Transcript: ESPN NBA Analysts Richard Jefferson and JJ Redick Answer Questions Ahead of NBA Christmas on ESPN


Transcript: ESPN NBA Analysts Richard Jefferson and JJ Redick Answer Questions Ahead of NBA Christmas on ESPN

ESPN NBA analysts Richard Jefferson and JJ Redick answered questions today to preview ESPN’s five NBA Christmas Day games. Both Jefferson and Redick will serve as analysts on Christmas as Redick will call the Philadelphia 76ers vs. New York Knicks game, and Jefferson will call the Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets game.

A transcript of the call is below.

For the full commentary schedule of ESPN’s NBA Christmas Day games, visit ESPN Press Room.

Q. Guys, what is your take on the Eastern Conference right now? Obviously, the Bucks and the Celtics are meeting in kind of a showdown, but it seems like teams are now starting to get hot, picking up. Philadelphia, the Knicks, the Nets. What’s been your impressions of the East, and what’s been your impressions of the Celtics?

JJ Redick: Great question. It felt like even as early as two weeks ago, it felt like the Celtics and the Bucks had really separated themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference, and I still think they’re the two best teams in the conference. But Cleveland, the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia, New York Knicks, they’re all playing excellent basketball right now.

Specifically, you look at the Knicks defense over the last eight games during this winning streak, it’s been phenomenal. Then Brooklyn, we have to give them a lot of credit. After starting out 2-6, they’ve played great basketball on both ends of the floor, and they haven’t had any drama either. It’s been fun to watch. Kevin Durant is having another fantastic season.

In terms of Boston, I think we had to expect some normalization of their three-point shooting, which has happened over the past 10 or 11 days. I think since December 10, they’re shooting under 30 percent from three. Before that, they were shooting over 40 percent.

So that to me is the biggest thing with Boston right now is just — it goes without saying. It’s a make-miss league sometimes, and they’re missing their threes, but their defense, although they started out slow, it’s gotten a lot better since the beginning of the season.

Richard Jefferson: I agree with JJ.

Q. Good morning, JJ. Good to see you again. About 13 months after we were on a Zoom before your ESPN debut, let me ask you, just kind of curious, what are you enjoying about your ESPN job, and what are you maybe still learning to love about it? Sometimes you’re on these panel shows, and it seems like you’d rather be anywhere but there.

JJ Redick: No, I enjoy all of it. Last year on a shorter deal, I kind of wanted to try everything. So, I tried a bunch of studio shows. Tim Corrigan was kind enough to give me a shot at games. I got a couple regular season games in March and then did three playoff games.

So, when I was figuring out what I wanted to do on this next deal, it was really a priority to do games and First Take. So, with the game schedule I have, that to me is the juice right there. You feel very close to the game. You get that sort of performance anxiety that you do as a player, and you’re documenting history. You’re documenting great players.

The game Ryan Ruocco and I did a couple of weeks ago in Dallas with Giannis and Luka going at it, ended up on a Brook Lopez game winner, that is so fun for me. And I love going at Stephen A. That’s been the highlight of my job really is just building a relationship with him not only onscreen but off-screen.

What do I not like about the job? It’s really getting used to people I have to work with on a daily basis. Not daily basis, but three, four times a month, travel party, that sort of thing – mostly Richard Jefferson (Laughter).

Q. You seem to take to it very well and did very well on year one. Was that because of your podcasting experience? Was that because of all the decades of interviews you’ve been doing for years and years that got you in the right frame of mind for it?

JJ Redick: It’s a combination of a few things. The podcast certainly helped. I was lucky in the sense that because I played in some big markets, I played in L.A., Philadelphia media is awesome.

Then the podcast, I already had my voice. I didn’t feel like I had to be somebody else. I was comfortable with my opinions, my takes. So, it all felt very natural from the get-go, and I think that’s just from my experience as a player and my experience podcasting with the media.

Q. Just had a quick question about kind of the state of the NBA. The Lakers are obviously not a very good team this year. The Warriors are under .500, just lost by 38 last night to the Knicks. These are the two biggest TV draws in the league, the two most popular teams, and yet they enter Christmas Day under .500, missing their best players in Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry. What do you think the league needs to do with these other teams? Milwaukee to win a championship, or Memphis with Ja Morant to take the mantle of the Lakers and Golden State and become the kind of dominant TV draws that people are tuning in for?

