Cavs Mailbag: JJ Hickson’s Potential, NBA Draft Targets and Gilbert’s Patience

I present you this week’s edition of the Cavs mailbag.  Have a question for next week’s run? Feel free to send them to me via email or shoot me a tweet at WFNYScott! Do enjoy!

Q: What do you think JJ Hickson’s ceiling is as a player? He’d be good by now if he was going to be right? – Derek Stapinski, @DerekStapinski

A: My, how one can fall from grace.  At times, JJ looks like he has the potential to be a mold of Amar’e Stoudemire with a bit less finesse and slightly harder hands.  At other times, he looks completely lost and appears to lean more towards teammate Ryan Hollins, avoiding the paint and only pulling down rebounds when they fall into his hands. 

I think we may be able to gauge a lot about this team and Byron Scott if we watch Hickson’s development over the next few months.  Without Andy in the paint, Chris Grant and Byron Scott will be able to see exactly what they have in their 22-year-old forward.  Hopefully, come April, we’re talking Amar’e again.  If I have to pick a player right now, I’d say JJ most resembles Toronto’s Amir Johnson or Orlando’s Brandon Bass.

Q: Are the Cavs better off with JJ Hickson at center (and bringing Andy off the bench next season)? JJ played well at center last season too. – Sammie J, @SammieJag

Statistically, Hickson has proven to be a bit more productive as a center than as a power forward.  A lot of this is mental on JJ’s part, but the residual is the lack of true centers used as offensive threats against him, skewing the statistics just a bit. When JJ is playing center, he relies on hustle and power to overcome his size disadvantage – put him at power forward, and he decides to get a bit lazy and launches jumpers.

But with comparison to Andy, four of the top five five-man units for the Cavaliers this season have Varejao at the starting center.  We have seen what the Cavaliers defense looks like with out the Brazilian big man, and have heard Byron Scott’s feelings on the matter.  JJ’s best bet is to develop his game so he can play at both positions and not become a liability when the Cavaliers do not have the ball.

Q: How long do you see the Cavs rebuild taking? It seems with a good lottery pick, a team can turn it around in a year or two. – Mike Lattin, @weather_guesser

A: As I have stated around these parts several times, I think a three-to-four-year window is best case scenario.  Granted, “turning it around” is a tad subjective, this team is many players away from winning a playoff series. 

The Utah Jazz were lucky when they landed Boozer and drafted Deron Williams and it still took them four years to get back to the playoffs following the departure of Karl Malone and John Stockton.  If the Cavaliers can acquire and hit on all of their draft picks over the next three seasons, I see a fourth year of contending as attainable. But it will take a high level of execution, similar to that of the Oklahoma City Thunder, which is best-case scenario.

Q: Which NCAA Freshman would look best in wine and gold for the 2011-12 season? – Bryan Waddel, @DigitalBryan

Despite missing time with an injured toe, I still think that Duke’s Kyrie Irving is the best bet to help turn the Cavaliers around.  Sure, we have not seen him play much this season, but his ceiling continues to be compared to that of Chris Paul, and his floor is higher than the rest of his peers, making him less of a hit-or-miss prospect.

Perry Jones, Terrence Jones and Jared Sullinger will all be watched closely by Chris Grant and company over the coming months.  There is always a chance that Irving chooses to stay at Duke for another season which could have Andrew Luck-type impact on those at the top of the draft.  But until proven otherwise, I maintain that Irving could be Scott’s next Paul/Jason Kidd.

Q: What is the most likeliest trade sceanrio you see playing out for the Cavs? – Nick Mance, @NickMance

A: Most likely?  I would say that the Cavaliers will strongly consider moving their expiring deals before the late-February deadline.  I can see Anthony Parker being moved to a team in need of a shooting guard (a la Chicago) for a second-round draft pick or cash.  If Leon Powe rebounds from his knee surgery, a contending team would gladly take him on for playoff depth in the frontcourt – just think of what happened to the Celtics when Kendrick Perkins went down last summer.

It is too late in the season to get an injury exemption for Anderson Varejao, so the Cavs are already playing with a short deck of 14 potential players.  If they can move Parker or Powe without getting a player in return, it will only aid their flexibility come draft time.

Q: Does the team plan on approaching star players any differently after the LeBron James fallout? – Eric Knappenberger, @CAVSWitness

A: Judging by the fact that Dan Gilbert was aiming to emulate the 2004 Detroit Pistons prior to this year’s fallout, the team would gladly move on with a “team” rather than one superstar player surrounded by role players.  But as we have seen, this takes a special group and the Pistons’ situation was more of the exception than the rule.

Going forward, I don’t foresee Gilbert making the same mistake again, giving extraordinary freedoms to certain players and their friends/family.  The team continues to stress their winning culture and with Byron Scott in charge of the players, no one player is bigger than the team.  He had a superstar point guard in New Orleans and the Hornets did not have any of the issues we saw arise this past summer.

That said, it’s easier to say this now given the complete lack of superstars on the current roster.  I’m sure the fans would gladly take the risk given the 8-32 record.

