NBA Top 50: Michael Redd (No. 46)
It's amazing how a guy can be vastly underrated for four years, sign a massive contract, and immediately become a scapegoat for the troubles of a troubled franchise led by troubling decision-makers. Until signing his $90 million contract in 2005, Michael Redd topped any list of quiet stars. Money equals fame, I guess -- overnight, Redd become a burden instead of the sole bright light in Milwaukee.
It's a shame Larry Krystowiak, MIL's 2007-08 coach, bought into the nonsense. In 2006-07, under Terry Stotts for most of the season, Redd showed exactly what he is: one of the absolute best scorers in the league. He finished 5th in per-game scoring, dropping 26.7 on less than 20 FGAs. Krystowiak, though, blamed Milwaukee's rough season in part on Redd's scoring focus, and forced Mike to diversify his game, shooting less, passing more, going at the glass, taking on tougher defensive assignments.
The result? Redd scored less and less efficiently. Milwaukee got no better. What Krystowiak -- and some Bucks fans and national pundits -- failed to realize is that Milwaukee has been bad in spite of Redd's performance, not because of it. Setting the table has never been a part of Redd's game. Forcing him to take on that task distracts from what he's really, really good at.
This is one of the areas in which basketball should take a cue from NFL coaching philosophy. Football teams have very specific division of labor. You have your blocking back, your third-down back. Your blocking tight end, your slot tight end. Your pulling guards, your pass-defense tackles. Nickle defensive backs, goal-line safeties. Every player, for the most part, is on the field for a specific elite attribute. All-around players are limited to the offensive skill positions; even then, only the best (Marshall Faulk) stay in style.
In basketball, the best players happen to be able to do several things excellently. MJ could defend and rebound, LeBron can sauté mushrooms and catch salmon with his bare hands. As such, versatility or "well-roundedness" is a highly valued trait ... so highly valued we want all of our stars to be well-rounded, lest they be labeled with the scarlet letter: "one-dimensional."
What the Hades in wrong with being one-dimensional if you're among the best in the world at that one dimension? Redd is an elite scorer: he's unstoppable 80% of the time, he's efficient. He never turns over the ball in score mode, a real special quality given how much offense he creates on his own. Scoring is a pretty important part of basketball -- we act like Redd did the equivalent of tiddlywinks in 2006-07, just because the Bucks were awful. (Don't pay attention to that woeful production at small forward, power forward, backup center, backup power forward, backup shooting guard! Ignore the injuries! Blame the billionaire.)
Division of labor is a bit more difficult when you're running five players at a time, true. But as Billy Knight and John Salmons have taught us, having as many jacks-of-all-trades as possible is not the way to win. If you have an elite scorer like Redd, let him score score score. Make Andrew Bogut rebound, or (I don't know) find a small forward who can do the things Redd doesn't. (Note: Richard Jefferson is not that player.)
At some point in a team's progression, you have to stop worrying about getting the best players and you need to build a team. Larry Harris never figured this out. Successor John Hammond, hopefully, learned from Joe Dumars, who follows the philosophy precisely. (You don't see the Pistons asking Rip Hamilton, another great scorer, to guard Dwyane Wade or rack up assists. They know what he is, and they seek to maximize it ... not dilute it.)
Again: I'm dubious Jefferson will liberate Redd to regain his position as an all-World scorer. Jefferson himself is a scorer. But if he does, if the tandem works to get Redd back to his home dimension, he can again be one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league, and well worth your attention. At his best, few can match baskets with the guy.