Richard Jefferson: I don’t know if there’s one — if there’s going to be one or two teams. I think a lot of this is going to be done by committee. When you look at LeBron James, when you look at Anthony Davis, when you look at Steph Curry, they do carry a ton of weight when you look at the popularity in the NBA, individual players, all of that stuff.

I don’t know what it’s going to take for a Milwaukee or a Memphis to overtake them. I think, if you look at the Warriors, they’ve been to The Finals X amount of years. LeBron James has been to The Finals X amount of years. It’s going to take years and years of sustained greatness.

I think Milwaukee is there. I think Memphis has that ability. I think there’s other superstars like Luka that in five, six, seven years, because they’ve won two Finals, because they’ve done X, Y, and Z, I think that’s when you’re going to start to see kind of that shift.

Right now, it’s the Lakers, it’s the Golden State Warriors. Those are two of the biggest markets, and they’ve always been two of the most popular teams since the start of the game. So, I don’t know if that will change just because players rotate or the best players are in other areas.

JJ Redick: Agree with pretty much everything Richard Jefferson said there. It’s actually a great question. One of the themes of this season and the next year to three years will be this sort of passing of the torch, if you will. Bron and Kevin and Steph are still playing at an amazingly high level well into their 30s, and I don’t expect them to have a significant decline any time soon, but there are so many young stars in our league.

I’ve always been a believer that you don’t have to be in a market to be a superstar, to drive jersey sales, ticket sales, ratings, et cetera. You do need to be a superstar. You do need to have a following.

Golden State was not a particularly relevant franchise prior to Steph Curry. The Cleveland Cavaliers were not a significantly relevant franchise prior to LeBron James. The Lakers will always have a following, Boston, New York. These historical franchises will always have a following.

But the amount of young players who are growing in popularity – you mentioned Ja Morant, Giannis – I think the league is in a very, very healthy place in that regard.

Q. Should Golden State hit the panic button yet, or do you think they have time to pull it all together?

JJ Redick: No, I don’t think they should hit the panic button. It will interesting to see — I’m going to plug my own podcast here, but I did talk about this, this week on the podcast because it will be interesting to see how they deal with this stretch of games starting with the Knicks. Obviously last night they lost that game.

They’ve got a significant home stand, so there’s a chance they could come out of this still within striking range of missing — not missing, but avoiding the play-in game. I still think they’re one of the best teams in basketball. If you look at their starting five and that lineup data, it’s been great all season.

Jordan Poole’s lineup numbers have trended in the right direction prior to Steph’s injury. JaMychal Green has been playing better. Jonathan Kuminga has had sustained stretches of really good basketball. I’m still bullish on the Warriors, and I’ll be bullish on them as long as they have that group together because they’re champions.

Q. For both of you, what are your favorite holiday traditions?

JJ Redick: Watching the NBA and playing in the NBA on Christmas Day. It’s part of the experience.

Richard Jefferson: I agree with JJ.

Q. This is for Richard Jefferson and also for JJ. What’s a little thing that you can say about the Christmas Day games that have been a tradition for so many years? And also, Minnesota’s had an up-and-down season with expectations that were much higher. Can you just speak on that as well?

Richard Jefferson: I think the Christmas Day tradition, I think for me what makes it special, and I know it’s changed now and evolved, but there used to only be two games. So, there would be two games that everyone would watch. I remember my second year in the league, we got a rematch with the Boston Celtics after we played them in the Conference Finals. That was my first Christmas Day game. It was just – I don’t know. I just think as a player you realize that, yeah, you’re playing on Christmas and all of these things, but you also realize that this will be one of the most watched games, this game will be more watched than a lot of playoff games. So, I think that’s the allure for players.

Now there’s so many games and it’s become a Christmas Day tradition, that you basically just turn on your TV on Christmas Day after you’ve opened your presents, and it’s there all day. I think that’s something that’s fun.