Q: Do you think there’s any way that Gilbert will tolerate another year like this and how bad will it hurt the proper rebuild? – Kirk Lammers, @CurseofClevKirk

A: I guess it depends on what we quantify as “like this.”  The issue with this season is that the team had no idea what they had and no one thought that things would go down the way they did; the losses and the injuries are far worse that could be imagined. 

Now that Dan Gilbert and Chris Grant know what they have to work with, it can only get better from here.  While next season – and even the season beyond – may not show improvement in terms of wins or place among Eastern Conference opponents, it will undoubtedly start the ball rolling in the right direction as the team gets younger and is infused with talent via the draft.

I caution those that think this is going to be a one-year turnaround, as the chances of such are very slim.  I know that things have been good around here these past few seasons, and winning is a lot of fun.  But these next three years are going to be very trying – we’ll see who the real suppporters truly are.

  • The Conductor

    Who would win in an arm wrestling contest: The blonde PR lady always around the Cavs bench or Boobie Gibson?

  • Nicko

    JJ Hickson can’t rebound, can’t guard anyone, and doesn’t seem to understand defensive rotations (still). Honestly on a good team, I don’t think he is any more than a rotation player. I personally can’t stand him.

  • john

    It’s not that JJ can’t rebound or guard people…it is that he doesn’t care about it. He has the tools. He doesn’t have the focus. Let’s be honest about that.

    I think the best move the Cavs could make next year (depending on what they do in the draft) is to play Andy and JJ together but switch their roles. Allow JJ to play the 5 on offense and defense and put Andy at the 4. Keeps JJ close to the basket on both ends and forces him to use energy. Andy is best when able to disrupt on the wings on defense.

  • Reggie Ruckus

    The biggest short term obstacle in the Cavs rebuilding effort may be the expiring CBA. I’ve read a lot of articles that say the negotiations may get really ugly as the owners are looking to cut salary by hundreds of millions of dollars. The owners project that they’ll lose $350 million this year. How big of a hit will Gilbert take as his local corporate partners bail in the post LBJ era?

    Once the CBA is cleared up the question becomes, is there anyone on the roster you can build around and I don’t see anyone. Considering the Cavs had a hard time attracting big name free agents when whatshisface was here it looks like the rebuild will solely be done thru the draft and trades. Almost makes me want Paxson to come back. Whatever the guy’s failings were as GM he sure did a fine job of unloading bad contracts.

  • ben

    RE: JJ Hickson

    I feel like it is pretty obvious what the Cavs have in him; a guy who, when finally polished, can MAYBE be a 20 & 10 type, but will more likely be a simple nightly double-figures guy.

    Not to say that it is bad to “simply be a nightly double-figures” guy, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. The only reason Cavs fans cared and continue to care is b/c he’s the only 1st round guy we’ve had in something like 5 years.

    Moratorium on JJ Hickson?

  • Harv 21

    @ Reggie Ruckus: Paxson unloading the contract of the blimpy, drug-addled, child-support saddled Shawn Kemp was his bestest move ever.

    Almost cancelled out Jiri Welsch, Dujuan, Mihm and Trajan. Well, not really. But it’s comforting when another team’s GM is more gullible than ours.

  • Jim

    I know it takes two to tango, but I would have traded JJ for Amare last season if Phoenix would have bit. As we see, fortunes change rather quickly in the NBA and the future is anything but certain. Amare would have at least made KG work on defense in the playoffs and may have picked up some of the offensive slack from LBJ.

    But it was not to be. I just don’t see anything approaching consistency with JJ, especially defensively. He is a sieve on that end. Athleticism only takes you so far in the NBA. If someone made the Cavs an offer for someone like Jamison and Hickson for 1st round picks and/or other young talent, I’d jump all over it.

  • MYoung23

    The power forward and center spots are different in the Princeton Offense. They require different skills sets. Hickson doesn’t shoot the ball well enough to be consistent offensively especially when there is a non-shooter like Varejao occupying the space around the basket. Hickson is being productive again playing center because he is again playing next to a stretch PF in Antawn Jamison that allows Hickson the spacing to run pick-n-roll and operate around the basket.

  • Dave

    Regarding Hickson, my impression has always been that he had #23’s attitude without #23’s skillset or motivation to be better. And then last year, he started thinking he could really play the NBA game without having to work on getting better.

    This year, he’s been proven very very wrong. Byron Scott was absolutely right to bench him when he demonstrated how little he cared about doing his job well.

  • Shamrock

    Trade ’em all and just rebuild through the draft. Emulate OKC who used the draft and not free agency. They knew Oklahoma couldn’t compete in tourism but thanks to drafting they’ll compete for awhile.

  • mgbode

    best case scenario: Cavs finish with NBA’s worst record. Cavs win ’11 lotto. 2011/12 season locked out. Cavs also win ’12 lotto (again with the most ping-pong balls).

    2 #1 picks + not having to watch another season like this.

    Sad that the ‘best case scenario’ above is what to root for, but hey, watch a bunch of college bball and prep for the draft.

  • Cindy

    When you have a bad season, at least there always is the draft.