Boardroom catches up with JJ Redick to get his thoughts on the In-Season Tournament, analytics in basketball, and his role as a member of the NBA media.
Basketball is a global game. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still grow. JJ Redick, who enjoyed fame in the NBA and infamy in college, wants to do his part.
Speaking to Boardroom on behalf of DraftKings, the player-turned-personality touched on, well, everything he touches. He thinks the NBA’s In-Season Tournament has been a definitive success, that analytics are seeping into the casual NBA lexicon, and that — get ready for this — Nikola Jokić is really, really good.
Through it all, one thing is clear: Redick cares deeply about basketball and the NBA. These days, he’s hell-bent on doing his part to inform, educate, and facilitate conversation around the game.
Boardroom’s Q&A with JJ Redick can be found below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Russell Steinberg: I wanted to gauge your thoughts on the state of the state in the NBA right now. It is the first year of the In-Season Tournament, and it’s something we haven’t really seen in the US outside of the Commissioners Cup in the W. How do you think it’s gone and, in your experience, how have fans responded to it?
JJ Redick: It’s been a success, in my opinion. The group play games generated a decent amount of buzz and interest. The games were competitive. You’ve seen a number of players talk about the buy-in and that it matters to them.
I think, ultimately, the fans have a great sense of whether or not it matters to the players. They can always gauge that. And the way this first month of the In-Season Tournament has gone, I think there’s no question that it matters to the players.
I know there’s been a bunch of question marks from the casual fan like, what is this, and what is the point differential? This is gonna become normal.
RS: You just touched on something that I was curious about. You said the players have really bought into it, which is great. I know, of course, the ultimate goal is the NBA championship, so how do you motivate players for an in-season tournament when that isn’t the big prize at the end?
JJR: Well, I think there are two things.
No. 1, the games count twice. Up until the finals, they’re regular-season games. So, players care about their seeding in the regular season and their performance in general.
And then the second thing is the NBA is full of psychotic competitors. These guys don’t need a reason to wake up in the morning to compete for something, but you’re giving them a reason. So, of course, they’re gonna treat it as such, and whether it’s been [Damian Lillard] or LeBron who has talked about this, [Devin Booker] has talked about this. All those guys are wired a certain way.
RS: You also mentioned point differential. In the NBA Playoffs, you’re seeded based on your record. So point differential hasn’t really been a [mainstream] thing. I’m curious, do you see that having a bigger role in how things play out in the future in the NBA?
JJR: Well, in terms of the In-Season Tournament, there’s probably going to be tweaks to things in the future. I think that’s the way Adam Silver has always done this. He listens to the fans; he listens to the players. Going forward, assuming there’s four games and we don’t tweak the system — and maybe there’s six games or eight games in group play — I think with four games, you can have some outliers in terms of point deferential. I’d like to see them cap it maybe at like 15 points, let’s say so that if one team had an outlier game where they win by 27, they don’t automatically get the advantage just because within the course of an NBA season, whether it’s back-to-backs or travel or an off shooting night, you’re gonna have those outlier games.
It’s funny because historically, the analytics people in the NBA, they say that your point differential, your net differential, or your net rating, depending on your pace — points per 100 — that’s usually the best indicator of how good you are as a basketball team.
So, the point differential has never counted for anything, but we certainly talk about that all the time. Net rating comes up all the time when we talk about individual players.
[Brandon Ingram] and Zion right now, when they’re on the court together — I’ve got it right in front of me because I was using it later — [they] are 7.2 points better per 100 possessions when they’re on the court together for the Pelicans. So it’s always been a part of how we talk about the game. It’s just never mattered for anything.
RS: When you do bring up a stat like that, though — 7.2 points better per 100 processions — is that something that you think the casual NBA fan can understand and process in a way of realizing how good or bad that is?
JJR: It’s interesting because I remember as late as four or five years ago, I would watch League Pass and watch local broadcasts, and they would talk about, you know, defensively, we have the fourth-best defense in the league because we give up 93 points per game or whatever. Well, that doesn’t mean anything. You have to adjust for pace. I think the majority of NBA fans understand that now. I think the casual fan can process it because it’s very simple to understand.
It’s just that historically, up until 5 to 10 years ago, none of these things were part of the lexicon about how we talk about the game. So the more we talk about it and the more we explain it, the easier it is to digest because it’s not that complicated.
RS: Now, as a former player in the media world, what is your role in informing the fan base?
JJR: I remember my very first promotional Zoom I did for when I got hired by ESPN, and it was like, ‘Well, what are you gonna be as an analyst?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I hope that my joy and love for the game comes across, but I also want to use this as an educational opportunity’ — whether it’s through the podcasts or studio shows or, certainly, games. I think you look for opportunities to educate and explain.
I’m always looking for those opportunities because it’s not like I want to hold on to secrets. I want the casual NBA fan to know about these things. It’s important.
I think it’s very easy if you just casually say, ‘Oh, hey, everybody shoots threes now.’ Well, do you know why everybody shoots threes? Do you understand it’s because we’ve elected to space the floor? We figured out that a contested midrange two for the average player is a very inefficient shot, and if we can create open threes and we can create driving angles for our best players to score at the rim or get fouled, we can have a more efficient offense. And that’s why offensive efficiency is through the roof relative to previous eras.
We figured out how to cheat in the NBA. So, let’s explain why.
RS: So, let’s take it a step further. You figured out how to cheat in the NBA. How do defenses respond? Is there going to be an overcorrection at some point, or are we just going to be super-efficient offenses until the end of time?
JJR: No, I don’t believe that at all because I look at every era of the NBA and legitimately watches film in different eras. I read as much as possible. The game always evolves, and the pendulum swings one way, and it swings back another way. So you look at inefficiencies in the marketplace all the time, and the best front office is the best coaches. They figure out how to exploit those inefficiencies.
So, I do think that there’s going to be a coach and potentially a front office who says, ‘Hey, you know, if we got four or five of these guys that had this skill set and we built a defense around that, does that work?’ Well, the league is a copycat league — let’s copy that.
RS: It’s very clear that you have a very analytical mind when it comes to basketball…
JJR: I also have an artistic mind. You have to understand because this is the beautiful thing about the game. Two plus two rarely equals four in the game in the NBA. There’s addition by subtraction all the time. I lived it.
You can have the same group of people with the same coaching staff, and it can work really well. Then, the very next season, it doesn’t work because basketball requires so many different things to work. It requires cooperation and chemistry and sacrifice.
And so, you can build in these models from an analytical standpoint and it really doesn’t mean shit if the players don’t get along or if they don’t believe and buy into what the coach is selling or if the assistant coaching staff isn’t doing their homework to the Nth degree about a scouting report three games from now.
It just requires so much, and the analytics are a good foundation, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. And I certainly can watch a game and see what’s happening. I think when people have this knee-jerk reaction to analytics, I always say, ‘Well, analytics are there to inform, but oftentimes they’re just reinforcing what we see with our eyes.’ It’s not that crazy to say, ‘Oh, in a bunch of individual stats, Nikola Jokić is No. 1 in the league.’
I don’t exactly know all the formulas for the singular advanced stats for individuals, but I can watch a game and be like, ‘Yeah, that motherfucker’s good. Yeah, he’s probably better than everybody else. [Then] oh, look, the analytics say he’s the best player in the league.’ He backed up what I saw.
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