Duke Blue Devils

For Sixers' JJ Redick, leadership is a covert operation

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For Sixers' JJ Redick, leadership is a covert operation

You might remember JJ Redick as the obligatory Duke villain, the 3-making, tongue-wagging, crowd-baiting so-and-so who in Mike Krzyzewski’s eyes drew more flak from opposing fans than any player he has ever coached (including Christian Laettner).

Or maybe you don’t remember. It was a long time ago.

Nor do you likely recall that Redick spent his first two NBA seasons chained to Orlando’s bench, seemingly well on his way to fulfilling another cliché — that of the failed Duke pro (and nevermind the careers of Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Kyrie Irving, et al.).

More likely you see Redick as he is normally seen. As a coveted shooter and consummate pro. As a guy who is supremely fit and supremely confident. As a guy who follows through on his everyday obligations as surely as he does that lovely jumper. 

He’s with the Sixers now, of course, having signed a one-year, $23 million contract shortly after free agency opened in July. And even as he approaches his 12th season at age 33, his reinvention continues.

He is now JJ Redick, leader.

A bit of an oversimplification? Sure. The team has other guys to serve in that capacity, notably Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless  — and perhaps Emeka Okafor or Kris Humphries, should one of them stick (see story). But surely Redick will be among those providing ballast for a flighty young team. He will be the example Brett Brown can point to and say: This is how you take care of your body. Or: This is how you practice. Or: This is how you treat locker-room attendants or (fingers crossed) reporters.

The point being that leadership doesn’t have to be verbal; it can be a covert operation. Showing, not saying, is often as good a method as any.

“I don’t think you just show up,” Redick said Monday, “and just start talking to people — barking out orders and giving advice.”

Rather, he will pull guys off to the side, if the situation requires. And surely he understands others are more likely to listen if he continues to shoot the you-know-what out of the ball. He is 40th on the NBA’s all-time list in made 3-pointers (1,271) and 14th in 3-point percentage (.415) — sixth among active players — while averaging 11.9 points in his career, including 15.8 over the last four years with the Clippers.

Not only that, but he’s a good passer, and a better defender than most of us realize — not Kawhi Leonard, certainly, but not James Harden, either.

And should anybody really want to know, Redick does have an interesting story to tell, having gone from National Player of the Year his final season at Duke (2005-06) to deep sub his first two years with the Magic, to complementary piece on some strong Clippers' clubs.

Takes a pretty steady hand on the wheel to negotiate that many twists and turns.

“The thing about JJ,” Krzyzewski told CSNPhilly.com last month, “is that he has a mantra of always becoming — in other words, whatever he’s done, there’s the next step: 'I need to get better. I need to prove myself again.' ”

Redick has no idea why he is wired that way, only that he was never satisfied as different accolades came his way while he was growing up — as he was named a McDonald’s All-American, for instance, or was accorded one ranking or another by one recruiting service or another.

“I don’t know if it’s out of fear of failure or just that I enjoy new things,” he said, “but I’ve always sort of looked: What’s next, what’s next, what’s next?”

If ever he were tempted to rest on his laurels, he said, “I’ve had good enough people in my life to tell me, ‘Hey, you’re being a brat.’ … ‘Hey, you’re being an (idiot). Stop it.’ ” 

It is safe to say that Krzyzewski has been among those people. He and Redick are close — “amazingly close,” Coach K said — their relationship having taken root in 2000, when the legendary coach began recruiting Redick out of Cave Spring High School in Roanoke, Va.

That Redick spent four years playing for the Blue Devils seems a rather quaint notion these days, but his body of work speaks for itself: He set the Atlantic Coast Conference scoring record (2,769 points) and made more 3-pointers than anyone else in NCAA history (457) — marks that have since been eclipsed — and had his No. 4 jersey retired.

Opposing fans were not impressed, showering upon him the sort of invective often reserved for high-profile Dookies. Think not only Laettner but Steve Wojciechowski. Or Greg Paulus. Or, currently, Grayson Allen.

“As a 33-year-old, there’s nothing that any human can say to me that hasn’t already been said,” Redick said. “There’s some sick (stuff) that’s been said to me. I’ve heard it all.”

He chose to fight ire with ire, adopting a strutting, smirking persona that only inflamed opposing fans that much more.

“You can either react (to the abuse) in one of two ways,” he said. “You can sort of go into a shell and be fearful, and I had teammates that did that, or you can sort of just embrace it and be like, ‘(Bleep) it. You say I’m that? I’ll be that.’ That’s what I did.”

The more a player like Redick uses the crowd as fuel, Krzyzewski said, the better — “because,” he said, “you’re not only singing your song at home, in front of a friendly crowd, you can sing your song in front of a very vocal crowd on the road. The main thing is that you have a great song to sing, and JJ did.”

