Last March, JJ Hickson told a local Cavs newspaper he was the best power forward in the league. I’m assuming he meant the NBA. With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at what Hickson does well and what he needs to greatly improve on.
During the 2010-11 season, JJ Hickson gave the Cavaliers averages of 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds in 28.2 minutes per game. Those are not terrible averages by any means for a player who will turn 23 when the next NBA season begins (fingers crossed!). But looking deeper into his play (thanks to Synergy Sports), there seem to be only a few ways to truly utilize him and a lot of areas in which he needs improvement.
Offensively, if you can get the ball to Hickson when he’s near or moving toward the basket, you’re probably going to get a good shot attempt. It sounds pretty simple, but that’s really the way you have to attack with Hickson. Even though he was ranked just 307th in the NBA in points per possession scored on offense (0.87), he was ranked 101st in post-up PPP (0.83) and 89th when he’s the roll man in a pick-and-roll (0.92). On straight cuts to the basket, he gave the Cavs a solid 1.01 PPP (good for 150th in the NBA).
His problems on offense came when he was used as a spot-up shooter or when he was given the ball in a clear-out situation and he was asked to create offense on his own. As a spot-up shooter, Hickson shot just 33.3% from the field on 156 attempts. It gave him a paltry 0.66 points per possession on spot-up plays, which is 341st in the NBA. In isolation plays in which he had to create his own, he was below league average with 0.63 points per possession, good for 228th in the league. He only shot 31% from the field on 100 attempts in those situations.
Hickson has really bad hands, but if you can get him the ball moving toward the basket, he becomes a freight train of sorts. His athleticism is superb and even though he’s a bit undersized from the ideal power forward, he explodes to the rim and puts guys on posters. The Cavs didn’t really have the system or players to make sure that happened and it caused a huge dip in his field goal percentage (down 45.8% from the 55.4% the previous season). The reason he was so effective the previous season is because LeBron James was often setting him up. He took full advantage of the defense keying in on LeBron and then making them pay at the rim.
The Kings don’t necessarily have that one specific playmaker to make Hickson completely effective, but Tyreke, Thornton and Jimmer all have the potential to be those guys.
Defensively, it was pretty ugly for Hickson all year round. He gave up 0.96 points per possession in overall defense, which was 367th in the NBA. He doesn’t move his feet well when isolated against an offensive player (0.98 given up, 293rd in the NBA) and he doesn’t close out or cover spot-up shooters well at all (1.13 PPP given up, 332nd). But his length, quick-jumping ability and physical nature DID allow him to defend the post well (0.86, 132nd) and he’s athletic enough to defend the roller on the pick-and-roll very effectively (0.93, 66th).
The Kings obviously didn’t bring him in for his defense. His role should be that of what Carl Landry was supposed to do. Bring a little scoring to the frontcourt off the bench and create a little havoc at the rim. I think Hickson can do a pretty good job of accomplishing that IF he can catch passes cleanly and always find his momentum taking him toward the rim.
Our friend Colin McGowan from Cavs The Blog contributed these words about Hickson so Kings fans can get acquainted with him:
Kings fans: J.J. Hickson is a riddle wrapped in a 6’9″ hyper-athletic body. He’s a powerful dunker. He works well off the ball. He’s a good rebounder when he cares to be; whether or not he cares seems tied to some obscure calendar based on the phases of the fifth planet of a solar system located in the Eskimo Nebula. He has terrible hands. He doesn’t seem to understand defense. He has a jumpshot that, when effective, renders his offensive game devastating. That jumpshot does not go in most nights. The Cavaliers refused to trade him for AmareStoudemire two years ago. How ridiculous that seems now (to be honest, it seemed ridiculous at the time) speaks to how Hickson has failed to reach his potential thus far, but also to what immense potential he still possesses at the age of 22. I’m pretty sure he thinks he is much better at basketball than he is, but, to be fair, he shows flashes of living up to his own arrogance. He will amaze you, then confound you, then provoke you to curse his name. He is J.J. Hickson. He is yours now.
Hickson probably isn’t the best power forward in the NBA like he believed. And by probably I mean there is no place on Jimmer’s green earth in which he is. But he can be effective for the Kings if they use him properly.