Truth be told, I've been a big fan of J.J. Hickson aka James Edward "J.J." Hickson Jr.'s game since he was in high school in Georgia. He was the 10th overall recruit coming out of school and stole the show in a hoops documentary that - for the life of me - I cannot recall (Google didn't help, but I think it was the 2008 doc "More Than a Game" about LeBron James).
The reason I was uneasy about the initial signing is because Hickson and Kenneth Faried are very similar players. If the Nuggets plan on keeping both guys, I like the move. Hickson could play the backup center position or perhaps start at power forward and allow Faried to come off the bench and do all the energy work that he does. Faried or Hickson off the bench for the Nuggets is going to be a nightmare for the opposition on the glass and above the rim. Add Darrell Arthur into the mix and the Nuggets suddenly have a very diverse frontcourt.
Hickson dominated games with his athleticism in high school and college, but has been expanding his offensive game in the NBA. He can play in the post, play above the rim, and step out and hit jumpers and free throws too. Let's take a look at his shots from last season, from Basketball Reference.com:
|Shot Distance||At Rim||291||434||0.671||0||0||0.671|
|3 to <10 ft||50||146||0.342||0||0||0.342|
|10 to <16 ft||42||91||0.462||0||0||0.462|
|16 ft to <3-pt||35||71||0.493||0||0||0.493|
Hickson shot 41.8% on jump-shots last season, which isn't amazing but not bad either. He can step out and away from the basket. As you can see from the chart above, he is very effective getting to the rim and can also play the pick-and-pop game where he shoots 46% and 49% from 10 feet to the three-point line. We all know from having George Karl around that you want your team getting into the paint, but you also have to keep defenses honest with a bit of a mid-range game.
The Nuggets have now added two players that can hit shots outside of the paint at the center and power forward positions in Hickson and Arthur. The duo will make a combined $8.3 million next season. Hickson received the full Mid Level Exception and make $5.15M this season, $5.3M next season, and $5.6M in the final year of his deal, that's a very reasonable contract. One concern with Hickson's former teams was trying to figure out his value once he hit free agency off his rookie contract. The Nuggets seemed to come to a good number and with just a three-year deal it's a good one for both sides.
|Greater than or equal to 60 games|
These numbers are not perfect, as they are from last season and not career, but last season is a good example of what all three guys above are capable of. Consider than Koufos will likely be a backup now in Memphis and Hickson should see a drop-off in minutes from the 29 he averaged in 80 games last season. He can also provide some insurance for Arthur who played in 59 games last season and is coming off his Achilles injury.
Also, consider that Hickson had some pretty big games against the Nuggets last season. In Denver's four games against Portland - check out how Hickson played versus Koufos. Again, this isn't a perfect indicator as to who Hickson is a player, but he did play well against a 57-win team with a good defender Koufos covering him for most of the nights (Portland was just 1-3 in those games).
|20-Dec||34 min||20 min||18 pts||7 pts||7-16||3-3||18 reb||9 reb|
|20-Dec||0 ast||0 ast||0 stl||0 stl||3 blk||2 blk||4-6||1-2|
Hickson averaged better than his season numbers against Denver. He averaged 18.5 points and 13.5 rebounds to his 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds on the season. Koufos averaged his regular season numbers against Portland with 8 points and 7 rebounds.
The biggest issue with Hickson is his defensive focus. Hickson has good court instincts as he's an active rebounder, good finisher, and very capable shot blocker. It will be up to Brian Shaw and his staff to get the most out of Hickson on defense. He did play for Mike Brown in Cleveland and Melvin Hunt too. If Hunt sticks on Shaw's staff that'd be a nice bonus to have someone familiar with his game in town.
The Nuggets have a lot of work to do on the defensive end and Hickson will be no different. How he's able to progress in the pick-and-roll and with help defense will be key for the Nuggets finding defensive success. At just 24 years-old, Hickson can still get a lot better. Even having Arthur mentor him on the defensive side should be a bonus, as well.
It'll be interesting to see how Hickson's personality meshes with the team and who is familiar with him. Check out this video he did with the Blazers:
Welcome to Denver J.J. Hickson, let's find out what you can do.
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