With Robert Covington no longer a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, J.J. Redick now has the hardest job in the entire NBA.
And for the most part, mission accomplished, as Redick has put together two of his best pure shooting seasons as a professional paired alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in Brett Brown‘s movement-heavy offense. But unfortunately, Redick’s role has been far more expansive than anyone initially expected, much to the (presumed) chagrin of the 35-year-old sharpshooter.
You see, Redick isn’t just tasked with parking on the wings and waiting for an outlet pass, or even with running 2-5 motions alongside Embiid, no, often times the Sixers’ oldest player is tasked with covering the opposing team’s best offensive guard for long stretches of the game.
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And needless to say, this strategy has not been particularly effective.
Now granted, Redick has never been a particularly effective defensive player even when he was a spring chicken, but at this point, he’s among the worst defensive shooting guards in the entire league. On a normal team, built the ‘traditional way’, you could hide Redick’s defensive -1.12 Real Plus-Minus (73rd overall among shooting guards) with a solid defensive point guard and some switchability on the wings with a solid small forward. But on this team, that’s just not the case.
In Coach Brown’s current starting five, Redick is the only true, red-blooded ‘guard’ on the court at the start of the game, as Simmons is a point guard in name alone. When the squad goes on defense, Simmons reverts to his traditional role as an inside defender, filling a traditional power forward-esque role where his athleticism and size can be a problem. However, it also creates a problem on the wings, as the combo of Redick, Jimmy Butler, and Wilson Chandler are often tasked with defending against much smaller, more athletic guards.
This often results in Redick either being placed on a guard explicitly or being targeted in switches by savvy floor generals to set up favorable matchups on the wing.
But it wasn’t always like this.
No, back in the day, about a month-and-a-half ago, it was Robert Covington who was tasked night-in and night-out with ISO guarding elite shooters like Kyrie Irving and CJ McCollum, and for the most part, he did his job.
Sure, the team still routinely gave up 20-plus points a night to an elite guard or even non-elite guards like Terry Rozier, but at this point, those feel like the good ole’ days.
Since Covington’s departure, the 76ers have given up an average of 36 points a night to opposing starting guards each night, vs. only 31 before he and Dario Saric were shipped to Minnesota. Five points don’t seem like a lot, but 15 of the 76ers’ 37 games have come by a six or fewer point margin, so that’s not a particularly insignificant spread.
While this trend may start to wane now that Bulter has become the defacto answer to RoCo on the defensive end of the court, taking his turn as Coach Brown’s shutdown defender, it will always be present for as long as the team continues to go big to accommodate Simmons’ desire to be called a guard.
That’s why the entire team receives a noticeable boost whenever T.J. McConnell take the court; because he’s a point guard-sized point guard. McConnell isn’t the fastest, strongest, or most stingy defender in the league, but he can help to take on a guard like Damian Lillard and at least slow them down, an upgrade over Redick’s revolving door defensive game.
To put it simply: To maximize the tread left on Redick’s tires after 13 hard years in the NBA, the team needs to find a way to give him a break on defense.
As things presently stand, Redick is averaging the most shots, the most 3s, and most points of his career at the tender age of 34, and is third on the team with 18 points a night, but imagine how much better Redick could be if paired with an ‘old school’ point guard on the defensive end of the court? He could save more energy for offense, and maybe even play fewer minutes, as Redick is playing over 30 a game for what could also end up being a career high if he averages about 40 more seconds a contest down the stretch.
Whether by trade, or by a more radical staggering of minutes, to truly optimize J.J. Redick in Brett Brown’s scheme, the Philadelphia 76ers need to find a way to play their best shooter alongside a traditional point guard with more frequency, in a much-needed attempt to ease his workload on the defensive end of the court.