You’ve got NFL on Thanksgiving, and now today because Christmas is going to fall on a Sunday, so you’re going to get some overlap. Normally Christmas Day is basketball, football is Thanksgiving. So, you get to be around your family. You get to watch your favorite sport, your team, your player, whatever. I think that’s what makes it fun.

Then to answer your second question about Minnesota, I think things take time. I do. I think people expect things to just go right away. I think there’s some maturity things that probably need to happen with some of their younger players in growth, and I also think that they’re lacking a true point guard to kind of manage the environment.

I think D’Angelo Russell is talented. Karl-Anthony Towns is obviously out. I just think it’s going to take time for that group to get together and figure out how to maximize Rudy, and Rudy to figure out how to fit in. But they gave up a lot, so they’re going to spend a lot of time trying to make it work. We’re talking about 25 games into a lot of years of contracts.

JJ Redick: On the Christmas Day question, for me it was — playing on Christmas is a mark of significance, it’s a mark of validation, and it carries meaning. As a team, as a city, as a franchise, as a player, it always meant something.

I think my teams in 15 years, I think we had 12 Christmas Day games. I may be wrong on that … But it was just the relevance of it.

It felt — a Christmas Day game, you get there early. They usually put T-shirts out like it’s the playoffs. You know it’s going to be nationally broadcast. So, it was — you got excited to play. Was it an inconvenience? Did you have to skip out on present time with your kids sometimes? Yeah, it was an inconvenience, but the significance of it and the relevance of it was always exciting to me.

To echo Richard Jefferson’s comments on the T-Wolves, I do think it takes time, and I also think this league is all about fit. If you think about Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns is at his best offensively as a five, playing in pick-and-roll, drop coverage, kick it back to him, he’s either got a three or he’s driving a big.

We saw last year in the playoffs when the Clippers went small, at times when Memphis went small and switched and then used a double-team when he posted up small guys, it got him out of sorts. So having him not play his natural position, his best position. And then defensively having to guard — there’s not a lot of fours in the NBA. There are wings. So, him defensively being out of position as well. I think that really affected him, and I think it affected the team, and I think it affected Ant.

I think the spacing has gotten better. They’ve been playing better basketball. So, yeah, I think the time it takes to figure out things and how to work fit together, it’s a long process. So, it will be interesting to see once KAT gets back from injury.

Q. Are there any teams in your opinion that are dark horse contenders of both the Eastern and Western Conference? Like what teams should we keep an eye on that are undervalued?

Richard Jefferson: This is going to kill me to say this. I think Brooklyn is undervalued. I think Cleveland is undervalued in the Eastern side.

On the Western side, I don’t know. Like the West to me, I think the value of the teams are pretty accurate of teams that I believe can actually accomplish something. So, I just don’t see too much of it on the Western side.

Obviously if we’re talking about being a contender, if like all the stars aligned, I could believe that Cleveland, if they made one more move and got themselves a wing that can defend at a good level, I could see them. If they beat somebody here and all of a sudden had a magical season, I could see it happening.

But in the West, I think everybody is pretty much — is pretty accurate. I don’t think there’s anybody that would be kind of a dark horse coming out of the West. I think there’s five teams that are kind of trying to figure out who’s the best and who’s the dominant one.

JJ Redick: Yeah, I agree with Richard Jefferson on Cleveland and Brooklyn. I’ve been saying for the last six weeks they need a fifth guy, a fifth starter, a fifth closer or whatever you want to call it. A prototypical three and D guy.

Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland are going to play with the ball in their hands. So Caris LeVert’s strengths sort of get negated when he’s with that lineup. Their young guys haven’t really proven to be reliable as shooters. So that’s a detriment to a closing lineup. I think Cleveland, if they can figure out a way to get a fifth guy, another wing, I like their chances a lot.

I mentioned Brooklyn. I’ve had some pretty harsh takes on Brooklyn over the past year, but I’m coming around to it. I like what they’re doing. I think a lot of it will depend on what version of Ben Simmons that we get.

In the West, look, I think if we all sat here and said 30 games in the season the top three teams in the West are going to be the Pelicans, the Grizzlies, and the Nuggets, there’s not a lot of people who would say, oh, that makes sense. I don’t know if you want to call them dark horse contenders or not. I think they’re contenders. They’re contenders, period.

