Redick, a man on the move, enlivens a lost art

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Redick, a man on the move, enlivens a lost art

If moving without the ball is a lost art in the NBA, Sixers guard JJ Redick is Rembrandt with a jump shot. He runs no fewer than 2.52 miles a game, according to SportVU — approximately all of them at a full sprint, and approximately none of them in a straight line.

A defender will dog Redick’s every step as he slaloms off screens, forever seeking a sliver of daylight to launch that pristine shot. There will be clutching and grabbing, cursing and gabbing.

It is a fascinating game within the game, a literal running feud.

“I embrace it,” Redick said late Wednesday night, after providing 20 points in a 112-106 victory over San Antonio.

The Spurs mostly used their JVs because Gregg Popovich is, as always, playing the long game, ticketholders be damned. But with the verdict hanging in the balance and less than a minute left, Redick found himself matched against Patty Mills, one of San Antonio’s longtime rotational staples.

For an instant they were frozen in place on the left wing — indeed, one of the few moments all night Redick was not in motion — as Joel Embiid handled the ball just to the left of the circle.

“It was a set play,” Redick said, “and we kind of screwed up the passing angle a little bit.”

He was supposed to receive the ball, then engage in a two-man game with Embiid. But now Embiid had the rock, and Mills was preventing him from darting toward his teammate, as well as the head of the key — “top-blocking,” as Redick called it.

Redick feinted toward the baseline, as if he were going to go backdoor, then darted back toward Embiid.

“Sometimes,” Redick said, “that’s just setting your guy up and giving him a little nudge.”

Which he did in fact deliver, creating just enough space to receive Embiid’s pass and bury the jumper that put the Sixers up 108-104 with 35.9 seconds left.

“It was,” Mills said, “classic Redick.”

Mills is well aware of his wiles, having often faced the former Clipper the last four years in the Western Conference. Doesn’t make it any easier, though.

“You’ve got to have your antennas up at all times when you’re guarding him, and not just the people that have the project on him,” Mills said. “Everyone on the floor’s got to know where he’s at at all times. He’s been a beast on all the teams he’s played.”

An interesting choice of words, seeing as “beast” is a term normally reserved for physical freaks like the 7-2 Embiid. But Redick, a mere 6-4, has that jumper; he nailed 3 of 4 three-point attempts Wednesday, is shooting 40.2 percent from the arc this season and 41.4 percent in his 12-year career. (His scoring average this season — 17.2 — is also a career high.)

Then there’s all that running. Only 11 NBA players, all of them far younger than the 33-year-old Redick, run more miles each night, according to SportVU. (The league leader is Portland guard C.J. McCollum, at 2.78; Sixers rookie Ben Simmons is second, at 2.68.)

That’s an obvious tribute to Redick’s conditioning. Doughy in his early years at Duke, he transformed his body late in his college career, then took it to the next level his first few seasons in the NBA, under the lash of Joe Rogowski, then Orlando’s conditioning coach.

All the while Redick was learning about off-the-ball tactics from watching (and facing) guys like Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton — lessons that are reinforced these days by Golden State’s Klay Thompson and a handful of others.

“I would describe it at times as hand-to-hand combat,” Redick said.

For that reason, he spends as much offseason time working on his upper body as he does his lower extremities.

“I know I don’t look it, but I’m actually pretty strong (at 195 pounds),” he said. “As much as it is just being in great cardio shape, it’s also just having the strength to just create that separation.”

Besides his pivotal moment against Mills on Wednesday, there was a play late in the first quarter where he, uh, nudged Brandon Paul and freed himself up for a three, then a three-possession stretch in the second when he took a dribble handoff from T.J. McConnell and connected from the arc; lost Darrun Hilliard on screens by Embiid and Dario Saric, took another pass from McConnell and dropped in a layup; and coaxed in the first two of three free throws after drawing a foul from Dejounte Murray on a three-point attempt.

At other times, Redick was used as a screener. It is a role in which he excels, coach Brett Brown said, because his defender is loath to switch off him.

And at all times he was active — forever running, forever crafting another masterpiece.

