Danny Nowell of Portland Roundball Society offers some thoughts on Portland Trail Blazers forward/center J.J. Hickson in a pair or recent pieces.
While his shooting has improved, Hickson's rebounding has skyrocketed. His 21.6 total rebound percentage blows away his previous career high, and he's racked up a couple lengthy double-double streaks. He has perfected a sly push-off that he uses to wreak havoc on the boards (seriously, once you see it, you can't unsee it), and he's often the only Blazer really contesting the glass. That he grabs as high a percentage of misses as he does is almost found money for Portland, and allows them to keep a wide-open floor like Terry Stotts prefers.
I'm not writing this to give Hickson the overblown fanboy treatment. He's a flawed player, slow-footed and prone to lapses in defensive rotations and off-ball movement on offense. Some of his production is undeniably the product of huge team-wide flaws. But because he is such a flawed player finding success, he provides a good deal of insight into the new Blazers era. On the court, he is a testament to the ingenuity that has propelled this surprising season, and the decisions the Blazers make about his future role with the team will be a major indicator of their intentions going forward.
In a way, last night's game is demonstrative of what J.J. means to the Trail Blazers. Somehow amidst the low-energy wreckage of last night's game, he emerged with a double-double. That seems great, as does his posterization of Alonzo Gee. Less perceptible from the box score or highlights, however, were the balls fumbled out of bounds, the passes sailed into the stands because Hickson pulled up on his cuts, and the wide-open looks Tristan Thompson got at the rim. It was a reminder that, even when producing more and more efficiently, Hickson is no centerpiece for a winning team.
So how much good from Hickson is a good thing? I've been quietly swimming against the pro-tanking stream this season, and I'm increasingly of the belief that the organizational relief that comes from grinding out wins far outweighs the benefits of marginally increasing the team's draft chances. It's hard not to be charmed on the non-rational level by a team running its starters 38 minutes a game to likely fall short of the playoffs; there's a certain purity and commitment to the obstinacy that, frankly, I much prefer to the cynical and luck-baiting "blow it up" approach to teambuilding.
So in that sense, freeing Hickson up to do as much damage as he's able is a commendable flexibility and offensive ingenuity, two qualities it's safe to say are emerging as Stotts hallmarks. This roster necessitates that a coach not get too hung up on its limitations-the Blazers are basically running out a max of three players who don't have some major gap in their games. So Stotts, to his credit, has this team focus on what they can do; in Hickson's case, what he can do is work as a roll man operating with more space than he's accustomed to because of LaMarcus Aldridge's presence.
Thanks to CaveJunctionBlazer who got there first in the FanShots.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org |Twitter