The Pelicans in particular, the way that David Griffin and Trajan Langdon and Swin Cash have built that roster, drafted on the margins, they’ve just got a very deep rotation, and they can play a lot of different ways, and they’re a versatile team. That’s important in the playoffs.

Q. I would like to ask if the Knicks are legit? Is this defense sustainable in the playoffs? Next, for Richard Jefferson, are you concerned with the Nets’ lack of size? Can they overcome it against the Celtics and Giannis in the East?

Richard Jefferson: No, the Nets — the second one. The Nets lack of size, yeah, I think that is a concern, especially when you’re talking about having to play teams that have Giannis and Brook Lopez. You’re going to have to shoot the ball extremely well to overcome that.

I think, if we’re talking about other teams, I think they can manage that. But, yeah, their lack of size – they’ve got a 7’2″ guard, that definitely helps – but if they were in the market, yeah. I definitely think they could use some physicality, they could use some size.

But they do have more shooting than most teams could even imagine. Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Kyrie, KD, even Patty Mills off the bench. Watanabe is shooting the ball extremely well, was off to a hot start. I think the only way they could overcome that lack of size is, they have the shooting to do it.

And I didn’t hear the first question.

Q. The first question is are the Knicks legit, or is this defense sustainable?

Richard Jefferson: The defense from the Knicks, again, sustainable is one thing, but I think this is who they are. The best thing about winning streaks, in my opinion, is it confirms sometimes to the coaches and it confirms to the players like, hey, this is how we’re going to win. This is how we’re going to be successful.

So, to get that type of, hey, if we play top-five, top-seven, top-three level defense, we’re going to win a lot of games. I think you can’t understate the addition of Brunson and what he’s done, the stability on the offense, having another guy, go-to type player.

You’ve got RJ Barrett. You’ve got Julius Randle, and I think having that point guard has brought them a lot of stability, especially late in games. And he’s got a great relationship with Thib. So, I think the defense is sustainable, in my opinion.

JJ Redick: Yeah, I agree. I think the addition, or the insertion more frequently, of Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride has made a huge difference for their defense. It’s sustainable.

We’ve seen Tom Thibodeau have top five defenses. He can build a good defense. Are they legit? I’ll hold off on calling them a legit contender right now, but it’s certainly exciting to see them winning basketball games and playing good basketball.

I think most people know this. I love Jalen. He’s quickly gone from people thinking he’s overpaid to he’s actually very underpaid. He’s legit.

And on the Nets front, I would add — I know Richard Jefferson gets to call their games. I live in Brooklyn, so I go to a lot of games, and I frequently watch them. The size is a concern. They’re second to last in the league in defensive rebounding rate. That’s hurt them at times.

I do think, though, with Kevin Durant playing tier 1 level defense, he’s been phenomenal on the floor this season. And the best version of Ben Simmons, I think that can offset some of the size issues in terms of width and whatnot.

Q. Just a follow-up, is Jalen Brunson an All-Star decision?

JJ Redick: Yeah, we did an exercise yesterday on the podcast about this. I think there’s probably eight guys in the East —

Richard Jefferson: We get it, you have a podcast.

JJ Redick: You know, I don’t want to promote myself. By the way, that one’s only available on Amazon Music.

I think there’s eight guys in the East that I would expect to be locks, barring something unforeseen. Then there’s probably another six or seven guys, and Jalen’s in that group where he’s got a legitimate chance. I think, as long as the Knicks are winning and sort of in that five-to-six-to-seven spot, yeah, he definitely could be an All-Star.

I know my kids, fan voting started yesterday. My kids have spent a lot of time voting on that. They did it yesterday. They did it again today. Jalen got some votes from them, so that’s good.

Q. My question is a little bit more focused on the Western Conference. In the beginning of the season, you had teams like the Portland Blazers and the Utah Jazz kind of leading the West, and as we transitioned to more like the midst of the season, you got teams like the Grizzlies, the Pelicans, and the Nuggets kind of trading places between first, second and third. My question is do you think the West will continue to be a toss-up, or do you think we’ll see them create space in the West kind of like how the Bucks and the Celtics are doing right now?

