J.J. Redick hit the bottom of his basketball world during the 2007-08 NBA season with the Orlando Magic.
It was his second year in the league, a mere two years after dazzling the college basketball world with his long range shooting that earned him National Player of the Year Honors.
Warming the bench, Redick averaged 4.1 points per game and played only 8 minutes per game. He got playing time in only 34 of the 82 games. He averaged half an assist per game and one-tenth of a steal. Not exactly tearing up the league.
Most disturbing, perhaps, was his free-throw percentage that season, only 79 percent. While an impressive ratio for most players, for Redick this was wildly errant shooting. He has shot 90 percent from the line his entire college career. He is one of the all-time greats at shooting free throws at any level of basketball.
It was during this season that it seemed his basketball career was just about over. The critics had seemingly been spot on about him as he came out of college. While a great college player, he was really just a shooter. Critics said NBA defenders would be quick enough to close out on him and negate his sharp-shooting prowess. Then he would be forced to dribble and drive and he wasn't quick enough to get his own shot. He wasn't strong enough to muscle players around either.
J.J. seemed done, a flame out, another great college player who became another NBA bust. I bought into this mentality having watched him that season.
Critics, including me, turned out to be wrong. They didn't know what was inside J.J. Redick. He could have quit, taken his million dollar salary, hung on a few more years on some NBA bench. Lots of players do that. They lack the will.
But Redick fought. I heard recently there is no way anyone can outwork J.J. Redick. In the next few years I watched him get more playing time with the Magic. He had clearly gotten quicker and stronger. He was better at handling the ball and driving to the basket. He made himself more of an assist man than he ever had been. He moved without the ball with more speed and intelligence. And of course he started getting more open shots and draining more and more. Sharp shooting never left him and never will.
All this hard work has translated into this season being his best ever. His performance has made him attractive enough to be a key player in a recent trade to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he will be an integral guard on that team getting plenty of playing time and shots.
Across the board statistically, Redick is having the best of his seven year career. He is averaging 15 points per game compared with a 9 points per game career average. He is averaging 4 assists, above the career average of 2. He is shooting 45 percent from the field, above his 43 percent average. He is averaging 2.3 rebounds, higher than the 1.8 for his career. And he is back to his old astonishing ways at the free throw line, converting 90 percent, bettering his 88 percent career average. His playing time is up to 31 minutes per game versus 22 percent for his career.
In every important way, Redick is a better basketball player now than he has ever been. I would not have bet he would have pulled this off after seeing him buried on Stan Van Gundy's bench with the Magic his first few years in the league. The odds seemed too insurmountable, his overall athletic ability just not up to par with NBA players.
Instead of whining and quitting, Redick fought. I love fighters, people who face adversity, who are told they aren't good enough, who are marginalized because they are told they don't deserve better. I love people who get professionally insulted, kicked off to the side, and then tell those in authority "I'll show you."
Redick showed the world what a tough character he is by taking all the criticism about his game, why he wasn't playing more, and using that to fuel his ambition. He decided to practice harder. If he had become quicker, he would make himself quicker through hard work practicing, feeling the pain of grinding out difficult physical drills. The only way to make yourself quicker is to put yourself through physical duress. He's much more muscular than his Duke days. He has been hanging out plenty in the weight room pumping iron.
I tip my hat to J.J. Redick and respect him more than ever. He could have given up, rested on his college accomplishments. Instead he chose to see how good an NBA basketball player he would be if he gave his maximum effort. He will not have lingering questions about this in his old age. He is finding out where his highest potential is, seizing this moment in his life journey. This is rare and admirable.