JJ Redick celebrates a basket at Phoenix

Pelicans relying on JJ Redick’s experience, hot shooting during recent turnaround

by Jim Eichenhofer

PHOENIX – A surprising start to 2019-20 has Phoenix fans more enthusiastic about the Suns’ outlook than they’ve been in years. When Thursday’s game at Talking Stick Resort Arena vs. New Orleans tipped off – Phoenix’s lone appearance on TNT, ESPN or ABC all season – the venue was buzzing, with locals ready to display a genuine homecourt advantage in front of a nationwide audience.

Then JJ Redick started draining shots from everywhere.

Redick racked up 14 points in the initial 5:46, including consecutive and-ones on made three-point buckets, quickly quieting the home crowd. He ended up tying his season high by scoring 26 points, including 5/8 three-point shooting, sparking New Orleans to a 124-121 road win, the Pelicans’ third straight victory. During the brief winning streak, the shooting guard has been lethal, totaling 70 points and going 15/28 from beyond the three-point arc.

Asked about how valuable the 14-year NBA veteran has been for the Pelicans early in ’19-20, especially on the road, fellow starting guard Jrue Holiday responded, “(You mean to) shut up the crowd? It’s actually pretty funny, to be honest.

“Just to have his energy, how smart a basketball player he is, and makes plays for everybody else. Having him is good because he’s a vet and knows his game very, very well. For him to make big shots and kill momentum (by home teams) is very huge.”

Off to a tremendous start in his 14 games played, Redick has been critical for New Orleans (6-9) no matter where the Pelicans have played, but he’s been even better in road games, shooting 53.2 percent from three-point range and averaging 17.8 points (compared to 42.6 and 12.9 in the Smoothie King Center). New Orleans has won the last two road games Redick played, including a Nov. 9 victory at Charlotte in which the Duke University product was booed by portions of the home crowd (presumably those who support the Tar Heels, not the Blue Devils). Redick spoiled the night of those fans too, dropping in 22 points and shooting 5/9 on threes. Starting with that performance, New Orleans has won five of the last six games Redick has appeared – he sat out the Nov. 16 loss at Miami due to injury – and he’s been perhaps the NBA’s best shooter. Since Nov. 9, Redick is tied for second in total three-pointers made with 30, trailing only James Harden, who’s drained 42. However, Redick is shooting 50.8 percent over that span (Harden shot 43.3 percent, still an extremely good rate, particularly at high volume).

A grinning Holiday politely interrupted a question about Redick’s impact in Thursday night’s game by saying, “You mean every night? He’s huge. He definitely gets us going. He’s such a problem, coming off screens, attracting two (defenders), making a play, whether it’s for him or someone else. He’s such a smart basketball player. To be able to have him, especially at the beginning of games, but when we need a bucket, we can go to him and he gets that for us.”

After being moved into the starting lineup, Redick has helped New Orleans’ reconfigured first unit get out of the gate more quickly, particularly on the offensive end. The Pelicans have averaged 30.3 points in the opening period during their three-game win streak.

“He’s been that way the last three or four games, where he’s gotten us off to great starts,” fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry said. “Our guys have done a good job of getting him free for shots. He’s playing really good basketball right now. He’s shooting the ball extremely well and we’re doing a good job of finding him.”

A free-agent signee by New Orleans in July, Redick was coming off the top statistical season of his career, averaging a personal best 18.1 points per game for Philadelphia. Now at age 35, he’s off to one of his best starts as a pro, shooting 47.5 percent from three-point range (coincidentally, 47.5 is his best rate in that stat in a full season, in ’15-16 with the Clippers). That number is even more impressive when factoring in that it seemed to take a few games for Redick and his teammates to get acclimated to each other.

“The familiarity is getting better,” Redick said of the team’s cohesiveness after the win vs. Phoenix.

In the meantime, New Orleans has rebounded from its 1-7 start, going 5-2 since and moving with 1.5 games of eighth place in the Western Conference, at this extremely early stage of the season. The Pelicans’ oldest and most experienced player has been a major reason behind the turnaround.

“He just continues to get better,” said Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin, the man who acquired Redick early in free agency. “It’s remarkable. Last year he has his career-high scoring average. This year, he gets better and better. He’s literally finding new facets of his game all the time.”

ESPN New Orleans Interview with David Griffin: Nov. 22

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