As first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, J.J. Hickson has agreed to sign a three-year, $15 million contract with the Nuggets.
An Overview -
Hickson is a 24 year old, 6-foot-9 center-forward who started for the Blazers last year. On a pure numbers level he looks solid, averaging 15.8 points and 12.8 rebounds on 56 percent shooting (per-36 minutes). His offensive game is made mostly out of his post-game, where he is middling, his pick-and-roll game, where he excels, and off put-backs through his offensive rebounding (sound familiar?).
He brings a pick-and-pop threat in the 10-19 foot range to go along with an explosive ability to get to the rim off pick-and-rolls. His rebounding rates were all at career highs last season, posting a total rebounding rate of 20.7, and his defensive rebounding rate of 28.5 would be the best on Denver’s roster.
His defense is where you start to run into some issue. Describing it as apathetic would be a kindness as both his Synergy numbers and the eye-test do nothing but crucify him in this area. Playing him at center did not help matters as he was killed in the post by big men but playing out of position doesn’t excuse all his missed rotations and ill-timed doubles. The Blazers were nearly three points better per 100-possession when Hickson was off the court and when you factor in how brutal their bench unit was, that number becomes an even greater indictment.
$5 million per year for a big with Hickson’s kind of production last year is a very fair price and one comparable to his market value as an oh-so-coveted big man. However, it is an expensive price to pay for a back-up center, especially when you consider that Denver just recently traded away a much cheaper one in Koufos.
Additionally he joins a parade of big men on Denver who can’t play defense and even if they decide to play him at his much more natural position of power forward, he makes Darrell Arthur redundant. According to the Woj report, Denver is still in talks to reach an agreement with Mozgov which would pretty much cap the team out (excluding Iguodala’s trade exception).
Upon further inspection, this is not as disastrous a move as I initially thought but it remains a frustrating one. This is a season where Denver needs to throw everything they have against the wall to see what sticks and to see what needs to go. Giving a three-year contract to a big man who doesn’t make the team significantly better only crowds the front court and reduces the cap flexibility of next year in a time where that flexibility needs to be a premium.
There is also no guarantee that last year’s J.J. Hickson is the one that will be playing for Denver this season. His numbers across the board were at career highs and while his contract is a fair one for what he did last year, it takes a significant downturn in value if given to the player he was in every other season of his career. And that is worrying.
All in all it is a nice signing in a vacuum, but one that remains curious in this particular context. If Hickson remains at the level he played at last season (or maybe even improves) he’ll help with some spacing problems and deepen the front court rotation. The defense will be bad, but it was going to be regardless. Like all offseason moves, the true judge of its merits will have to wait until the season actually begins but the cap ramifications means that this will likely be the last big move Denver can make, barring a trade.