By the Numbers: Hickson vs. Faried

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, coach Brian Shaw leaning toward starting J.J. Hickson Wednesday.” 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.

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

Hickson's shots

Faried’s 2012-13 shot attempts by distance

Faried's shots
J.J. Hickson trumps Faried in every shooting category spliced by 8-foot increments moving away from the basket. He shoots over one percent higher than Faried within 8 feet from the rim, nine percent higher between 8 and 16 feet and nearly 20 percent higher than Faried from 16 to 24 feet! Remember: These are not simply shots J.J. Hickson is taking; these are shots J.J. Hickson is taking, and making. Faried has yet to display a robust confidence when it comes to even taking midrange jumpers.

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

Hickson's shot chart

Faried’s 2012-13 shot chart

Faried's 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

Hickson's defense

Faried’s 2012-13 defense Synergy stats

Faried's defense

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.

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Kalen Deremo

Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.

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  • Nathan Jansen

    I’ll dispute the Hickson is the better offensive player. First off, you’re using just last year’s numbers, Faried’s worst year and Hickson’s best. They are both likely to revert back towards their career averages where Faried has an advantage. As for the jumpshot, I don’t believe it’s as big of an advantage as you think it is. Yes, Hickson can hit a higher percentage but he still doesn’t hit a high enough percentage to make the shot worthwhile. At those percentages he should only take that shot if the shot-clock is dwindling and, judging from the volume, he’s taking many of those shots early in the shot clock when a higher percentage shot could certainly be found. I suppose you’ll argue spacing but, hell, I’d give Hickson that shot all day. And how bad could the spacing be with Faried in the game if he consistently blows away Hickson in offensive rating?

    • Fraser Nixon

      Man I’m pro Faried starting too, but I don’t think your arguments are right on- Faried only played 2 years in the NBA, his ‘best year’ was a shortened year where he was an unknown rookie (no one checked him or knew what he could do) and he only played limited minutes. Of course his production dropped as a starter. I think last year is probably an accurate prediction on what we can expect from Faried again this year.
      Also JJ Hickson’s jumper is legit. he’s shooting nearly a 50% clip from mid range, that’s really, really good. IF. IF he can reproduce those shooting %’s then he will be a great asset and definitely will space the floor a little bit giving bigger driving lanes to the basket and leaving JaVale more room to operate.

      • Nathan Jansen

        So Faried got a honeymoon period where the league couldn’t figure him out but Hickson didn’t? And you’re penalizing for having good numbers in his rookie season? That makes not sense to me. Rookies are supposed to be bad.
        If Hickson’s jumper opens up such big driving lines to the basket how do you explain Faried’s Offensive Rating being higher?
        I’m not saying Hickson is bad but I don’t think that jumper is all it’s cracked up to be. Defenses around the league are just begging you to take that shot, why would we encourage it?

        • Fraser Nixon

          I don’t think Faried was in anyone’s scouting reports in his rookie year, but I bet that either 1st or 2nd on their reports last year was “Get a body on Faried”, I think this will continue and I don’t expect him to become more efficient than he already is UNLESS he adds tangible skills (elbow jumper, post game, better passing).
          As for Hickson yeah it’s not the more efficient shot on the court… normally. But if you can hit it at 48% then that not a terrible shot by any means (Nuggets had an efg of 51.5% last season, which I expect to drop as part of Shaw’s less efficient system)

          Side note/ I quite liked George Karl’s system, it was his rotation that was bonkers. We played super efficiently offensively with lots of dunks, layups and 3’s. We gambled lots on defense which gave up some easy baskets but also led to heaps of uncontested layups for us too. The problem IMO wasn’t the system (Hell, we won 57 games with the system!) but GK just needed a shock collar to give him a buzz everytime he tried to play Wilson Chandler at C, or play Andre miller as a secondary PG when he would actually have to defend,

          • Nathan Jansen

            How many games do you need on film before you realize you need to get a body on Faried? Three, maybe? I think it’s more likely that it was just really hard to get a body on Faried. I think he got a bit complacent last year, didn’t see him working as hard. I expect him to get more efficient, and just better in general, with age. It would be shocking to me if his rookie year was the best in his career. That doesn’t happen too often. I also expect Hickson to regress at least a little because last year was such a statistical outlier for him. Hoping he just figured it out though.