Richard Jefferson: I think there’s going to be four or five teams that kind of bounce around. I don’t see any teams that are elite.

A lot of times when you get distance is because you’ve been primarily healthy, or you’ve been elite. I think health, you’ve seen there’s going to be teams like on the lower level that are banged up, and then I think on the higher level, right now there’s not one team talent-wise that you’re like, oh, a lot of people thought it was going to be the Warriors. Hey, if they’re healthy, if they’re locked in, they can win 62 games.

I don’t see any 60-win teams in the Western Conference. I think Boston and Milwaukee could be 60-win teams, but I really don’t see – unless a team gets hot and gets going. But if you’re just talking about sustained level of play, I think there’s probably, again, four or five teams.

It could be Portland. It could be Denver. The Pelicans have Jonas Valanciunas – what he did the other night and that’s at the five, so the Pelicans. There’s a lot of talented teams, and I think that’s what makes the game fun.

JJ Redick: Yeah, I agree with Richard Jefferson.

Q. JJ, just wanted to follow up on what you said earlier, something about a short deal you want to try everything, and a long deal, you’ve figured what you like the best. Was this something where initially you were just going to try this for one season because you wanted to see you’d be good at it and if it would work from a family balance kind of thing? And now you’ve kind of figured out, yeah, this works and this is kind of career number two?

JJ Redick: I mean, yeah. I don’t look at things – I never have really looked at things in like 10 or 20-year windows. I look at everything – I think part of being a basketball player, where you look at a high school career in four years, you look at a college career in three or four years.

You look at your time in the NBA, it’s all based on your contract, so you plan out your life based on “I’m on a four-year deal, I’m on a three-year deal,” whatever it may be. So, I just naturally tend to look at things in three to five-year blocks.

I’m really enjoying what I’m doing now. I knew I was going to commit to a long-term deal on the podcast, a longer deal on the podcast this summer. So, it just felt like a very natural fit because of my enjoyment in doing ESPN and the opportunity to call more games.

Q. Just to follow up on the Knicks front. Julius is playing much better with Jalen Brunson. Now he’s scouting more and switching on defense. What do you see in his play this season that’s translatable to the playoffs?

JJ Redick: I’ll jump in here. I like that he’s not always in love with his jump shot. I think, even in this win streak, he’s doing a great job of getting to the free-throw line, creating fouls and getting his team into the bonus, just the aggression in attacking the rim.

I don’t know if you remember that Hawks series, but they had a very specific – it seems counterintuitive, but they had a very specific sort of game plan for him in that they actually forced him hard left, which most people don’t think that because Julius is left, and then they just brought a second defender.

Julius actually wants to get to his right hand to shoot his jumper, and if you cut him off on a drive, then he spins back and he’s going to his strong hand. So, the Hawks did the opposite thing. Most teams are like, oh, he’s left-handed. We’ll get him going right. No, Julius wants to go right.

So, in terms of translating to the playoffs, well, let’s see what the game plan is to try and contain him.

Q. This question is more towards JJ. You kind of mentioned some of these teams in the West, even though they’re not exactly underdogs, more or less, they’re not the Lakers or the Warriors potentially looking to make The Finals this year. What would it mean for smaller organizations like the Memphis Grizzlies to make The Finals this year?

JJ Redick: I think it’s great for the NBA. Maybe somebody would disagree with me and want a Lakers-Boston NBA Finals every season.

The small markets, I played in one, and we made The Finals. What that felt like living in Orlando and the energy and the buzz, it was very special. And memories are created. There’s a nostalgia about that. It’s significant 13 years later to Orlando Magic fans. Their Finals run in ’95 is still significant 27 years later.

So, it’s meaningful to the city, the fans, the organization, the players, and I think it’s good for the NBA. I think having representation from a small market in the NBA Finals is a great thing.

Richard Jefferson: I would agree with JJ. I think that doing it in a smaller market, it’s like doing it with a community versus a large city, and the community can become very, very tight and very connected. We won a championship on Father’s Day, and I still have grown men come up to me almost in tears, like I watched it with my father. My father was a huge fan, and he had passed away.

Yes, big markets have all the opportunity, but when you can connect with a smaller community or a smaller fan base, I think those memories last forever.


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