Thursday, April 12, 2012

Aldridge injury allows Hickson to improve his FA stock

Twice since joining the Trail Blazers, J.J. Hickson has started in place of an injured LaMarcus Aldridge. In those two contests (at Clippers, vs Warriors), Hickson has averaged 26.0 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 63.9% shooting from the field. With news breaking today that Aldridge will be out for the season after an MRI revealed a slight labral tear in his hip that required surgery, Hickson will be in line for a minutes increase, and perhaps a higher asking price as a free agent this summer.

Since joining the club, Hickson has averaged 14.1 points and 7.2 rebounds in just over 28 minutes per game. Hickson is an aggressive player who sets solid picks outside, and is a threat to score if given the ball after setting a screen. Using his good leaping ability and strength, Hickson is a good lob candidate when attacking the basket, and is also quick enough to beat post defenders off the dribble. Hickson is relentless on the backboards, using his combination of above-average athleticism and length to be very problematic for opponents to box out. While Hickson can block shots, he struggles somewhat on defense. His pick-and-roll defense is not great, as he will occasionally over-commit to helping out the guard, allowing his man to slip to the basket largely uncontested. Because he's so athletic, Hickson will also tend to try and block shots he can't, which leads to him picking up cheap fouls.

Now that the Blazers are without their primary low-post scoring option, Hickson is going to see a solid uptick in both minutes and usage. When paired with Aldridge, Hickson was primarily used as a screen setter, scoring most of his points off of that or second chance points. J.J. will now have ample opportunity to show 29 NBA teams what exactly he can do when given that opportunity (excluding Sacramento, who waived him after the trade deadline).

Big men always tend to command good money, even when the players receiving that money aren't always that good. While his play in Sacramento was sub-par, its hard to find a rhythm when consistent minutes are hard to come by. Since the Blazers claimed Hickson off waivers from the Kings, they will have an option to tender Hickson with a $3.35 million qualifying offer, thereby making him a restricted free agent. Since he's performed so well for the Blazers, I have a hard time believing they won't extend that offer, as the team hasn't had a player that aggressive on both ends of the floor since Greg Oden was healthy (2009).

Both Brandon Bass (2 years, $8.5 million) and Glen Davis (4 years, $25.7 million) signed fairly lucrative contract extensions this offseason, and Hickson's future deal could easily fall in line with those two players, as he's younger and more athletically gifted than either one of those players, but his inconsistency will hurt him some. Teams considering Hickson will have to wonder which version of Hickson they'll be signing: the forgotten big man in Sacramento's frontcourt, or the high-energy scorer and rebounder for the Blazers?

*All contract numbers via Storytellers Contracts

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