Posts Tagged ‘J.J. Hickson’

Hickson’s Flexibility Vital To Hot Nuggets


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson finishes off the Randy Foye lob with force

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA hands out end-of-year awards for just about everything, so why not an MAP award?

Most Adaptable Player.

If such an honor existed, the Denver Nuggets’ 6-foot-9 starting center J.J. Hickson would (again) be a leading candidate. While undersized for the position, he played it all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers and had a breakout year offensively, averaging a double-double (12.7 ppg and 10.4 rpg).

A free agent in the offseason, he signed with Denver where the talented-but yet-to-put-it-all-together 7-footer JaVale McGee was hyped as the starting center and 7-foot-1 free-agent Timofey Mozgov re-signed, too. That meant the bruising, 242-pound Hickson could return to his more natural position of power forward, albeit behind entrenched starter Kenneth Faried, and get back to battling guys more his size.

Here’s what Hickson told me back in February about playing center for the Blazers and what it meant for his impending free agency:

“The NBA world knows what my true position is and they know I’m sacrificing for my team, and I think that helps us even more knowing that I’m willing to play the ‘5’ to help us get wins.”

In July, Hickson, 25, signed a three-year, $16.1 million contract with the Nuggets. Five games into the season, McGee went down with a stress fracture to his leg and remains out indefinitely. First-year coach Brian Shaw could have picked Mozgov as the traditional choice to start in Shaw’s inside-first offense. But Shaw chose Hickson.

“Some things never change it feels like,” Hickson said of starting at center again. “History does tend to repeat itself at times. I’m doing whatever it takes to win games and if it means playing center, that’s what I’ll do.”

Hickson said Shaw came to him and simply told him, “You’re starting at center.”

“Ever since that day, I accepted the challenge,” Hickson said.

Since Hickson took over at center, the Nuggets (13-8) have won 12 of 16 games following a rough 1-4 start that had critics of the franchise’s sudden overhaul — specifically the firing of longtime coach George Karl — shouting told-you-so.

Hickson is averaging 10.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg this season. He’s produced five double-doubles in his last 16 games — including an 18-point, 19-rebound effort against Oklahoma City — plus six more games with at least eight rebounds. As the starting center, he’s averaging 12.1 ppg on 51.9 percent shooting and 8.5 rpg in 25.6 mpg.

Without All-Star-caliber point guard Ty Lawson in the lineup the last two games due to a hamstring injury, the Nuggets won both to finish their six-game all-Eastern Conference road swing 4-2. Hickson combined for 21 points on 50 percent shooting and 18 rebounds in the two games while essentially splitting time with Mozgov.

“After every game, every practice I feel we’re jelling more and more and we trust each other more on the court,” Hickson said prior to the trip. “We’re playing together, we’re having fun, we’re learning how to close out games. Just the camaraderie amongst each other is great.”

Initially, Hickson’s signing in Denver seemed curious because it seemed to mean his accepting a bench role behind Faried. But the Nuggets needed additional frontline toughness and Hickson is happy to deliver. He won’t earn votes for the All-Defensive team, but he’s also not the turnstile the advanced stats crowd makes him out to be. Part of it is simply that Hickson is undersized and out of position practically every game.

Until McGee returns, Hickson is likely to continue to start in the middle. And even then, it’s not like McGee was tearing it up before his injury. Shaw saw fit to play McGee just 15.8 mpg as the starter, fewer minutes than even Karl — hardly McGee’s biggest fan — could stand bringing him off the bench.

When McGee eventually does work himself back into the starting lineup, it will at least provide the opportunity for Hickson to return to power forward. Not that he won’t keep fighting to stay in the starting lineup, no matter the position.

“I’d be lying if I said I came here to play backup, but that’s competition,” Hickson said. “That’s still to be determined and we’ll cross that road when we get there.”

Until then, Hickson will just keep adapting.

Back And Forth With Bones: Nuggets-Jazz

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an e-mail exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 0-7 Utah Jazz try to get off the schneid, hosting the 1-4 Denver Nuggets on NBA TV.

Pre-game

Schuhmann: Hey Bones, tonight we have the Nuggets and Jazz, who are arguably the two worst teams in the league right now. There are better games on League Pass, but this one isn’t without some intrigue.

Denver has obviously undergone a stylistic change under Brian Shaw. After attempting over 45 percent of their shots from the restricted area each of the last two seasons, they’ve attempted just 32 percent of their shots from there this year. They’re down to 10th and 20th in fast break points and offensive rebounding percentage respectively, after leading the league in both of those categories last year.

Their frontcourt rotation has been a mess without Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler (who is supposed to return tonight). I believe Shaw wants to work the offense through their bigs, but I don’t see any bigs on that roster that can function as a focal point offensively.

Meanwhile, I thought the Jazz would be better defensively after seeing their numbers with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter on the floor last season, but they rank 27th on that end, unable to get boards or keep their opponents off the line. Offensively, Gordon Hayward has the goods, but this team can’t hit a shot from the outside.

So, questions for you:
1. Are you on board with what Shaw is trying to do? Is it just a matter of time (and health) before the Nuggets get on track, or do they need to get back to running and attacking the basket?
2. Do the Jazz have more ability to be a decent offensive team (maybe the shots will start falling at some point) or a decent defensive team (as the bigs develop)?


VIDEO: Jazz broadcaster David Locke discusses Utah’s tough season

Barry: The Jazz are absolutely horrible at getting ball to go through the hoop, important that you can do that — it is called scoring. Last in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

They’re getting exposed at point guard and can’t put pressure on opposing teams, most of which have pretty good ones, especially in the West.