Redick, drafted 11th overall by Orlando in 2006, received a comeuppance of sorts his first two NBA seasons, averaging 14.8 minutes in 42 games as a rookie and 8.1 in 34 his second year. 

“It was very humbling,” he said. “But it was also necessary. It was helpful.”

He admittedly didn’t always handle it well, especially that second season, when he played what he calls “the victim card.” Finally, though, it dawned on him that he wasn’t doing enough. While he had gone from round to ripped in college, he still wasn’t as fit as he needed to be.

Enter Joe Rogowski, then the Magic’s conditioning coach. He has vouched so often for Redick over the years that he jokingly refers to himself as the “JJ Whisperer,” but he whipped him into shape, redirected his career, changed his thinking to the point where he became “OCD about everything,” as Redick put it.

In his third season, he was a rotational piece for a team that reached the Finals. That was also the first of seven straight years that he improved upon his scoring average. 

In all, Redick spent six-plus years with the Magic, then part of a season with Milwaukee, before landing with the Clippers. He called his time in Los Angeles “basically the four best years of (his) career” on his podcast, “The Chronicles of Redick,” but the Clippers elected to move on after last season.

That led to a free-agent odyssey he chronicled in a short documentary, ironically entitled “The Process.” Toward the end, he was shown agonizing over a three-year offer from Houston, as well as the deal with the Sixers. Ultimately he decided Philly was a better fit, after being cajoled into a workout by Brown in the team’s facility.

In a blazer and slacks.

In the wee hours of July 1.

As Redick told Business Insider, Joel Embiid happened to be there, so they ran through some of the ways the two of them could complement each other. Brown said the other day the symbiosis between a shooter like Redick and a post threat like Embiid will be “an offense, all unto itself.” Redick did not disagree, and said he and Embiid have “a budding bromance” to boot.

But he’s not just here for on-court reasons. He’s also here to steady a young team. And to that end, he was asked what his 33-year-old self would say to the 21-year-old version.

“‘Shut up and listen, ’” Redick said.

He would never say that to anyone now. Rather, he would want his teammates to listen when he’s saying nothing at all.

It’s as good a way as any to lead.

A Philly kid, Duke's Amile Jefferson ready to take the next step

A Philly kid, Duke's Amile Jefferson ready to take the next step

CAMDEN, N.J. — Leadership, toughness, and a Philly kid.

Those were the words used by Sixers vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley to describe Duke's Amile Jefferson — one of six prospects the team brought to its training facility Monday morning for possibly the last of its group workouts prior to Thursday's draft.

Although Jefferson's name has flown well under the radar — especially compared to fellow Blue Devils Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles — the 6-foot-9 forward's booming voice echoed throughout the gym during 3-on-3 scrimmages, and his presence was certainly felt by those in attendance.

DraftExpress, along with pretty much every other mock draft, has yet to put Jefferson among those selected. In fact, the Friends' Central alum isn't even on their top 100 prospects list.

But the 2015 national champion and four-time All-ACC academic team honoree certainly has the pedigree to develop further and ultimately make it as a professional.

"It's amazing ... just to be here and see that Sixers shirt and have that feeling after growing up watching Allen Iverson and Aaron McKie," Jefferson said. "Just being able to come back and have this opportunity for the team that I loved growing up was nothing short of amazing."

The Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year in both his junior and senior seasons at the Wynnewood, Pa., private school, Jefferson made a name for himself on the Philly basketball scene. ESPN had him ranked as the No. 25 high school prospect when he graduated in 2012 and headed to Durham to join Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski's perennial powerhouse. 

And despite playing alongside a number of NBA-level guys like Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, it wasn't until his senior season that Jefferson began to fully emerge as the player many thought he could be. Yes, Jefferson was always a leader, but in the first nine games of the 2015-16 season, he averaged a double-double (11.4 points and 10.3 boards per game) until a right foot fracture forced him to redshirt the remainder of the season.

Jefferson, a guy many would describe as the consummate team player, returned to Duke for a fifth year and picked right back up where he left off. He led Duke in both rebounds and blocks and helped the Blue Devils put together four wins in four days for a title at the 2017 ACC Tournament.

His numbers have never been flashy, but neither is Jefferson.

"In the NBA, I'm a guy that can really rebound," he said. "I can play a lot of positions — especially guard a lot of different positions. I bring a grit, leadership, being vocal. I'm a worker and I'm a player. I think I can do a lot of things, both offensively and defensively."

"The league is getting smaller and being able to guard two through five, those are ways I think I can really get in and help a team."

At times, it's hard to see where Jefferson fits into the NBA game. He's definitely a tweener with his 6-9, 225-pound frame, and although his rebounding skills match up with almost any player in this year's class, his shooting touch does not fit that of a four in the modern pro game. Jefferson never attempted a three-pointer in his college career and is just a 57.5 percent shooter from the charity stripe.

