Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
It's no secret that J.J. Redick brings a new look to the Bucks' backcourt, and that should be a good thing for Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and the Bucks as a whole.
I know I know, it seems like I'm just picking on Brandon and Monta, another potshot from the true shooting police. But really, the true appeal of Redick as the complementary third cog in the Bucks' three-guard rotation has as much to do with what Redick does well as what the Bucks' current starting guards don't do well. And that's not to suggest Redick is perfect--far from it. He's by definition a supporting actor in a league defined by its leading men, a problem that seems to define the Bucks' more overarching conundrum: in Jennings and Ellis they have at least two players willing to play the role of hero and occasionally look the part, but none capable of carrying an offense consistently.
Redick's ability to complement Jennings and Ellis relies on equal parts positional fit, stylistic preference and shooting productivity. Via 82games, Redick played 39% of available shooting guard minutes and 21% of available point guard minutes this year for Orlando, reflecting his ability to operate as a complementary ballhandler. For a great summary of Redick's game, let's start with someone who knows it as well as anyone--Evan Dunlap from our SBN Magic sister site, Orlando Pinstriped Post. Here's Evan's response when I queried him about what to expect from J.J.:
Redick's a solid secondary ballhandler, particularly in the pick-and-roll, but he's not a guy whom you want bringing the ball up, particularly against pressure. However, you can give him the ball off a pin-down and have whomever brought the ball up--be it Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, or Ish Smith--play away from the ball. I'm not sure how well those guys fare without the ball, but maybe there's a benefit to having them float while Redick probes the defense.
One of the Magic's best actions with Redick was to get him the ball curling hard off the elbow with a pin-down. His man gets caught in the screen, forcing a help-side defender to come over. That play opens passing lanes to the weak side or to the roll man. And if the help defense doesn't come in time, Redick can just pull-up for that mid-range two.
Redick is also effective in transition, whether he's handling or filling the lane on the wings. Generally speaking, Redick's greatest asset is that he always puts pressure on the defense, even if he doesn't have the ball. Teams can't leave him alone, which will help the Bucks' spacing and ability to reverse the ball.
Let's start with that last part: Redick pressures defenses even when he doesn't have the ball, which is a rather valuable trait given Jennings and especially Ellis do most of their pressuring with the ball. During last Friday's presser, John Hammond characterized Redick as a two but noted that Ellis' ability to play either spot will facilitate interchangability of all three. Redick will effectively be the two guard with either Ellis or Jennings officially manning the point, though as Evan noted that doesn't mean Redick is standing in a corner waiting for the ball. But looking at play distributions on MySynergySports.com, it's clear that Redick's game is closer to that of the man he's replacing, Beno Udrih, and Mike Dunleavy than that of Jennings or Ellis:
While Jennings and Ellis see around a third of their plays (here defined as shots, turnovers or fouls drawn) come from P&R action, Redick has by far the highest dependence on coming off screens (30%), while Dunleavy is the only Buck to get any regular looks that way to date this season. In contrast to the Swag Twins, Udrih and Redick get less than 20% of their plays off P&R. The data also shows that neither Jennings nor Ellis get any significant portion of their plays off hand offs, despite much talk earlier in the season suggesting they would (or did). Interestingly, both Dunleavy and Udrih have seen a much higher proportion of their shots off spot-ups than Redick, reflecting the active role Redick had to play in creating offense for the Magic.
But more important than how Redick creates offense is how well he does it. First off, it's true that points-per-shot and TS% aren't the be-all, end-all of whether a player is an effective offensive player. Creating offense for others is another key responsibility of lead guards, and while it might not apply to LeBron and Kevin Durant, typically higher usage players will have a harder time maintaining their efficiency vs. guys who can pick their spots more. So to some extent the inefficiency of Ellis and Jennings is a product of the role they play, though it can't be denied that they also embrace the shot-happy role with open arms. And as far as creating for others...well, Monta's definitely good by shooting guard standards, but neither guy is a clear-cut "make everyone else better" type either.
The chart below plots Synergy's points-per-shot data for each player by play type; it's a little tougher to follow, but (spoiler alert!) the most obvious takeaway is that Jennings and Ellis are consistently less effective in virtually every area. You can also ignore the spike in the iso data for Dunleavy--his 1.43 PPS there are a sample that's too small to put any stock in.
Looking at the data it's easy to say "the Bucks run way too much P&R for Jennings and Ellis!" but that's oversimplifying. If this were a simple economics problem, you'd find a way to balance all play types such that their marginal returns would be equal; in other words, if a certain play type has a very high PPS, you'd keep running that until the defense adjusted and its value fell in line with the others. Likewise, you'd only run less effective plays as changes of pace, such that their PPS would hopefully rise.
But this ignores the reality of play-calling and the apples/oranges of Synergy's play type categorization. Jim Boylan can't just snap his fingers and order more transition opportunities. Not surprisingly, the least effective types of plays tend to be those that are the "bread and butter" types which can most easily be executed even if they're not highly effective--think P&R, isos, post-ups, etc. Those are plays offenses can just run all the time. Meanwhile, the most effective types of plays in Synergy are those which are more opportunistic: transition, cuts, offensive rebounds, etc.
In the end, variety is both the spice of life and the lifeblood of an offense that doesn't have a killer go-to option, so assembling players whose abilities complement one another is a decidedly good thing. Shooters make P&R guys better, and good P&R guys also get shooters more open looks. In just three games, we've seen that Redick's mere presence has helped open more driving and passing lanes for Monta Ellis, who has in turn seemingly reinvented himself as a playmaking point guard in the span of a week. Which is good, because Monta's been a pretty terrible isolation player all year, and the steady diet of P&R that Ellis and Jennings use to create offense is just a fundamentally tougher way to score points. We're still waiting for Jennings to catch on, but hopefully that will come. In the end, efficient players generally always make everyone else better, simply because they force defenses to adapt at the cost of paying less attention to everyone else. Fortunately Redick is nothing if not efficient, and with Ersan Ilyasova rounding into form over the past two months and Dunleavy being, well, Dunleavy, the Bucks finally might have the shooting prowess needed to make Ellis and Jennings look good.