There’s a Philadelphia athlete who was brought in on a short-term deal to solve a specific offensive problem. The numbers aren’t amazing, but you see the occasional flash of individual brilliance while he makes the teammates around him better. Sometimes fans become frustrated when #17 fails to do the main thing he was brought here to do, but there are absolutely more positives than negatives.
That guy is actually two guys. It’s JJ Redick and Alshon Jeffery, who are both going through eerily similar seasons with the Sixers and Eagles.
Both are here on high-end, one-year contracts to improve each team’s scoring potential. For the Eagles, it was about giving Carson Wentz a bona fide WR1. For the Sixers, it was getting a knock-down shooter and veteran to boot, someone who could complement the young core of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (and Markelle Fultz). Each deal was beneficial in a two-way sense, with both team and player testing the waters in a short-term scenario. Not the right fit? You’re a free agent next year. Underperforming? Let’s mutually part ways.
I think fans generally like what they’ve seen from each player while wanting more.
Let’s start with…
12 and 19 points on 53% deep-ball shooting is a good way to start the season.
JJ has been a bit streaky since then, going cold in the Toronto and Detroit games before missing time with a minor back issue.
He wowed the Wells Fargo Center with a 31 point performance on 8-12 three-point shooting against Indiana, then hit the skids a bit at the tail-end of the recent road trip.
Redick shot 4-15 in last night’s win and is now 8-34 from downtown since his Indiana triumph:
JJ is now shooting 35% from beyond this season. He hasn’t finished below 40% in that column since 2013-2014, which was his first year in Los Angeles. He’s 42.1% from the field overall, his lowest number since making that brief stop in Milwaukee five years back. And his minutes are up to 33 per game, which is five more than what he played on average in the last two seasons.
The numbers are slightly down but we’re also 14 games into a new season with a new team playing a different style, so we’ll leave it at that, for now.
He’ll stay on the court as long as Brett Brown trusts his ability create attention and space the floor.
For that reason, he played 32 minutes despite only scoring 8 points back on November 1st, the game in which he returned from injury.
“Do you go with Dario? Do you go with T.J.? Or do you go with Jerryd Bayless? Tonight we actually considered JJ, because he was struggling a little bit, he had only just come back, but you’re reminded that, no matter if he’s making shots or he isn’t, the attention he receives is prominent. You see it. It creates space. It turns it almost into a 4 on 4 game. I think we had him playing with Joel for maybe 5 or 6 possessions in a row. Whether he’s making shots or not he creates attention.”
Case in point, possessions like this, where Redick doesn’t shoot the ball, but there’s so much movement and spacing that the collective Sixers’ unit benefits:
That’s critical here. I really think Redick’s added gravity and the Sixers’ improved ball movement has benefited Robert Covington, who just earned himself a big money deal.
The interesting thing will be how that deal, and Covington’s performance over the rest of the season, affects Redick’s contract situation for next year. Do the Sixers see Redick as expendable if Covington continues to shoot this way? Fultz is coming back as well. Dario Saric is getting stronger in a starting role. If Redick does return, it’s not going to be at a 23 million dollar rate. He’s spoken of his enjoyment playing in front of Philly crowds, so maybe he takes a lesser deal to stay with a team that’s quickly trending upward. Every squad could use a veteran shooter.
Redick does look a little off-balance this year when he releases, especially in transition. I’m not sure if that has something to do with the tempo the Sixers play at, but it does feel like he’s leaning forward a bit on his motion. You didn’t see as much of that when he played in LA. You saw a lot of this:
Feet set, open look.
Anyway, the Sixers are 8-6 and just finished a five-game road swing with a 3-2 mark. They’re above .500 for the first time in years and I don’t even think they’ve played their best basketball yet. If Redick hit a couple of three-pointers last night, that game is over in the third quarter.
Similar to Redick, Alshon has been a bit spotty with individual performances, but his presence on the field draws matchups with the opponent’s best cornerback, which frees up Nelson Agholor for 6 catches, 86 yards, and a touchdown in the season opener.
It just wasn’t the case last year, when Jordan Matthews was the main guy, Carson Wentz was a rookie, and Zach Ertz was good/great but not elite.
For what it’s worth, there’s been no lack of targets for Jeffery. He leads the team with 73, but he’s only caught 34 balls.
Here’s the list:
- Jeffery: 73 targets, 34 receptions (46.5%)
- Zach Ertz: 64 targets, 43 receptions (67.1%)
- Agholor: 42 targets, 29 receptions (69.0%)
- Torrey Smith: 30 targets, 15 catches (50.0%)
- Wendell Smallwood: 15 targets, 10 receptions (66.6%)
- Trey Burton: 14 targets, 11 catches (78.5%)
- Darren Sproles: 13 targets, 7 catches (53.8%)
- Brent Celek: 11 targets, 7 catches (63.6%)
- Mack Hollins: 10 targets, 9 catches (90.0%)
So Jeffery has caught fewer than half of the passes thrown his way. Some have been jump balls that we were hoping he’d snag. Others were squeezed into tighter windows against better corners. Wentz and Jeffery didn’t seem to be on the same page early on, which makes a lot of sense.
I think a good example of their improvement in that area is Jeffery’s first touchdown against the Broncos, which was the run/pass option where Alshon did a nice job to sell the play action and then beat Aqib Talib down the sideline:
Looks easy enough, but the timing element there is deceptively tricky.
Jeffery, to his credit, has been much better in the last two games, snagging 8 balls for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns in the wins against Denver and San Francisco. He only had two scores coming into the 49ers game:
The presence of Ertz and his Pro Bowl-level performances this season might make a WR vs. WR comparison a bit of a muddled point, but when you look around the league, Jeffery’s numbers underperform. There are 26 players who have been targeted more than 65 times this season, and the only one with fewer catches than Jeffery (34) is DeSean Jackson (33 catches on 66 targets). Even then, Jackson has a higher catch rate.
Near the top of the WR1 list is, for instance, Jarvis Landry, who has caught 61 of 96 targets for 472 yards and five touchdowns. That’s with Jay Cutler and Matt Moore throwing the ball, not Wentz. Similarly, DeAndre Hopkins has 58 catches on 108 targets, numbers that will surely decline with Tom Savage under center.
So Jeffery is starting to come around. He’s making some more difficult catches and he continues to draw the toughest assignment, which opens the door for teammates. It’s the same with Redick, who needs to be respected when he’s in the game, whether he’s hitting his shots or not.
Even after a slow start, Jeffery can still match the numbers he put up in 2013 and 2014, but he’ll need to pace out at a different rate in the remaining seven games. He’ll need about 700 yards and 3 to 5 touchdowns to fall right on the median line between those two Chicago seasons. Yardage wise, I just don’t see him averaging 100 per game for the rest of the season, considering the fact that he hasn’t hit that mark once this year.
Alshon is here on a one-year deal as well, worth $9.5 million, so he’s already 50% of the way through his “prove it” period. Will he warrant a contract extension? Agholor has been much better this season but Torrey Smith hasn’t exactly blown the doors off of defenses, so we’ll see where the Birds go with the wide receiver position.
Again, the positives more than outweigh the negatives when we’re looking at both Alshon Jeffery and JJ Redick. They’ve been really nice additions who have improved the players around them and contributed enough individually. I think fans are just looking for a little bit more.