The Orlando Magic have played tough, inspired basketball to surpass expectations in what was widely expected to be a difficult rebuilding season. After trading away Dwight Howard, most expected the Magic to have one of the worst records in the NBA and a high lottery pick. They’ve responded to the doubts by playing extremely hard and competing every night. While their effort has been admirable, it hasn’t translated into wins ever since they won four out of five in mid-December.
Some positives can be found in some of the worst situations; J.J. Redick is one of the positives for the Magic.
The seven-year guard has played great this season. He’s posting career-highs in scoring, assists and field goal percentage while excelling in a leadership role on a team going through a transition period.
This season isn’t an easy task for any of the veteran players of the Magic. They’re accustomed to competing at a championship level. In the final year of his contract, the popular opinion was that Redick would spend the season hoping for a trade that would send him to a contender. Instead, the popular Magic player has remained professional and vowed to do all he can to help the franchise move forward. No complaining, no reminiscing on the good old days. Just doing the things his coach asks and his teammates need. Setting an example with his hard work, Redick has become one of Orlando’s best players and one of the league’s premier sixth men.
“J.J. has improved every year and that's the sign of an ultimate pro,” Jameer Nelson said. “Every year he steps on the court he's better. You can notice it and his level of production says it.
"I jokingly told him early that I wanted to work as hard as he does one day. But he really does work hard and guys see that. Guys look at him as a leader and see him, our best shooter, getting up extra shots up and working on other areas of his game. That makes you want to do the same.”
Entering the NBA, Redick was viewed as nothing more than a shooter. His days of being a scoring machine at Duke didn’t matter to the established guys in the league. In fact, many players looked forward to getting the best of one of the ACC’s most prolific scorers. Redick, however, knew he was one than a guy with a good jumper. The 28-year-old guard didn’t let his college accomplishments or the opinions of his peers motivate him, he just wanted to improve every season.
“I've tried to improve every year I've been in the league,” Redick said. “During my rookie year someone told me that you'll have a job if you get better every year. I'm just trying to keep my job and play as long as possible.
"I've tried to add something to my game every year. Subtle things and even improving things I've gotten better at continue to improve things. The things that I've improved this year has been my passing and creating for other people. It's not really important to me that I earn people's respect. To me it would be great if I got to shoot spot-up threes all day. Unfortunately that option is generally taken away so I've had to find other ways help the team offensively. That's why my game has grown. I had to work at the things that I wasn't great at when I first got to the league.”
His improvements have been noticed and are greatly appreciated by Jacque Vaughn, his first-year head coach.
“He's been great,” Vaughn said. “His ability not only to shoot the basketball but create opportunities for other guys on the floor. His ability to pass the ball and defensively he's done a great job of being in the right place. He's been a leader for us. Everyday he's had a professional approach to him. He's helped our young guys tremendously.”
The older players have also taken notice of Redick’s improvements and have a found that they’re gaining new respect for his game and contributions.
“He’s doing a really good job in the way he’s drawing the defense and also hitting shots,” Glen Davis said. “J.J. has been a professional; that’s what he’s all about. We feed off of the energy he brings. I appreciate him as a player because he helps me with my game, especially when he’s coming off screens and finding me open. He’s a big, big, big piece of this team.”
Redick has come a long way since his rookie year when then coach Brian Hill wouldn’t give him a consistent chance to play. He’s now a valued NBA commodity and will be the subject of many trade rumors in the coming weeks. But Redick won’t allow himself to lose focus. He’s loyal to the Magic and will continue to play hard for the team so long as he’s in Orlando.