that is +11 in 8.5 minutes according to 82games.com.
The Redick/Richardson lineup has deficiencies because neither is strong as an individual defender, it creates a small lineup with less size and athleticism on the perimeter and it prevents Hedo Turkoglu from playing his natural position or pushes him or Ryan Anderson out of the lineup. Nobody wants that. It still appears it is one or the other for the starting lineup.
The distinction becomes even more apparent when looking at Redick and Richardson's stats at the end of games.
In the final five minutes of close games (defined as within five points), Redick has played 26 minutes in seven such games, averaging 27.7 points per 36 minutes and shooting 63 percent from the floor according to the NBA.com StatsCube. The team has a 137.5 offensive rating with Redick on the floor in the clutch and a 93.7 defensive rating. Surprisingly, Redick has a 25.8 percent usage rate.
This suggests that not only is Redick on the floor in these tight games, but he is a player the Magic are turning to score points in these contests.
Richardson, on the other hand, has played only six total minutes in two games that the StatsCube defines as clutch. Richardson scores 6.0 points per 36 minutes in those situations thus far and is just one for two from the floor. That is the extent of his clutch offensive contributions.
It seems that while the "Who starts?" question is far from settled, the "Who ends?" question is. Redick gets the minutes at the end of the game. Most athletes will tell you that is what matters more.
Richardson will likely remain the starter. Redick has gotten into a nice rhythm coming off the bench and that seems to fit his playing style and role better. Orlando needs scoring in that second unit and Redick provides that.
Richardson, on the other hand, has started all but 12 games in his career. Some players need to start from a rhythm perspective and struggle to get things going coming off the bench. Richardson would have to completely change his mindset and approach to games.
Not that it would be a bad thing.
With the way Richardson has struggled, perhaps a chance of role coming off the bench could make Richardson the primary option and allow Stan Van Gundy to run more plays for Richardson and keep him involved, something Van Gundy has said he struggles to do sometimes with him on the floor with the starting unit.
It is something to consider when Richardson is ready to come back from his knee bruise injury. If Redick keeps playing at this high level, it seems clear that this question will not subside.