Hunger of the wolf drives Covington

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Hunger of the wolf drives Covington

In the first of a two-part story, Gordie Jones takes an in-depth look at the journey of Sixers forward Robert Covington.

The care and feeding of Robert Covington’s jump shot begins about an hour before each 76ers game, when the fifth-year forward takes to the court with assistant coach Lloyd Pierce.

With Pierce alternately feeding him passes as they would come from the point, the post and via dribble handoff, Covington fires three-pointers from all over the arc — left corner, left wing, top of the circle, right wing, right corner. And back again.

The entire exercise takes maybe 15 minutes, as around him the stands within the Wells Fargo Center begin to fill. Opposing players are usually going about their business at the other end of the court, and other Sixers (usually JJ Redick) filter out of the locker room. Some sort of pregame entertainment is often going on at midcourt. One night earlier this season, it was the Villanova dance team. Another it was a half-dozen schoolgirls, lining up and singing.

Covington seems to notice only Pierce, the ball and the basket.

And that jumper — just a lovely thing.

“Great rotation, great air time, almost too much arc,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.

The arc of his career has not always been so neat and clean — not when you consider he was undrafted in 2013, under-recruited four years before that (he wound up at Tennessee State) and unable to so much as make his middle school team several years before that.

This season has not been without turbulence, either. While he signed a four-year, $62 million contract extension in November — and while he is averaging 14.6 points and shooting 39.3 percent from the arc, both career highs — the 27-year-old Covington has had stretches when his touch has deserted him. He has dealt with ill health (a back injury, suffered earlier this month in Cleveland) as well as tragedy (the shooting death of a friend, who he has declined to fully identify, in his native Chicago in late November).

His approach — nose to the grindstone, control what you can control — remains a constant, however. Brown called his work ethic “a blueprint” for others, adding that he is “very much a poster child to what we hope to do.”

It matters little to Covington that he has been hailed as the NBA’s best undrafted player (by The Ringer’s Ben Detrick) or the foremost example of The Process (by The Athletic’s Rich Hofmann). And he vows his new contract, while nice, will not affect his mindset, either.

“I’m not going to let what happened to me now change me and get comfortable,” he said, “because I don’t know what comfortable is.”

As it happens he owns two black backpacks, one featuring a three-dimensional rendering of a lion on the side, the other featuring a wolf. The latter is the one he most often brings to games, and he tends to leave it in a prominent spot near his cubicle, just inside the door to the Sixers’ locker room.

It is, in other words, hard to miss, harder still to miss what it represents to him.

“The wolf,” he said, “symbolizes that hunger.”

That’s news to his stepdad, Dennis Bryant, who bought it for him.

“It was just a cool backpack to me,” he said, “and I knew it was something he would like to carry around.”

Then Bryant thought about it.

“Hungry like a wolf — think of it like that,” he said.

That hunger, not to mention that jumper (“the most powerful weapon there is,” Brown said), have allowed him to track ever upward, to reach this lofty point on his career arc.

“It was a time in the making,” Bryant said. “It was going to happen. It was just a process he was going through, but I’m not just going off the ‘Trust the Process’ thing. … We call his ‘The Journey.’”

It was aided and abetted not only by Dennis but also Covington’s mom, Teresa Bryant — a longtime postal worker and retired retail manager, respectively. Covington did not play middle school hoops as he grew from 5-9 to 6-3 (en route to his current 6-9), and he didn’t attract much recruiting interest as he was coming out of Proviso West High School, just outside Chicago.

And while he was productive at Tennessee State, he was not taken in the 2013 NBA draft, landing instead with the Houston Rockets as a free agent. He spent most of the 2013-14 season with the Development League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he was coached by a man named Nevada Smith.

“Crazy competitive,” Smith, now coach of the Sioux Falls Skyforce, said of Covington.

That didn’t change after the Sixers picked him up on waivers in November 2014, and hasn’t changed since. 

He’s still the same guy he’s always been, still hungry like a wolf.

