#NuggetsRank No. 9: J.J. Hickson

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


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Joel is a long time Denver Nuggets (and Broncos) fan from Colorado who's been living in Japan since the mid-90s, and blogging about the Nuggets since 2008. You can contact and follow him on Twitter: @denbutsu.
  • Gregory Houston

    The rest of the list:
    1. Ty Lawson
    2. Danilo Gallinari
    3. Wilson Chandler
    4. JaVale McGee
    5. Kenneth Faried
    6. Nate Robinson
    7. Evan Fournier
    8. Andre Miller

    • Paul Griggs

      1. Gallo (best rounded player but injury prone), 2. Lawson (great quickness on up tempo O but lousy defender, can’t run the half court), 3. Chandler (might be the best if it weren’t for nagging injuries), 4. Faried (energetic but undisciplined), 5. Miller (borderline HOFer, can run the half court) 6. Fournier (could go higher with experience, fundamentally sound), 7. McGee (big goofball), 8. Robinson (not a team player, a smaller version of JR Smith)

  • Kody R

    Hickson coming off our bench or even starting with Faried coming off the bench could be dangerous. As long as Shaw gets the team to play something that at least resembles defense

  • dynamo.joe

    If last year was for real, he should be top 3, if not #1. Given his performance in CLE and SAC it’s a legitimate concern.

    His inclusion is actually tailor made (offensively) for a Andre Miller line up. He can actually draw his defender outside, so Miller can post up his man. Miller, Fours, JHam, Gallo/Chandler/Arthur, Hickson. Should be able to work inside/out with Miller inside. Kinda assuming Gallo comes back with the second unit until he gets his legs back and that Arthur is backing up Faried early in the season.

    I know everyone wants to cry about his defense, but before shedding too many tears you might try to remember that defensive rebounds ARE defense. The entire point of defense is to regain possession. Most shots in the NBA are misses. Rebounding your opponents misses is GREAT defense.

    • dnuggetspl

      “He can actually draw his defender outside, so Miller can post up his man.”

      Oh yeah, Nuggets finally found their go-to-move
      To be honest, I really really hope , days when Andre Miller was allowed to drive to the basket and cause uncoantable amount of turnovers are over. Lets move on, Brian

      • Paul Griggs

        Miller’s the only guy on the team (maybe Fournier) who can run a half court O. For all his attitude issues, inconsistency and lack of athleticism he does a pretty good job and would start for most teams. He’s not a HOFer but he’s close.

        • dnuggetspl

          You are right, but now, since Brian Shaw announced that he is going to teach those young guys halfcourt offense, there will be more players able to run it

  • alex47666

    You say he has talents that other players have, but you didnt mention he will be the only big man that has all those talents. Its not fair to be so critical of the nuggets for signing him. Personally he should be starting, and have faried and nate as a spark coming off the bench. faried would be more consistent if he came of the bench.

    • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com/ JoelRMC

      I don’t feel that I was overly critical. I acknowledged that it’s a reasonable contract. But I do think my concern about duplicated skills and how this roster doesn’t seem to fit together very well (at least on paper) are legit, as is being worried about him regressing to the mean.

      But hey, nothing would make me happier than for HIckson to prove that these concerns won’t play out. I’ll give both him and Shaw the benefit of the doubt, and stay open-minded and hopeful that these red flags don’t end up being as detrimental as they potentially could. But I won’t pretend they’re not there. If we can’t (at least at times) examine the Nuggets as critically and objectively as possible, our analysis won’t be worth much.