It can be argued that the 76ers are JJ Redick’s team.
Right now, he’s their vocal leader, one of their best players, and the only full-time starter with playoff experience. The Sixers must lean on him heavily once the postseason begins April 14, perhaps more than Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, or Dario Saric.
It won’t always be for things that show up in the box score. But at this particular time, Redick’s leadership could justify the $23 million the Sixers paid him this season.
Embiid (94 games), Simmons (78), Saric (156), and Markelle Fultz (11) have only a combined 339 games of regular-season experience heading into the game against the Dallas Mavericks at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. They will soon be making their first postseason appearance. There’s no guarantee that Embiid, who is sidelined with a fractured orbital bone near his left eye, will be available at the start of the postseason.
Coach Brett Brown has won four NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs as a player-development coach turned assistant coach. But you can’t compare that to being the head coach.
“There’s going to be a force coming at them unlike they’ve experienced thus far,” Sixers legend Julius Erving said of what the Sixers can expect in their first playoff appearance since 2012. “They’ve been out of the playoffs so long. That first quarter is like, ‘Oh my God. I didn’t know it was going to feel like this.’ ”
“Instead of responding to the force, they need to be the one bringing the force.”
That’s where Redick, Amir Johnson, and reserves Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova come in. Of the Sixers who consistently play, they’re the only ones with playoff appearances.
Johnson played in 42 postseason games during his time with Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors, and Boston Celtics. Last season, he and the Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, losing four games to one to the Cavaliers. His postseason experience is a plus, considering he’ll be the starting center until Embiid returns.
Belinelli has 48 playoff appearances with the New Orleans Hornets, the Chicago Bulls, and Spurs. His highlight came in 2014, when the Spurs won the NBA title. Meanwhile, Ilyasova has played in 23 postseason games between the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks.
But Redick is the team leader when it comes to postseason play.
The 33-year-old has played in 88 combined playoff games with the Orlando Magic, Bucks, and Los Angeles Clippers. He has started as many postseason games (48) as Belinelli has played in total. In 2009, when he was with the Magic, they lost, 4-1, to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.
“So the veteran leadership comes from JJ,” Erving said. “The short-term goal-setting and the long-term goal-setting is going to be dictated by the coach and his players.”
All one has to do is watch Redick during a break in action to understand how much he dictates the goal-setting. He’s also coaching up his teammates.
He even challenged them when the Sixers had a commanding 72-50 lead with 8 minutes, 36 seconds left in the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I basically said, ‘Let’s not let this lead get under 22,’ ” Redick said after the eventual 121-95 victory.
The Nets pulled within 20 points seven times. However, the Sixers did extend their lead to 30 points late in the game.
“The basic message was let’s get some rest for the guys who are playing big minutes,” said Redick, whose team went on to defeat the Pistons, 115-108, in Detroit on Wednesday. “Know that Detroit is waiting for us and we’ve got another back-to-back.”
But Redick has been more than a vocal leader. He’s having one of his best seasons in what is his 12th year.
The former Duke standout was averaging a career-high 16.8 points heading into Friday’s game against the Cavs. He was also shooting 41.6 percent on three-pointers and averaging 3.0 assists.
And recently, Redick has been hard to defend.
On Friday, he had a team-high 28 points in a 132-130 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Two day earlier, the shooting guard had 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting against Detroit, making 5 of 7 three-pointers. Redick also had six assists, one shy of the season high he set against the Pistons on Dec. 2.
He also established a career-best streak of seven consecutive games with at least 19 points.
These are all reasons that the Sixers, at this moment, are Redick’s team.