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.

Sixers' NBA draft decisions should serve as a warning for Markelle Fultz

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Sixers' NBA draft decisions should serve as a warning for Markelle Fultz

The Friday after any NBA draft is a crowning moment for all of the league’s franchises. They trot out the previous night’s selections and hold introductory press conferences with smiles all around.

The Sixers were no different as they showed off first-round picks Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet at their training complex Friday morning.

However, make no mistake that this one was a little bit different. 

While the event was all about the new faces joining the organization, it also served as a direct warning shot to Markelle Fultz.

Brett Brown sat at the podium sandwiched between the two players he selected in the first round of his initial foray as Sixers interim general manager. Both guys happen to be bigger guards and each possess a particular top skill (athleticism for Smith and shooting for Shamet) that the Sixers thought they were getting right from the start in Fultz.

“The real reason they’re here is their talent,” Brown said. “Their ability to grow into NBA players, to play a modern style of basketball. The ability we felt that their base foundation had so much more room to grow. 

“The notion of how we play here in Philadelphia. The values that we have on defense, how we want to play offense. How we all look into a crystal ball and suspect the sport is going to be played in 2025. When you added those up, it made perfect sense and aggressively targeting these two players that sit on my right and sit on my left.”

It was just a year ago that the Sixers made an aggressive move to the top of the 2017 draft for Fultz. And while the franchise isn’t ready to give up on him after a rocky rookie season, it certainly sounds more and more like the team has settled on him becoming just a piece and not a cornerstone.

“When we started looking at the players available and I especially start looking at how we want to play and who can be sandwiched in between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, we’re looking for that modern-day type of player,” Brown said when asked whether taking two guards in the first round meant something about Fultz’s status. “To say position-less basketball, it’s really not that. To me, it might give you better vision of what I’m trying to say. I just think that the skill and things that we require, these two have, especially as you look sandwiched in between. And whether that’s Markelle, T.J. (McConnell) or Cov (Robert Covington), I would tell you the same thing. 

“When you look at the league, the league switches defensively a lot. When you look at the league, the league drives, dishes, needs three-point shot-makers and playmakers a lot. So whether it’s apples for apples is fine by me, but probably what you should hear the loudest is I don’t think there’s overlap. I think that they can play together.”

Playing together is completely different than playing around. It’s pretty clear the Sixers now reserve that status for Embiid, Simmons and whatever stars they plan to chase in free agency or via trade.

That doesn’t mean Fultz can’t reclaim the standing within the organization he was seemingly destined for when the Sixers called his name at No. 1 last year. After all, he just turned 20 years old last month (he’s actually 14 months younger than Shamet).

It all starts during this crucial summer for Fultz, which apparently is already going well (see story). But Smith and Shamet will have the chance to make impacts of their own coming up in the next few months as well.

“If you just base it on math and you look at percentages of what does a 10th player do and what’s a 26th player do, rarely do you see people immediately come in and claim a large role in rotations and heavy minutes. That historically isn’t the trend,” Brown said. “I say that from a factual base more than something that might be challenged. I expect these guys to challenge that. 

“Where this ends up, the expectations in relations to role and minutes and all of that, they’re going to tell me. We’ve got a summer league coming up. They will have ample opportunities to draw their own line in the sand.”

Fultz better be focused on drawing his too.

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Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Heading into the NBA draft, there was some uncertainty about how the Sixers would make decisions. Nobody seemed willing to say whether interim GM Brett Brown would have the final say, or whether it would be a truly collaborative process.

Thursday night, Brown confirmed he’s the man in charge.

“I was the one that approved the final decision,” Brown said after the Sixers’ first-round trade for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 unprotected first-round pick. “We have many people in that room that are aggressively speaking to people. We have information, we put it on a board and we discuss it. At the end of the day, (managing partner) Josh (Harris) looked at me and I did what I did. I approved the deal.”

Brown made sure to credit the people around him who made a difficult job easier. As Brown put it, “This has been a really different June” for him. There’s no way he could have expected he’d be pulling the trigger on draft night when the season ended, but he’s taken leadership of another team, this one in the front office.

“There is an incredible amount of teamwork that is required in that room,” Brown said. “You’re on the clock. I thought (vice president of basketball operations and chief of staff) Ned Cohen did a fantastic job helping organize this. The analytics side with Alex Rucker and Sergi Oliva, those guys were awesome. And then I think (vice president of basketball operations) Marc Eversley, delivering the group, you know, ‘These are the players with our scouts,’ it was a very collaborative process. It was a systematic process where you felt like you were a part of a team.”

Separating the head coaching part of his job from the GM duties he’s been thrown into hasn’t been painless for Brown. He acknowledged he felt the “human side” of trading away a high-character local kid whose mom works for the organization in Mikal Bridges (see story).

“The torment of trying to do my job in the very limited role I have for a moment as the general manager versus the role that I have as the head coach of this program, it’s a toggle,” Brown said. “And this is where we arrived.”

It’s obviously not a job Brown wants to do long term. At some point, he’ll be able to return his full focus to coaching. For now, though, he says he’s enjoying his new role. He’s always loved preaching about his program and cultivating a positive culture. Persistently optimistic, Brown looks at the aftermath of the Bryan Colangelo saga as an opportunity to fully embrace those passions.

“I said right when I accepted the responsibility that I have no intent of doing this,” Brown said. “I’m a basketball coach. When this came up, I felt a responsibility to do the best that I could under the circumstances to help move us forward. ... Down deep, I love it, because you just bleed for the program. You’ll do whatever you can to bring a championship to this city. That’s the bottom line. As we corral the analytics people, the scouts, my coaching staff and the people that work in the building and try to hold us together and move us forward and show daylight, that’s my job.”

There’s still no official timeline from the Sixers on when Brown’s tenure as interim GM will end. But free agency starts on July 1, and Brown is ready to recruit. He also sounded prepared to go all-out in pursuit of possible trades for stars (see story), including a hypothetical example that seemed to very closely resemble Kawhi Leonard, who wants out of San Antonio and has expressed his desire to return to his hometown of Los Angeles.

“When you talk about what are you going to do to show the program the way we want it to be seen, sometimes it’s in-house, sometimes you have to travel,” Brown said. “Whether we have to go mobile and, as an example, go to Los Angeles and deal with a family, an agent, the player. Whether we can attract him to come here to the city of Philadelphia.

“The whole strategy of how we do that, the presentation of information, we’ve been talking about that for a while. I feel completely that we will not miss a beat now that the draft is done, that we can focus in when free agency kicks in on July 1.”

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