            The Nuggets 8th ranked eFG of 51.5%. 48% would put you at the (gulp) Pacer’s 24th ranked eFG. It should be a shot of last resort is all I’m saying. I think the spacing benefits of long range twos is overrated but I’m probably in the minority there.

            Totally agree with your side note.

            • Bryan

              Faried didn’t start the season his rookie year. It took Nene getting injured before Karl played him, and it took Masai trading Nene before Karl would play him regularly.

              Also, the NBA isn’t like the NFL where teams have a week to prepare for an opponent and recognize different players tendencies and weaknesses. There are so many games you can’t focus on players tendencies like that. Especially, not after just a couple of games in which a guy pulls down lots of rebounds.

              Faried is an okay defender in the post and excellent in transition but he is horrific on the perimeter. Coupled with his non-existent offensive game and I fail to see the issue. His biggest strengths, hustle and energy are probably more suited to coming off the bench anyway. Especially, playing at home you would expect that Faried coming in the game as teams are losing their wind would bolster his offensive production. Guys are going to be having trouble catching their breath and they’ll have to try to keep up with the Manimal? Good luck.

              In terms of defensive comparisons, I think it’s also worth noting that Hickson spent a lot of time playing center last year. So hopefully playing guys that aren’t bigger than him will lead to some better performances on defense for him.

              • Nathan Jansen

                Well, I disagree with nearly everything you said. I will add that I’m fine with Faried coming of the bench as long as he gets 30+ minutes.

              • Thomas

                I agree with pretty much everything you said, Nathan.

                Shaw can start whoever he wants, as long as Faried plays considerably more than 28 minutes.

                People are giving no importance to the fact that Faried got his numbers on a 57-win team, while JJ got his on so-so teams. Hopefully people will realize this

                I’m as worried about having Foye taking over major SG minutes. That’s a sign your team is not very good. Boring, one dimensional player.

                Shaw is probably very good at team concepts, positioning, teaching fundamentals. I am not impressed by his evaluation of individual talent. Very skeptical of the Randolph experiment.

          • Chris

            I believe your final paragraph best represents reality and is certainly the way I feel as well. Nothing frustrated me more than Karl’s completely illogical rotations that were based almost solely (as far as I could tell) from his personal infatuations with certain players. We saw this for years with Anthony Carter, who was not good enough to even sit the bench on any other team but was a starter with our team. We have seen it more recently with Andre Miller, who certainly has qualities to contribute but was significantly overused and more importantly misused by Karl. His defense is a serious liability on a team that cannot afford his type of laziness. I realize Dre believes he is still a starter but that is not reality. He needs no more than 10-15 minutes a game, if that.

            I am a huge Faried fan but also accept his skillset as what it is at this point. Until he improves his offensive skills I like the idea of him being a 1-2 energy punch off the bench with Robinson and/or Miller. Once Chandler/Gallo get healthy I see the bench of Robinson/Fournier/Chandler/Faried being arguably the best second unit in the league. Obviously you can interchange Hickson/Foye with Faried/Fournier in either unit as dictated by performance.

            Here’s to hoping that we can stay afloat while getting healthy, and then make a big push second half when we start to gel and/or pull off a beneficial trade. Perhaps a team will be struck with PG injuries and will be willing to overpay for Miller. Or he can be packaged with other assets to bring in a significant contributor.

            • Thomas

              This is what the guys in wages of wins and boxscoregeeks refer to as “YAY points” – people tend to value players based on their ability to score points. It is a flawed view.

              Scoring is important, but also rebounding, passing, defending, blocking, setting screens, hustling, etc. Not every player will excel at all skills, what is important is their absolute contribution to team wins based on their particular skill set.

