NBA Film Study: Why JJ Redick is the Best at Using Screens

Everybody handles unspeakable tragedies in different ways. Some like to internalize their thoughts and emotions while others become more expressive. We think of what we’ve taken for granted; some for a quick moment, and others are touched and changed for a prolonged period. There’s no right way to cope.

A little over a week ago, the NBA community saw one of its idols fall victim to a terrible tragedy. To many, Kobe Bryant was a role model, icon and legend their games were built after. He was the favorite of many. While the eulogies, stories and countless social media posts pour out of the hearts of many, I’ve been stricken in a different way.

Instead of an outpouring of grief or sadness from his passing, I’ll use this time as an opportunity to show appreciation for those basketball players who were such a profound influence on me.

JJ Redick has always been such an influence on me. Growing up a Duke fan, Redick burst onto the scene as a freshman while I was in the fifth grade. He was unassuming, babyfaced, outmatched athletically and limited off the bounce. But that jump shot, it’s like silk.

From the first time I laid eyes on his shot, I knew he was who I wanted to pattern my own game after. Hours were spent in the driveway working on mimicking his technique. Buzzer-beaters were hit on the pop-a-shot hoop in my bedroom while wearing his No. 4.

Almost fifteen years since he’s left Duke, he’s still the perfect example of footwork, shooting off screens and precision for any 3-point sniper to study. He’s perfected his craft and is one of the elite specialty players, maximizing his talent to the highest degree. If that’s not the right type of idol to learn from, I’m not sure what is.

Going to his Right off a screen

Like most right-handed shooters, JJ prefers cutting from the left side of the floor to the right. Passes are thrown to a player’s outside shoulder, so he catches it with his dominant right hand, leading to a quicker release.

Rightys also put their dominant foot (right foot) slightly in front of their left when they shoot. When cutting to the right, Redick’s inside foot is his left, which means as he turns his hips into his shot, his right leg will swing in front of his left. The movement and shooting form is much more natural.

Redick has become a creature of habit: He never alters his form when he takes a jumper. His footwork is pristine every time he shoots on the move. He times said footwork with his catch to avoid traveling, yet still has the patience to settle and not rush his technique:

As he comes around and squares his shoulders, watch his right hip. He’ll swing his hips around and, after he releases, he aims that hip to the front of the rim. That movement is akin to a follow-through with the wrist: By aiming his body at the rim as he lands, he keeps the ball going at its target.

His form is consistent largely because he can get himself open and create time for his shot despite not having top-tier speed. Part of that is because of how Redick feels his defender as he gets ready to use a screen.

When his man stays attached to him and tries to chase him around a screen (a coverage called “lock and trail”), Redick will curl tighter around the screen into the mid-range, so as to cut off any path his defender has for getting back between him and the basket:

Defenders will most frequently trail a screen on Redick, as they do with most elite shooters. That way, they force him off the 3-point line and turn him into a mid-range shooter or force him to curl to the rim and finish over the trees.

But there’s a danger within that strategy, particularly in today’s NBA: Most of the time, the man guarding the screener is a big, and one who wants to naturally float closer to the basket. To take away the curl, they are taught to drop back. It will give their teammate space to get through the screen and prevent a scorer from getting to the rim with ease.

Here’s the problem: Redick is so good at running his man into the screen.

He comes off his teammate so tight that the defender inevitably gets hit as he tries to lock and trail. When that happens, the big is too low to step up and contest, meaning Redick has daylight to comfortably launch. He gets his feet beneath him, and it’s just academic from there:

Maybe the lock-and-trail isn’t the best way to get through, then? If Redick is so good at scoring when he is chased, perhaps defenders should try cutting beneath the screen and meeting him on the other side?

Bad idea.

Redick’s IQ shows up in these situations. Reading when his defender tries to cheat and go underneath the screen is a difficult task at full speed. Redick is all-out sprinting through a sea of bodies, but he knows how to adjust. He feels his man start to separate from him and go underneath the screen, so he executes what’s known as fading off the screen.

JJ still uses the screen, but instead of curling towards the ball, he’ll pop towards the sideline and away from the passer. Such an action punishes a defender for trying to go underneath. With a little help from an alert screener, Redick’s man can get pinned in and is unable to meet the sharpshooter on the other side. A savvy passer will see the play developing as well and pass Redick open.

(Speaking of passers, Redick has been blessed to play with some of the league’s best during his career, including Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), and now Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday(New Orleans Pelicans.)

The best part about this is, once again, Redick’s impeccable footwork. How he seamlessly transitions from moving to his right to fading back to his left and adjusts his feet accordingly is the product of insane repetition.

When momentum takes a player away from the basket, their natural inclination is to fade away on the shot. Redick’s feet are so strong, and he adjusts his entire body before the catch to avoid such an issue. What a beautiful stroke.

Going to his left off a screen

The vast majority of Redick’s attempts coming off a screen see him going to his right. But no player, especially a great one, can be one-dimensional and only go one direction. What JJ does when going left is fairly standard for rhythm shooters who are right-handed: He changes the base of his shot.

