There’s been much fan controversy in the preseason surrounding the battle at power forward between incumbent starter Kenneth Faried and summer transplant J.J. Hickson. This debate was taken to a new heights Monday night when the Denver Nuggets’ Twitter account published a tweet stating, “With Kenneth Faried just returning from hamstring strain, Although many Nuggets fans (including yours truly) are admittedly partial towards the Manimal, Brian Shaw certainly is not. Brian Shaw’s primary objective is to win basketball games by implementing a system he believes in. If this means Hickson wins the starting job, that’s Shaw’s prerogative to decide. And though many fans may remain baffled by this development, the following series of numbers and charts should offer a reasonable explanation as to why Shaw’s leaning towards the decision he is. coach Brian Shaw leaning toward starting J.J. Hickson Wednesday.”
One of the biggest differences between Faried and Hickson is their offensive repertoires. Though neither player possesses an arsenal of post moves, J.J. Hickson does offer one valuable skill that Faried does not: shooting. Note the graphics below, courtesy of NBA.com:
Hickson’s 2012-13 shot attempts by distance
Faried’s 2012-13 shot attempts by distance
The discrepancy in shooting between the two power forwards is even further illuminated by the charts below, also courtesy of NBA.com:
Hickson’s 2012-13 shot chart
Faried’s 2012-13 shot chart
In examining the above charts it’s important to note what each color represents: Green indicates an area in which the selected player shoots a higher percentage than the NBA league average; yellow represents the league average; and red is below average. Of the nine designated zones inside the 3-point arc (since we know neither player is adept at making it rain from outside), Hickson shoots better than the league average in six and only below league average in one. Faried, on the other hand, shoots above the league average in only two areas of the floor — and those are skewed, given he only took a combined five shots in those regions all season — and below the league average in five zones.
According to NBA.com, J.J. Hickson took 146 shots last season that technically qualify as “midrange” attempts; he converted 47 percent of them. Faried, meanwhile, took 71 of these same attempts and found the bottom of the net only 28 percent of the time. In other words, J.J. Hickson is a 20 percent better midrange shooter than Kenneth Faried!
What we can conclude from the above data is that J.J. Hickson is a much better shooter than Kenneth Faried, in every category imaginable. Not only can Hickson stretch the floor, but he can do so at an extremely efficient rate. However, as well all know, sports are a two-sided affair. Offense only accounts for 50 percent of the 48 minutes played in an NBA game. So should Manimal advocates still have hope? Let’s find out…
The following graphics, taken from mySynergySports.com, display advanced defensive statistics for both the players at hand:
Hickson’s 2012-13 defensive Synergy stats
Faried’s 2012-13 defense Synergy stats
The writing is on the wall — err, webpage. Kenneth Faried is, according the data, slightly better at defense than J.J. Hickson. He blocks shots at a higher rate (not shown above), has a better overall defensive rating (according to NBA.com, but also not shown above) and allows fewer points per possession in both isolation play (which I believe is a hallmark of measuring defensive prowess) and post-up opportunities. If Faried apologists are looking for some form of pride to hang their hats on, I’d suggest juxtaposing defensive isolation numbers, as Faried prevents his opponents from scoring nine percent more often than Hickson does. Additionally, Faried still brings a level of energy and passion that simply cannot be quantified numerically.
What I’ve learned (and hopefully you have, as well) from analyzing Faried and Hickson using the information presented above, is that neither of the two are that dissimilar. Both played about 28 minutes per game last year and accumulated close to identical stats. Though Hickson is without question a better offensive player with a more rangy shooting touch, he still only averaged one more point per game than Faried last year. If Shaw desires to distribute most of the frontcourt minutes to players with expanded offensive games, then he’ll undoubtedly roll with Hickson. However, this choice will not come without consequence; it will slightly hinder the Nuggets on the defensive side of the ball.
The biggest dilemma Shaw will face with Faried and Hickson as the season progresses is which of the two has the overall best impact on the team. If Faried does improve his defense and shooting, and continues to grow as a player all while infusing the team with his regular passion for the game, Shaw must be able to accurately evaluate whether the Nuggets are a better team — as a whole — with Faried inserted into the starting lineup, thereby garnering most of the minutes at power forward. What Shaw can’t do is grant Hickson more minutes solely because he’s a better shooter. Hickson’s overall impact on both sides of the ball must prove to be greater than Faried’s in order for Shaw to justify keeping him in the starting lineup.