On the other hand, though, he's a leader. The only three-time captain in Duke history, Jefferson seemingly garnered praise from his Blue Devil teammates every time out. And when he was forced to the bench for much of the 2015-16 season, you could always hear Jefferson's deep tenor from the Duke bench.

For all of the Blue Devils who have gone at the top of the draft in recent years, there have also been the journeymen like Seth Curry and Quinn Cook who have had to play their way through the D-League onto an NBA roster. So whether or not Jefferson's name is called Thursday in Brooklyn, don't expect him to fade away anytime soon.

"[My best asset is] just being a player, using all the tools you've learned over my career to help you and guide you through this process," Jefferson said. "It's been an amazing one and I appreciate everyone who's given me the opportunity."

The case for Duke's Frank Jackson as a Sixers' 2nd-round pick

The case for Duke's Frank Jackson as a Sixers' 2nd-round pick

Over the weeks leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, we'll be making cases for the Sixers to draft several prospects. Our series will kick off with options at No. 3 (or trade downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Frank Jackson
Position: PG/SG
School: Duke
Height: 6-4
Weight: 205
Wingspan: 6-7 1/2

The NBA Finals are over, so it's time to dive head first into the NBA draft, which will take place in just nine days. As with every season, there are a fair number of players from the blue-blood programs like Kentucky and Duke entering the draft. Counted in that exclusive pool this year is Frank Jackson, who committed to the draft after one season in the backcourt in Durham, North Carolina.

Jackson was expected to return to Duke for his sophomore year, but he surprised many by signing with an agent and keeping his name in the draft, forgoing his last three years of eligibility. Let's look into why he's in the draft and whether he fits with the Sixers and their slew of second-round picks. 

The case for Jackson
Explosive. 

That's the best word to describe him. If you're wondering why someone who often came off the bench his freshman year declared for (and stayed in) the draft, that's why. Jackson has the physical tools to explode toward the basket and finish with the best of them.

Jackson is only 19 years old and won't turn 20 until after his first NBA season, making him easily one of the youngest players in this class. The former Utah Mr. Basketball played a combo-guard role for the Blue Devils this year and was solid in bursts. His first step can overtake a defender at once and give him the edge to get to the basket. He's proficient enough to finish and has a nice floater in the midrange.

With a lot of talent surrounding him at Duke, Jackson brought a certain physicality to the backcourt that was lacking at times. He slashes to the basket and has a 42-inch vertical leap. Not bad. Not bad at all. It's likely his physical tools that kept him in the draft with teams craving a player with his projectable talent. 

He can also shoot well, going 39.5 percent from beyond the arc while taking a lot of his shots from around the arc. He's able to finish off the dribble or on the catch. Unlike some players, he doesn't check out when others have the ball on offense. You can see his full offensive toolset on display during his 22-point night against Florida State in February.

On defense, his 6-7½ wingspan gives him the ability to stay with guards and overcome his average height for a shooting guard, which is likely his position at the next level. 

The case against Jackson
You start defensively. His wingspan helps, but his overall size is a concern. There are certainly 6-foot-4 (or smaller) shooting guards in the NBA. However, there are also many who fit that profile yet failed to stick in the Association. 

Jackson would get beaten off the dribble a fair amount by some smaller, quicker point guards while at Duke. Considering his size, he won't be able to switch onto wings — who also touched him up on drives in college — and the NBA's elite guards could have a field day with Jackson. He'll need to maintain focus, stay with opposing two-guards and remain with them beyond the arc.

Offensively, he doesn't quite have the tools to play the point. Not in the NBA. He's simply not a primary ballhandler with the kinds of defenders he'll face. Too often, better defenders could pressure him into weak turnovers or contested shots. His handle didn't let him get to the rim against some athletic opponents, although FSU wasn't an issue for him.

This isn't to say that Jackson can't broaden his game at the next level and learn to make more of the right passes nor is it fair to say he's a minus on offense. He still has a lot of potential, but his game still needs work. Like every 19-year-old.

The final concern with Jackson is one all too familiar to Sixers fans: A foot injury. He underwent right foot surgery last month to fix a stress fracture, which he suffered during the college season. He's expected to be back by next month and he still looked good at the NBA Draft Combine despite the injury. 

Analysis
If it wasn't for his foot injury, Jackson likely would have been a late first-round pick. Now, it's unclear, but he'll probably be a second-round selection, giving the Sixers a shot at acquiring the guard.

Jackson could easily slot into the Sixers' bench if he improves on the defensive end. You're not necessarily looking for a star in the second round and someone with the physical tools to be a first-round pick is a nice get with multiple shots to take at the end of the draft. 

Whether he can get to the rim as easily or if his jump shot is too long to get it off at the next level are questions which will hang over his head. Yet you're going to get someone with warts in the second round. Jackson is worth considering if he falls to the Sixers and he'd be a good get anywhere from pick 36 to 50.