Redick is great at a one-two step into his shot when moving right. It allows him to run through the pass and have his momentum propel him into his shot. When going left, though, Redick is a hop shooter, meaning he likes to shoot off two feet hitting the floor at the same time instead of them staggered. The hop allows him to balance himself and keep his shoulders square instead of running through the pass. Should he run through it while going to his left, it becomes incredibly difficult for him to both get his lead foot forward (since it’s his inside foot) or not fade sideways.

Again, the magic is in how he prepares for his catch. Redick avoids traveling (although it can appear to look like a travel in slow motion) by having a quick gather-step before the ball is in his possession. Then he lands on both feet, squares his shoulders to the rim and uses that momentum to spring him up into the jumper:

Most people may think that a shooter only has one form and consistent footwork to use no matter where they are. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Every shot is different based on its location on the floor and which direction said shooter is coming from. You may notice that Redick’s hop shot is the same when he comes left off a screen as it is when he fades off a screen on the right wing. He hops and shoots off two feet whenever he isn’t running full-speed to his right.

getting open and staying open

The picturesque jump shot is all but useless if Redick isn’t able to actually get shots.

He’s far too good on the move—creating both gravity and open shots for others due to the attention he receives while moving—to be sat on the perimeter and used exclusively as a kick-out threat. Any team that employs Redick does so with the understanding that they’ll need to run him through screens to maximize his value.

Redick has perfected his craft by setting up cuts and his screen far before he actually comes off the screen. Any great shooter utilizes a changing of speed when selling their movements to throw a defender off the scent. Redick’s top speed isn’t elite, but he can quickly go from standstill to burst. Part of getting open is knowing what must be done to get open and being a good enough actor to sell that to the opponent.

When he knows a screen is about to come, Redick acts like a dog playing dead, standing still and pretending there’s no screen at all. His burst from slow to fast is explosive enough that it still works at age 35:

Similar to Stephen Curry, Redick goes through possessions where he is in constant motion, weaving in and out of screens and around the floor. He changes speed, moves all around and still finds the perfect time to separate and start his sprint. As soon as he feels the slightest bit of separation, he’ll explode through the rest of the play and speed up the offense. He knows that once he gets open, it’s his job to stay open.

Watch the clips below for Redick’s timing when he begins his change of speed: It’s usually in sync with his defender getting bumped. Other times, he’s just flat out good enough to shake his man.

That’s how Redick gets open, but he also needs to stay open—a tough task for a 6’5″ shooter in a league filled with the world’s premier athletes. Oh, and the defenses are locked onto him coming off screens and routinely know what is coming…

This is where his textbook pump fake comes into play.

His fake is the same as his shooting form: The ball is shown and comes up in front of his face. His butt goes down, which keys defender into thinking he’s about to explode up for a shot. Redick knows the time for a pump fake is when a defender is closing in and still thinks they could alter his shot. A well-timed fake will send that man flying past him.

Redick’s footwork never changes, so his ability to hit dribble pull-ups after the pump and off various types of screens is another byproduct of his meticulous attention to detail:

Redick also excels at knowing when a defender is going to sprint through their closeout.

An old coaching adage I was once taught tells that “75 percent of defense is closeouts” (i.e. how a defender transitions to guarding the basketball when the offensive player catches it). A good closeout can settle the ball, discourage a shot and prevent a drive. A poor one creates a disadvantage for the defense by either too easily allowing a shot or giving up penetration to the hoop.

There is no standard closeout anymore. With the rise of the 3-point shot, defenders no longer closeout with the intention of preventing a drive. Against lethal shooters, they must run them off the line, preventing the quick catch-and-shoot and forcing the ball to be driven to the hoop. If the closeout forces a pull-up 2-pointer instead of a catch-and-shoot 3, it is considered a win for the defense.

Redick is elite regardless. He anticipates when the fly-by closeout is about to occur and knows how to get his shot off in a comfortable manner. Even if he’s taking a long mid-range jumper, he’s still lethal enough from that range that it’s considered a good shot for his team:

By no means is JJ Redick an All-Star, and he never will at this stage in his career. But he’s an All-Star in his role, and that’s a coach’s dream.

He was an indispensable portion of the 76ers offense the last two seasons, as evidenced by their lack of spacing and shooting once he was let go. He was the gravity-creator for the Lob City Clippers and the hidden hero that helped Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to display their all-world talents. He was a stalwart of the Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard Orlando Magic teams that helped advance space-and-pace offense. He’s never missed the playoffs in his career, and he’s maximized every piece of talent or ability he has.

Meticulously detail-oriented about his routine, Redick’s success and longevity is no accident. He’s mastered what he does frequently and indoctrinated his brain with the mundane. No player exemplifies maxing out every day like he has. My only hope for my childhood hero is that he is appreciated while he’s still here.

I know I’ll be using his tapes for teaching points as long as I’m a coach.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of NBA.com stats, Basketball-Reference or Synergy Sports Tech, and are current as of February 3, 2020.

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