Portland’s plugged another leaking hole, finding a short-term answer for a long-term problem.
The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman reported on Tuesday that the Trail Blazers will open up training camp with J.J. Hickson listed as the starting center.
“J.J. is the incumbent,” Stotts told Freeman. “I’m not saying he’s going to be the starting center opening night. We’ll have to see how training camp goes, see how the preseason goes, and then we’ll make that determination. Meyers (Leonard) has played very well (this summer). But it’s just like politics: J.J. has been here, he’s the returner, so going into it he has the advantage.”
Hickson averaged 14.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in March, turning his production up when LaMarcus Aldridge was sidelined with a lower back injury.
At 6’9″, 242 lbs, J.J. is a very athletic, undersized forward who is extremely adept at finishing around the rim — part of the reason why he shot an impressive 54.3 percent from the field with the Blazers. But like many young, promising athletes in the NBA, his lack of effort on the defensive end is what gives coaches and analysts headaches.
“Despite good size for a 4 and decent athleticism, Hickson still struggles mightily at the defensive end. This is partly a result of playing out of position at center so much, but the data has been brutal on this front his entire career. According to 82games.com, opposing power forwards had an 18.2 PER against him in Sacramento and a 17.9 mark in Portland. The Blazers also gave up dramatically more points with him on the court, although this didn’t happen in Sacramento. Given how bad his data was in Cleveland, this suggests mild improvement at best.”
“Optimists will point out that at least he is a solid rebounder and doesn’t foul.”
A solid rebounder who doesn’t foul.
Is that who we want patrolling the inside of the Blazer defense?
Hickson has tenure (of some sort) and has been around the league for four years, but wouldn’t you rather see a seven-foot shot blocker manning the middle, rather than a small forward-sized scorer?
You’ve probably had his college stats shoved down your throat already, but one more time won’t hurt, I promise.
Leonard averaged 13.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game in his sophomore season at Illinois. He, too, is super athletic, making his mark on offense through garbage buckets and pick-and-rolls leading to alley-oops.
But like all rookies, there’s a learning curve. Leonard weighs in at 245 pounds; only three more than the significantly shorter J.J. Hickson. He’ll have to put on some muscle to keep his base against dominant centers like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. He’s very “raw” offensively, lacking any semblance of a post game, and he has little to no range on his jump shot.
Still, the Blazers aren’t looking to add offense to the back court.
L.A. and Meyers Leonard could be a Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan duo — one dominant scorer and one defensive anchor, and Hickson could be the spark plug off the bench that Portland can go to when scoring dries up.
But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?
Should Portland start J.J. Hickson or the rook, Meyers Leonard, at center?