ORLANDO, Fla. — Once upon a time, J.J. Redick was considered an NBA bust.
That description, however, no longer applies. In his fourth pro season, Redick has become a valuable reserve for the Orlando Magic - averaging career highs in points (9.6) and minutes (22) for a team that might win the NBA championship.
Redick scored 10 points Sunday during a 98-89 victory against the Charlotte Bobcats in the first game of this best-of-7 playoff series. Seven points came during the fourth quarter to help quell the Bobcats' final run.
Still the No. 1 scorer in Duke basketball history, Redick has remade himself as a pro into a stronger, more versatile player. Redick, 25, still can shoot, of course. But that's no longer all he does.
"I've become a better passer," he said. "I've become a better defender, and that's a product of working on my body."
Just before this season's training camp, each Magic player was graded in eight categories. Among them - bench press, vertical leap, three-minute run agility and three-quarter-court sprints.
Who won the overall competition? Redick.
Does that mean Redick is the Magic's best pure athlete? Of course not. Redick has joked that he won only because he had always been "good at standardized tests."
It means Redick at least has become a good enough role player to play nearly half of every game for one of the NBA's most talented teams.
Said coach Stan Van Gundy: "J.J. came in as a smart, tough guy [Orlando drafted him No. 11 overall in 2006]. But he's gotten stronger. And experience has allowed him to see every situation now so he can be a step ahead of the play.
"When you're not the biggest or quickest guy on the floor, that's even more important. Guys like [Charlotte's] Gerald Wallace or Stephen Jackson can make a mistake, and with their athleticism they can recover. When you don't have that size and quickness, you pay for your mistakes, so you can't make as many."
Redick and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison were widely considered the best college players in the country in 2006. They continued to be linked for a couple of years after that because of disappointing NBA careers. Morrison was the No. 3 overall pick by the Bobcats but has been a career benchwarmer. Charlotte finally traded Morrison to the L.A. Lakers, where he scored only 74 points this season.
But Redick, who also barely played during his first two NBA seasons, has far surpassed Morrison during the past two.
"I've come to understand that being an NBA player is a constant evolution," Redick said. "You can get better. If you don't, you don't stick in the league. I've been forced after my first couple of years to really work, and that's helped me get to this point. But I understand that it's constant. You're always going to be challenged. Always going to be attacked."
Redick remains close to Duke - which retired his No. 4 jersey during 2007. He still talks frequently to coach Mike Krzyzewski. Redick flew to Indianapolis to watch Duke edge Butler in the NCAA final this month and said he has talked by phone to most of the players on the Blue Devils squad since.
Coach K has continued to counsel Redick about improving various aspects of his game. At Duke, Redick was mostly a catch-and-shoot player with an unrivaled stroke that allowed him to finish his career as the NCAA leader in career 3-pointers.
In the NBA, Redick has grown more comfortable scoring off the dribble. "J.J. had an amazing college career and a lot of people questioned whether he could play on this level," Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. "But he's gotten better every year. He's a perfect fit for Orlando."
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