As JJ Hickson entered free agency, it came as no surprise that the Blazers did not retain his services. While a double-double machine and a hustler, the Blazers’ meager roster forced him into playing center last season despite his stature. He was always undersized, and despite the effort, could never pass as a true center (which in fairness he simply wasn’t).
Denver scooped him up in free agency, and despite the fact that he is now on a division rival, he is still worth keeping tabs on. It will be nice to see him featured on a team that can better use his skillset, if for no other reason than to see his potential if the Blazers had been built differently. There are always lessons to be learned from other teams in the NBA, and Hickson represents one such opportunity.
The first thing to note is that Hickson will likely spend far less time playing as a center, and more time playing in his natural position of power forward. If healthy, it looks like the Nuggets will trot out a starting lineup of Ty Lawson (1), Randy Foye (2), Danilo Gallinari (3), Kenneth Faried (4), and JaVale McGee (5). In this scenario, Hickson would likely come off the bench as a backup for both Faried and McGee, especially since the Nuggets traded backup center Kostas Koufas to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Nuggets also have Timofey Mozgov, though, who could poach some minutes at backup center as well.
However, Gallinari will not be ready for the beginning of the season since he suffered a torn ACL back in April. It was reported that the tear was not complete, though, leading some outlets to predict that he could resume basketball activities as early as December. While December may be overly optimistic, the bottom line is that he will not be around at the beginning of the season.
While the Nuggets could just start Wilson Chandler (a solid player in his own right) at the small forward at the beginning of the season, they could also, in theory, move Hickson into the starting lineup. They would have to be willing to play Faried at the small forward position, opening up the power forward slot for Hickson. I personally think this move could work well – when I look at Faried, I see a 6’8’’ ball of energy who simply goes out and plays basketball. I think he could thrive in any role. The Nuggets, of course, may be skittish about putting Faried outside of his normal position for continuity’s sake.
Surprisingly, the spacing seems to take care of itself. Faried is definitely more of an inside scoring option, as he shot just a hair under 36% on any shot outside of three feet. McGee also lives primarily at the rim, but has said that he plans on utilizing a jump shot more next season. Hickson could then slip right in, as he was sneakily a great jump shooter. No one will ever mistake him for a true stretch four, but Hickson shot a scorching 47.5% on shots 10 feet out to the three point line. Theoretically with mid-range jump shots from both Hickson and McGee (with both going inside when need be), and Faried cleaning up down low, I think this lineup could work on the offensive side.
This is not to mention that that frontcourt group would be a terror on the boards, as all three of them averaged at least 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes last season (with at least four of those being offensive rebounds in all three cases). That’s just scary.
Until Gallinari comes back, I’m really rooting for Hickson to crack the starting lineup. I always felt a little sorry that he was asked to take on a role that was not ideal for him, and if that frontcourt described above materializes, it sure would be entertaining. Even when Gallinari comes back, Hickson should still be able to find a niche as a valuable contributor. He always gave it his all in Portland, and you like to see players like that succeed.