While the Cavaliers use the All-Star break to rest up (well most of them anyways) we thought it would be a good time to reflect on the season so far, and issue some grades. In addition, we will detail what the Cavaliers will need from each player in order to hoist some team hardware this summer. Next up? J.J. Hickson
He is the subject of trade rumors galore and one of the very few prized prospects on the roster. The young forward out of North Carolina State might not be on the team by the end of the next week, but it is still intriguing to look back at what he did so far this season. Starting 48 out of 54 games, here are his box score statistics:
It was back in November, after a mediocre first six games to the season, when Mike Brown started to begin contests with Hickson in the lineup instead of Varejao. When looking at the results it is certainly easy to see that it was the proper decision. For the traditional basketball fan however, it is a strange development to analyze why the Cavaliers have been more successful with Hickson instead of the Brazilian.
Varejao is clearly one of the better defensive players in the league and remains among the league leaders in plus/minus. The strange thing here is that the Cavaliers are more of a very good basketball team despite their starting lineup than because of the lineup switch. In the approximately 366 minutes of the current starting lineup on the court this season (a very low number considering Hickson has 48 starts on the year), the Cavs have lost by 36 points.
The old starting lineup was marginally more efficient but the difference now is it enables Varejao to come off the bench refreshed and more energized against the benches of opponent teams. Going back to Hickson, he has a net on/off court rating of -11.5. This means that on average, the Cavs are beating teams by 0.3 points with him on the court per 48 minutes while winning by 11.8 with him on the bench. So as much as many people want to talk about how Hickson is a work in progress and starting to become more efficient out there on the court, it certainly is not showing in the plus/minus statistics just yet.
Additionally, Hickson is not a jump shooter in any sense of the word. To be precise, on the season 62% of his shots have occurred at the basket and he is shooting 68.2% on those shots. That means that Hickson is only 32-103 on all other field goals this season (he has yet to attempt a three) for an astounding 31.1%. For some relevant comparison, the average NBA power forward shoots 41.8% on two pointers away from the hoop, according to HoopData.com.
Role on the Team:
Just to state my opinions here, I have never ever been a fan of starters not playing more than 20 minutes a game. It goes back to the days when the Spurs started Matt Bonner while bringing Manu Ginobili off the bench and even further before that, but it certainly shows the weakness of the team. The best five-man for the roster would not have Hickson and definitely would have Varejao. Therefore, the role of Hickson is to be a change of pace player at the beginning of games so the arguably second-most valuable Cleveland player can come rested off the bench.
At 21 years of age, Hickson has a lot of room to grow in his overall game. He needs to develop a consistent outside jumper at some point down the road as well as get better defensively. Sure, when Hickson scores seven points or more the team is an incredible 24-0, but that is because he is essentially the fifth or sixth option on the team.
How can J.J. best help the Cavs hoist the hardware this summer?
An interesting question considering the recent trade rumors, but it is certainly a valid point. For the Cavaliers sake this season, it definitely makes sense that the best way he can help the team win the championship is to be included in a trade for a player like Antawn Jamison or Amare Stoudemire. J.J. still is not a value-added starter to the best team in the Eastern Conference although he certainly does have potential to be quite good down the road.
Take a look at the other best teams in the NBA and their starting big men. Orlando – Howard and Lewis, Lakers – Gasol and Bynum, Celtics – Perkins and Garnett, Jazz – Okur and Boozer, Nuggets – Hilario and Martin. All of the above ten players are significantly better than Hickson and there remains doubt if Hickson will ever be as good of a player as someone like Kenyon Martin, a former number one overall draft pick and collegiate star. The most logical way for Hickson to help this team win a championship NOW is to be on a different roster, replacing his starting role with a player of current All-Star capabilities.
There is no doubt that the Hickson of 09-10 is a different player than the one from last year who failed to register a single minute in the post-season. His fouls and turnovers have gone down significantly in just one year but in order to be a successful starting power forward for a legitimate title contender, he has a long way to go. In fact, it begs the question as whether it is even worthwhile to have him on the roster anymore in the most efficient way to win a championship and secure LeBron James for the future.
Therefore, I give J.J. Hickson a B- for the season so far. He has made many fans passionate about keeping him for the future but there is overwhelming evidence that the team is actually better off with him off the court. Hopefully J.J. continues to get better and better but because of the championship-driven mindset of the Cavaliers organization, he might not be doing it while wearing the wine and gold.