Penn State crushes Maryland to finish regular season 'a bittersweet 10-2'

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Penn State crushes Maryland to finish regular season 'a bittersweet 10-2'

BOX SCORE

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Penn State’s regular season closed Saturday with a 66-3 embarrassment of Maryland (see observations).

The Nittany Lions are 10-2, with a high-profile bowl game ahead. They have outscored their last three opponents, 157-53, and all 12 by a whopping 499-186 margin.

Yet none of that can obscure a certain sense of unfulfillment — that a play here or a play there in the losses to Ohio State (by one) and Michigan State (by three), and their season would look very different.

“That’s the tough thing,” quarterback Trace McSorley said. “It’s 10-2, but it’s almost a bittersweet 10-2 because you know it could have been better and we wish it had been. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get it done in a couple games this year.”

He went on to say he and his teammates are happy with 10-2. Really, they are. It comes on the heels of last year’s 11-3 finish, and coach James Franklin was quick to remind reporters that on only two other occasions have the Lions enjoyed back-to-back double-digit victory seasons since joining the Big Ten in 1993.

He also refused to ponder what might have been. Maybe that was posturing. Maybe that was genuine. Maybe it helps him sleep at night.

Whatever the case, that’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.

“I’m excited about being 1-0 tonight, and I’m excited about 10 wins,” he said. “I’m going to focus on the positive, not the woulda/coulda/shouldas. Because we can’t affect them, right?”

Fair enough. But that will not stop the folks in the stands or the press box from playing the what-if game. From wondering what might have happened if a fourth-quarter punt had not been blocked at Ohio State, or if there had not been a three-and-a-half-hour lightning delay at Michigan State.

Franklin acknowledged the latter game was “a mess,” but emphasized that that was no excuse.

“We didn’t play well enough,” he said. “It was a perfect storm of issues.”

That was true right up to the point that safety Marcus Allen drew a roughing-the-passer penalty, allowing the Spartans to move into position for the decisive field goal at the gun.

Speaking of what-ifs.

Another played out Saturday. Tommy Stevens, McSorley’s backup and a guy often employed in the so-called “slash” role this season — i.e., quarterback-slash-running back-slash-receiver — ran for the day’s first touchdown when he was inserted in the backfield with McSorley and star running back Saquon Barkley. 

Stevens also threw a pass and caught one in the first half, then replaced McSorley for good late in the third quarter. In all, he ran 12 times for 113 yards and three scores, went 3 of 7 for 11 yards and another TD and had that lone reception.

Stevens now has rushed for four scores, passed for three and caught passes resulting in two this season. Yet he didn’t play in either loss (as well as three other games), a what-if unto itself: Couldn’t he, perhaps, have tipped the balance in PSU’s favor?

Asked if he might have been chomping at the bit when the Lions faced the Buckeyes or Spartans, Stevens took the diplomatic route.

“It’s in the past,” he said. “I’ve gotten past that.”

Franklin said the Lions typically have a “high red zone package” for Stevens, and that offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead inserts him as he sees fit — that it depends on down and distance, flow of the game, etc.

“We’ve got a pretty good quarterback in Trace McSorley,” Franklin said. “We’ve got a damn good quarterback in our backup quarterback, in Tommy Stevens. But you have to be careful. Sometimes when you get in a two-quarterback system it can mess up the flow. I think we’ve handled it pretty well this year, and I could see this package continuing to grow for us.”

The team’s growth continues as well.

“I like where we’re at, but I still think we’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” he said. “I still think we can get better. That’s still the exciting part of all of this.”

They will need to get better, given the fast company they keep in the Big Ten East. Also given the personnel losses ahead. Foundational players like Allen, linebacker Jason Cabinda and tight end Mike Gesicki will be gone next year. Barkley probably will be, too.

“So,” Franklin said, “we’ve just got to continue scraping and clawing and scratching for every little inch that we can find because to get where we want to go, it’s still going to be a slow, steady crawl. And I’d make the argument that it’s going to be harder, these next steps, than what we’ve already done. Should be an interesting ride.”

It’s the only what-if he would allow himself — the one about what might lie ahead.

The rest of us, meanwhile, can afford to take a backward glance.