March 7, 2006
DURHAM -- Duke star J.J. Redick clearly was in a slump as the ACC regular season wound to a close.
The senior guard capped a brilliant season with a four-game finish that he'd like to forget. After averaging 28.9 points (and shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 44.8 percent on three-pointers) for Duke's first 26 games, Redick staggered to the finish. He still averaged a respectable 20.3 points in the final four games, but in reaching that figure, he shot a woeful 28.8 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from three-point range.
Worse, after going 25-1 in those first 26 games, Duke finished a pedestrian 2-2 as its star struggled.
The Blue Devils still will enter NCAA play as a No. 1 seed, but if Duke is going to contend for the national title, Redick must regain the consistency that made him a leading national player of the year contender. The real question haunting the Devils is whether Redick's four-game struggle was merely a brief slump -- something all players go through -- or whether it was a sign that he's wearing down after a long and punishing campaign.
For the last two seasons, Redick has played more minutes than any ACC player. He averaged 37.3 as a junior and just under 37 this season. Those are hard minutes, too. One of Redick's strengths is his constant motion without the ball, and most defenders try to counter that by being physical. No other ACC guard gets bumped and pushed and grabbed as much as Redick. That must wear on him.
The theory has evolved that the long season has taken its toll on Redick, leaving him at reduced efficiency for the postseason. That's a theory Redick violently disputes.
"As far as getting worn, I'd challenge anybody in the country to a race for distance and endurance, and I guarantee you I'd win," he said before Duke's regular-season finale with North Carolina. "I'm not worn down physically at all. I feel great. I feel as fresh as I've felt all season."
Then he went out and scored 18 points on 5-for-21 shooting against the Tar Heels.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski believes Redick's slump was not a result of fatigue. Instead, the coach said it was the result of the emotional toll his star paid during a two-week stretch when he broke three significant career records. First, it was Curtis Staples' NCAA mark for three-pointers, then Johnny Dawkins' Duke record for scoring, and finally Dickie Hemric's 51-year-old ACC scoring mark.
"I think the guy who has emotionally carried us emotioned out," Krzyzewski said. "But he's OK. He'll be fine. Everyone's talking about minutes played ... last week was not about that. J.J. is fine minute-wise, but he needed to get past all that. It was just a lot, more than I thought.
"The most telling thing for me was the Temple game, when he was chewing gum. I asked him, When did you start chewing gum?' He said, I don't know.' It shows, they go off course just a little bit. I said, Well, you can't chew gum any more and score 11 points.'"
Krzyzewski, like Redick, disputes the theory that his star player is worn out after playing so many minutes over the course of the season.
"I'm not concerned with the minutes ... minutes in a game does not put a major impact on a player," Coach K said. "It's the minutes in practice and giving him a chance to recover."
Do Redick and Krzyzewski have a valid point? Or is there evidence that the hard-working guard has worn out in the postseason over the course of his career? Well, let's check the numbers:
p 2003: As a freshman, Redick averaged 30.7 minutes per game. In 27 regular-season games, he averaged 14.5 points on 41.2 percent shooting (40.3 percent on threes). In six postseason games, he averaged 16.3 points on 41.8 percent shooting (38.1 on threes).
p 2004: Redick averaged 31.1 minutes per game. In 29 regular-season games, he averaged 16.6 points on 43.5 percent shooting (42.2 percent on threes). In eight postseason games, he averaged 13.4 points on 38.0 percent shooting (30.5 percent on threes).
p 2005: Redick averaged 37.3 minutes per game. In 27 regular-season games, he averaged 22.6 points on 41.6 percent shooting (41.7 percent on threes). In six postseason games, he averaged 18.7 points on 37.2 percent shooting (34.0 on threes).
There is evidence of a small but clear postseason dropoff in Redick's performances. Put his first three years together, and he averaged 17.7 points in 83 regular-season games, shooting 42.0 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent from three-point range. In 20 postseason games, Redick averaged 15.9 points and shot 38.8 percent from the floor and 33.8 percent from three-point range.
Pretty clear evidence of fatigue, right? Well, maybe not. When you examine Redick's postseason performance more closely, it raises some interesting questions.
Keep in mind that he's had two terrific ACC Tournament performances. As a freshman, playing in his third game in three days, he exploded in the second half of the championship game, scoring 23 of his game-high 30 in the final 10:05. As a junior, he struggled in the ACC Tournament opener against Virginia, then bounced back the next afternoon to score 35 in the semifinals against N.C. State and followed with 26 in the championship game against Georgia Tech.
If accumulated fatigue were causing Redick's postseason problems, why would he have his best postseason games in the second and third rounds of the ACC Tournament?
Go back to that freshman season. Redick was outstanding in Duke's second-round victory over Central Michigan, with 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting (5 of 7 three-pointers). That was the second game for Redick in 48 hours. He did come back with a terrible 1-for-11 three-point performance against Kansas in the regional semifinals. But that was after a four-day rest. If fatigue was causing Redick's postseason problems, shouldn't he have been fresher against the Jayhawks than against CMU?
As a sophomore, Redick ended the regular season in a slump that extended through the ACC Tournament. (He averaged 9.0 points on 30 percent shooting.) But he bounced back in the NCAA Tournament (when Duke made its Final Four run) and pretty much matched his regular-season averages.
Last year, he followed his ACC Tournament MVP performance with a subpar NCAA showing. Yet his worst NCAA game was in the opener against Delaware State (seven points on 1-for-7 shooting), after five days of rest. He was better 48 hours later against Mississippi State.
The point is that fatigue is a simplistic explanation that doesn't quite explain all of the evidence. Maybe something else is going on. It's fair to ask whether Redick's 1-for-11 showing against Kansas as a freshman really was attributable more to fatigue, or maybe to the defense of Kirk Hinrich? Perhaps Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager should get the credit for limiting Redick to 13 points in Duke's 2005 NCAA loss to Michigan State.
Whatever has been going on, Duke can't afford another subpar postseason performance from Redick. If the Blue Devils can find the spectacular scorer who averaged almost 30 points per game for 26 games, Krzyzewski could wind up with his fourth national championship banner. But if Redick's current slump -- whatever the cause -- continues, Duke's postseason run will not last long.
P.S.: Just for the record, Duke's other senior star -- center Shelden Williams -- plays more minutes than any other ACC big man. But his postseason stats are remarkably similar to his regular-season numbers. For the first three years of his career, Williams averaged 12.1 points and 8.5 rebounds in 83 regular-season games, and 12.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in 20 postseason games.
KRZYZEWSKI NOMINATES SUCCESSOR
Johnny Dawkins, Duke's associate head coach, long has been at the center of speculation about the next Duke basketball coach. But until recently, that's all it's been -- speculation.
But just before Duke's regular-season finale with North Carolina, Krzyzewski gave some tangible credence to that speculation during an ESPN internet chat. Asked whom he would like to see replace him at Duke, the coach answered:
"I would like somebody who has been a part of our Duke basketball family. If I had to pick one guy, I'd pick Johnny Dawkins. I think as a player and coach, he's given as much to this program as anybody, and he'd do a great job."
That's not quite official, but it's pretty close. Now the question is, when will Krzyzewski step down to make room for his designated successor?