Every year around this time ESPN introduces its annual #NBArank series codifying all 500 players in the NBA from least to most valuable. Last year Roundball Mining Company decided to get in on the action and began ranking each of the players on the Denver Nuggets’ final 15-man roster in the same fashion. We’ve polled all seven of our writers, asking them to arrange each player on the Nuggets roster from one to 15 (one being the best, 15 the least valuable), then we added everyone’s scores together to come up with a single, definitive list of the 15 “most valuable” Denver Nuggets. J.J. Hickson, the third of Denver’s four recent acquisitions, comes in at No. 9 in our #NuggetsRank series.
On paper, it’s not unreasonable to sign a player of Hickson’s caliber to the 3-year, $16 million deal Denver gave him. But the real question for the Nuggets is how good of a fit he’ll be on their roster. Considering that their biggest offseason losses (Iguodala, Koufos and Brewer) were most valuable to the team on the defensive end, their decision to pick up Hickson – infamous for his porous defense – was somewhat mystifying.
True, he brings one defensive asset which Denver sorely lacked. Despite the Nuggets being fourth in overall rebound rate last season, they were a measly 27th in defensive rebound rate. Playing out of position at center for the Trail Blazers in 2012-13, Hickson had an elite defensive rebound rate of 28.5 that was sixth in the league. As such, he should at the very least bolster Denver’s strength in that department.
Even so, The Nuggets’ decision to sign Hickson remains puzzling, as there’s not much he’s proven capable of doing that other players on the Nuggets roster don’t already do as well or better. Faried is just as good on the offensive glass, and better as an energy spark. McGee has been consistently better over his career at finishing around the rim and shot blocking. Arthur, who Denver traded for prior to signing Hickson, is a more reliable mid- and long-range shooter. Hickson brings the Nuggets so many redundant talents – and nothing in the way of alleviating the poor frontcourt defense of Faried and McGee – that it’s difficult to make much sense of the move except as an asset stash or a precursor to a midseason trade.
Perhaps the biggest unknown looming ahead for Hickson is whether his career rebounding numbers and sudden jump in offensive efficiency last season were authentic improvements or flashes in the pan. Through his first four seasons, Hickson averaged a tepid offensive rating of just under 103. Last season, however, he abruptly leapt to 113 due to the sudden discovery of a legit 10-23 foot jumper, a career-high offensive rebound rate, and a dramatically increased percentage of shot attempts taken at the rim.
If Hickson can maintain last season’s level of offensive production and become less of a defensive liability, he may well find himself higher up in next year’s #NuggetsRank. But with the lack of any evidence of defensive progress, and the risk of him regressing to the mean on offense, we couldn’t rank him higher than No. 9 this time around.
15. Anthony Randolph
14. Quincy Miller
13. Timofey Mozgov
12. Jordan Hamilton
11. Randy Foye
10. Darrell Arthur
9. J.J. Hickson