NBA

Nylon Calculus: J.J. Redick and the stifling Jazz defense

If the Los Angeles Clippers saw any encouraging signs in their Game 5 loss to the Utah Jazz, it likely centered around J.J. Redick’s performance. The shooting specialist had been neutralized in the series, averaging just 8.0 points per game on 47 percent true shooting. Upon returning to Staples Center, he posted 26 points on 79 percent true shooting. This contribution was sorely needed, especially with the absence of Blake Griffin and the sputtering offense of the Clippers’ supporting cast.

But was the production short-lived? Or did it mark an actual turning point for Redick in the series? We see wild game-to-game fluctuations all the time, and it’s often difficult to ascertain whether a player has truly solved the opposition or simply benefited from a few lucky bounces. Although such conclusions are beyond the scope of this article, perhaps some contextual information can be helpful.

First, Redick’s playoff dip is nothing new. Entering the current series, he had career marks of 25 points on 19 field goal and five free throw attempts per 100 possessions in the regular season. He was at 60 percent true shooting on 20 percent usage. In the postseason, he tallied 20 points on 17 field goal and four free throw attempts per 100 possessions. His true shooting and usage percentages were at 56 and 18, respectively.

These changes may appear slight, but they’re hardly inconsequential. According to Krishna Narsu’s research, the four percentage-point drop in true shooting ranks as one of the 50 largest declines among players with at least 1,000 playoff minutes after the merger. Redick makes his living on offensive marksmanship; every point counts.

Interestingly, there was consistency in shot composition between the regular season and the playoffs. Redick attempted the same rate of 3-pointers, found opportunities in comparable areas of the floor and had similar percentages of assisted field goals. But while his free throw shooting was identical, his 3-point accuracy dropped from 42 to 37 percent.

Granted, his playoff field goal attempts beyond the arc totaled just a little over 320, so even 10 additional makes would have brought him right back to 40 percent. With such thin margins, it would be unwise to place too much stock in the efficiency loss. The gap should certainly be noted, and framed within a broader context of Redick’s postseason play.

Among the key pieces of contextual information is his lower usage. To be sure, rotations tend to tighten in the playoffs, and superstars assume larger offensive loads, so the role of a complementary player like Redick may naturally shrink. But defenses also intensify. They seek optimal matchups and prevent critical scoring options from being activated. As a target of such defensive scrutiny, Redick may simply be denied the ball with greater frequency than normal.

SportVU can shed some light on this issue. As the following table shows, since tracking data became available for the 2013-14 season, Redick has had fewer frontcourt touches per 100 possessions in the playoffs:

 

 

Apart from last year, when he maintained his numbers, Redick has seen his touches decline in every postseason. Weighted by playing time, he has averaged roughly 56 frontcourt touches per 100 possessions in the regular season and 47 in the playoffs. It’s an imperfect measure that requires further study, but it helps us understand his limited impact.

Again, it’s worth reemphasizing that, depending on the matchup, Redick’s offensive engagement could theoretically be the result of his own team’s design. But that’s highly unlikely in the current Jazz series. With Griffin sidelined, the Clippers need Redick’s shooting more than ever. Utah has simply done a commendable job of limiting his touches before he can wreak havoc.

By and large, this assignment has fallen to Joe Ingles, whose length and understatedly good defensive skills* have been put to effective use. He has followed Redick around the court, plugged up potential passing lanes and made sound decisions to deny select options for the Clippers. In this Game 4 play, for example, watch how Ingles moved all the way up to Redick on the corner as Chris Paul dribbled around a DeAndre Jordan screen. It’s subtle, but you can spot many other instances like it in the series, even from Rodney Hood and other Jazz players who spell Ingles. Ultimately, they restrict opportunities for Redick to cause damage.

Game 5 was a somewhat different story, as he disentangled himself enough from his defenders to launch 12 shots and attempt 10 free throws. In numerous cases, he capably leveraged Jordan’s screens to find his opportunities.

But Redick still had just 41 frontcourt touches per 100 possessions. Although he maximized his limited chances, it remains to be seen whether he can repeat the performance with such little margin for error. The Clippers’ playoff fate may depend on it.


* For various stretches, the Jazz have also put Joe Ingles on Chris Paul — perhaps another testament to his defensive capabilities.