              Faried is awesome at what he does. That translates to wins, a lot of them. Gallo is an above average scorer for his position, and that also translates to wins. To think of Faried in terms of him scoring more from the outside is to misunderstand this very basic premise required for winning. A big mistake, one I hope Shaw doesn’t do.

              Having said that, it is still much better than having GK.

  • Trevor

    I broke down their advanced statistics for last season after Hickson was signed and they were very similar with Faried having a slight edge. But the seasons prior to the previous Hickson was terrible, hence the reason he played for three different teams early in his career. If he continues his good play from last season then I could see Shaw starting him and having Faried play big mins as the 6th man. Let’s hope Hickson figured out how to play and wasn’t just gunning for a big payday

  • Charliemyboy

    Not enough information. PER, rebounds, steals; where are they? How do you gauge impact on game for energy and other intangibles? There are a lot of eyes on Faried; never heard of Hickson before he became a Nugget. Why can’t Faried play with Javale… positioning? Here might be where Hickson has advantage. What does Javale do when Faried is in with him as compared without? Remember Rodman? He couldn’t shoot and is a hall of famer. Faried needs to live and breathe defense; he is a truly elite NBA athlete.

    • Thomas

      Amen. This question should be tweaked to mean “what can Javale do different to fit into Faried’s strengths”, as Faried is much better and reliable at what he does.

    • Trevor

      http://www.roundballminingcompany.com/2013/07/24/spurs-to-sign-and-trade-for-mozgov/#comment-976298146

      This is a convo that I was talking about were Hickson and Faried’s advanced statistics were discussed.

      The issue with Faried and Mcgee on the court together stemmed from their poor defensive rotations and positioning. Mcgee particularity likes to leave his guy and go for the block leaving his guy open at the rim. Faried just doesn’t understand where to be, how to protect the rim, and when to rotate. This can all be coached and was just something that Karl neglected. If Shaw commits to defense and drills these guys I see no reason they couldn’t be effective on the court together.

  • Daniel Yost

    A couple things. I’ll start by saying I’m a huge Faried fan and appreciate the passion and seemingly limitless energy he brings to the team. It fit in perfectly with the frenetic pace of a GK led team.

    We have already seen how Faried is struggling to adapt to the more traditional approach in the preseason. It was easy to hide his flaws on offense and defense with GK.

    JJ Hickson seems like a perfect fit for the shaw system. He can stretch the floor on offense and let Javale hang out inside and work on his post moves. And we already know how atrocious the Faried/Mcgee combo on defense was last year. Plus wasn’t JJ Hickson playing the 5 for the most part last year with Portland? To me that makes the above defensive statistics invalid. It will be interesting to see how effective he is playing his natural position, especially playing next to a premier shot blocker.

    Like someone else already said, the Manimals skill set would be much better suited coming off the bench with all his energy.

  • Thomas

    Kalen,

    Need to correct you here. You said that JJ Hickson shot better than Faried from any location last year. First of all, as others have pointed out, last year most likely was an outlier for Hickson and he might very well revert to his career avgs as a PF.

    If you look into NBA stats for each player and select “basic zones” on zone modes, you will see that Hickson shot worse than Faried in the paint. This can be confirmed by stats of basketball-reference that show that Faried is a better shooter from 3-10ft. Particularly, Faried’s hook shot and jump shot (from less than 10 feet) was better than Hickson’s last year. If I recall from watching one or two Blazers games last season, Hickson tends to get blocked quite frequently when attempting these close range jump shots.

    Hopefully Shaw will come around and realize soon enough who needs more minutes.

  • pgwarner

    Brian Shaw’s system? I keep hearing all about the guy who was the only coach left when Josh finally got around to making an offer. Shaw had been turned down by everyone else. The NBA is a players league. Who cares what his system is. Sure “The Triangle” when you have three HOF’ers on each team its really cool to run. LOL