Duke's JJ Redick
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by Matt Casey
It's always interesting to debate the Player of the Year. Should it be the guy who's most valuable to his club's success? Should it be the guy who puts up great numbers? Should it be the guy who makes all his teammates better? Should it be the best player on one of the best teams in the country? How about all of the above?
Utah's Andrew Bogut tore apart the Mountain West Conference. Chris Paul was a media favorite and the face of an exciting Wake Forest team that lived in the top-five all year. But here's five arguments why Duke's J.J. Redick is the National Player of the Year in college hoops:
1) Versatility. Redick is no longer a one-dimensional offensive player. During his freshman year, and most of last season, Redick was regarded as a deadly three-point shooter and little else. All of his big games would be the result of unconscious nights behind the arc, and when he wasn't shooting well, it was an ugly night. Now, there are so many more elements to his game.
For starters, he's added the ability to drive the lane. Guys would always get up in his face to guard against the bomb, knowing that there was little chance Redick would beat them off the dribble. Well, this year he's shown he can. Off the drive he'll either stick a pull-up J, take it all the way to the hoop, or draw the D and dish to an open big guy underneath.
This accentuates two more weapons. By taking it to the basket, Redick has gotten to the foul line far more this year, and everyone knows what happens when he gets there. The NCAA's all-time leading foul shooter, he's serenaded with a "Fix the rim!" chant for the few errant free throws he launches at Cameron. And he's easily the best passer on the team, a rare accolade for someone considered by many as the best shooter on the planet. But Redick is actually very unselfish, taking his shots within the normal flow of Duke's motion offense. How many other guys, blessed with less of a shooting touch, continually chuck up shot after shot because they think they're gonna make everything? Sure, he may take an ill-advised three every once in a while, but generally speaking he's extremely disciplined.
2) Toughness. No one in the country gets as much defensive attention as Redick. It's not even close. Every game, he's shadowed by the other team's top defender, and regularly will get doubled up out on the perimeter. Watch an iso camera on him throughout the course of the game, and you see how much he's grabbed and clawed. Fortunately, for Duke's sake, he doesn't have the temper of teammate Daniel Ewing or Wake Forest's Paul, cause if he did, there'd be a fight every game. And Redick deals with this every game for 40 minutes a night. Unless he's in serious foul trouble, injured, or they have a big lead, Redick is not coming out of the game.
3) Clutch. One of the more impressive things about Redick's performance this year has been his play when the stage is biggest. You can argue that every game Duke plays is big because they're gonna get the opponent's best effort and the opposing crowd's loudest screams. But in the biggest of the bigs, Redick always produces.
None stood out more than his play in Duke's home win over Wake Forest. After losing two straight, Coach K benched three of his regular starters to open the game. Without any other viable offensive option, Redick opened the game by drilling his first six shots, finished with 39, and got Duke's season back on track with a resounding win.
A lot of guys could drop 20 on Clemson or Florida St., but what do they do against the best teams? Try 29 against Michigan State. Or 26 in a comeback win over Oklahoma. Need more examples? How about 18 in a home win over North Carolina. 33 in the first meeting with Wake Forest. Sewing up the ACC Tournament MVP with 35 in the semis and then 26 in the championship.
The only gripe naysayers might have is him being shut out in the second half against North Carolina. While that goose egg looks bad on paper, it doesn't point out that he was frequently double-teamed, he routinely found a wide-open Lee Melchionni for five treys, and without his 17 points in the first half, Duke might have been down by 20 at intermission.
4) Defense. Don't laugh. He'll never be considered a lock-down stopper, but Redick has turned himself into, at the very least, a respectable defender. In fact, Duke held on for two of its biggest wins because Redick made a play on the defensive end rather than a clutch shot.
With Duke clinging to a one point lead over North Carolina in their first meeting, the Tar Heels had the ball with 16 seconds left. With Raymond Felton bringing the ball up, Redick was matched up with Rashad McCants, UNC's best shooter and the logical choice to take the winning shot. But Redick, well-versed on UNC's tendencies, immediately knew what play the Tar Heels were running. So he anticipated the back screen that was coming, fought around it, and cut off the passing lane. The flustered Felton didn't know what to do, and eventually lost the ball out of bounds as the clock expired, giving Duke the win.
This past Sunday, the Blue Devils were in danger of being upset by ninth seeded Mississippi State in the second round. Duke led by two with about 1:30 to go, but the Bulldogs had the ball and all the usual upset vibes - one or two guys on fire from downtown, big guy playing well inside, scrubbies at the end of the bench regularly jumping up and cheering, crowd swaying towards the underdog, announcers hinting at an upset - were all rampant. But Redick promptly intercepted a pass, and although his breakaway lay-up was blocked, Ewing was there for the put-back. Now suddenly a two-possession game, it was as good as over.
5) Leadership. Duke has always had guys who are Coach K's top messengers out on the court. They're the guys who help to maintain the composure of everyone out there, the ones who keep the train running smoothly. Usually it's a point guard or senior - guys like Hurley, Wojo, Battier, Williams, and Duhon. Redick has been that guy for Duke. He has taken over that leadership void left by Duhon that a guy like Ewing couldn't handle. He's the calming influence on a team that faces more pressure than anyone on a nightly basis. In a season where Duke was predicted to be an afterthought, both in the ACC and nationally, he has been the main reason why they're on the cusp of another Final Four.
Maturity has been a big key in his morphing into this leadership role. He'll always be considered as the guy that You Love To Hate, even though that rallying cry doesn't make as much sense as it used to. In his first two years, Redick earned the reputation as a hot dog, and in a lot of instances it was justified, as he'd taunt the opposing crowds who would be all over him from the opening tip. Perhaps it was no coincidence that he often struggled on the road.
Now, even though Redick has toned down his act a great deal, he's still hated in every visiting gym. The difference in his performance is that he sticks to his game, instead of going in with the intention to shut up 19,000 with every shot. He realizes that when the buzzer sounds, and he's dropped another 20 on them, he'll be the one laughing.
Being the most recognizable face on America's most hated team, J.J. Redick garners a lot of hate. But if you watch the way he plays with an objective, open mind, guaranteed you'll see a lot to love.