It’s new territory for the team in terms of bearing heavy minutes, when and how to conserve legs and effort. Bigs worried about picking up scoring takes away rebounding focus. It will be interesting to see if they play confident or embarrassed to open up the game.

For the Nuggets, Shaw is still trying to find rotations that mesh with injuries to key players (Gallo, Kenneth Faried and now JaVale McGee). There’s no way Denver can play through bigs, so it will be interesting to see how Brian is managing the guard play.

Ty Lawson is playing a ton of minutes. Randy Foye next, but top three gunners are Ty (85 FGA), Nate Robinson (45), and Foye (44). They’re losing a bit of a defensive mentality/flexibility with Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala gone.

Karl loved misfits, mismatches and mental games. It’s hard for new coach to get there without a better understanding, but even tougher when the old coach won a bunch too!

1st quarter

The Jazz got off to a strong start, scoring 26 points on a stretch of 16 possessions in the middle of the first quarter. The Nuggets shot just 8-for-21 in the period, but were only down six.

Schuhmann: The Nuggets are trying to post up Faried early on. I don’t get it.

Barry: And apparently are afraid to touch the paint on the defensive end. Some of the possessions are leaving them with bad floor balance and Jazz looking to run with purpose to score to start a game they really need to win.


VIDEO: Derrick Favors gets up to reject J.J. Hickson

They need a release from the winless start and a close game doesn’t do it.

Schuhmann: Turnovers have been an issue for the Jazz – 2nd highest rate in the league – and they don’t have any through 18 possessions. Favors looks more comfortable in the post than any of the Denver bigs.

Barry: Great patience vs. Mozgov. Fatigue moves the last two, but he responds with a block.

Barry: Good first quarter, but guys got a little tired for Jazz. Feels like Denver got away with one.

2nd quarter (UTA leads 26-20)

The Jazz scored on just three of their first 14 possessions and committed seven turnovers in the period after committing none in the first. The Nuggets had turnover issues of their own, but went on a 19-8 run late in the period to take a five point lead. Four points from Hayward made it a one-point game at the half.

Schuhmann: The Denver offense looks best when Lawson is attacking off the dribble. Not sure what else they can rely on.

Barry: They’ve just lost a lot of dynamic play on the wings with Brewer/Iggy gone and utility/tough matchups in Chandler/Gallo. You can see how they bog down.

Barry: But I do see signs of DHO (dribble hand-offs) and use of the pinch post in the Nuggets’ offense.


VIDEO: Andre Miller loses Jamaal Tinsley with a crafty crossover move

Schuhmann: That move by Andre Miller made my night.

Barry: And his.

Barry: Interesting for Utah to try to take advantage of Hayward in the post on Miller when doubles don’t result in anything good, because the Jazz can’t shoot it from distance.

Schuhmann: 10 combined turnovers in first six minutes of the second quarter. I’m starting to understand why these teams are a combined 1-11.


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson posterizes Jazz forward Marvin Williams

Halftime (DEN leads 46-45)


VIDEO: First half highlights from Nuggets-Jazz

Schuhmann: The Nuggets got things going in the second quarter when they – one – took care of the ball and – two – attacked the basket. 19 of their 26 points came in the paint or at the line.

Barry: And there lies the problem. Kanter and Favors will need to learn how to patrol and control the lower defensive box. Tonight, they are not having to deal with stretch bigs. It’s a technique/muscle game that they are struggling with.

Barry: Some worrisome numbers from PG for the Jazz. Lawson’s numbers at the half (eight points and six assists) might end up being more than the Lucas/Tinsley combo for the game. No playmaking to promote flow for the Jazz. All plays on one’s own to score.

3rd quarter

With the Jazz continuing to struggle offensively, the Nugget built a seven-point lead. But Favors scored seven straight points late in the period to keep it close.

Schuhmann: Lots of Favors in the post again. No double-teams = no ball movement. Denver willing to live with single coverage everywhere.

Schuhmann: Jazz had some pick-and-roll success in the third with a couple of nifty big-to-big passes between Favors and Gobert. Gets the defense moving more than straight post-ups.

Barry: When you can load up elbows and boxes the Jazz have very little room to find offense.

4th quarter (DEN leads 70-68)

The Jazz took a brief lead on an Alec Burks three-point play, but the Nuggets answered with a 10-1 run and scored 13 times in a 15-possession stretch to put the game away.

Barry: Penalty at 10:18 for the Jazz.


VIDEO: Nate Robinson lobs and Kenneth Faried finishes it off

Barry: Great dime by Nate. Pressure mounting on the Jazz, 0-7 and being down at home. Expect some roster change out of this timeout as Ty won’t want to put more pressure on guys to finish it out.

Barry: And there they are…

Barry: Offensive rebounds are crushing the Jazz.

Schuhmann: Yep. Pick-and-rolls are putting their bigs out of position.

Barry: But no reason to be extended that far. Strange injury to Manimal, if he doesn’t come back Utah will have a chance.

Barry: More Dre. Good call by B-Shaw.

Barry: Andre is fantastic… Great drive and shot before Gobert could get feet set to block. And Manimal is back. Not good for the Jazz.

Barry: Utah bigs just seem unaware of how far they are extending. They’re opening up drives and offensive rebounds for Denver. For the last three minutes, Ty can dictate tempo, whereas Utah has no point.

Final: Nuggets 100, Jazz 81


VIDEO: Nuggets pick up road win in Utah

Lawson led Denver with 17 points and 10 assists. Faried added 15 points and 13 rebounds and Miller added another 15 points off the bench for the Nuggets, who had a 48-36 advantage in the paint, a 52-35 advantage on the glass, and a 23-16 edge at the free throw line. Favors finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, but the Jazz shot a brutal 3-for-17 from 3-point range and are shooting 23 percent from beyond the arc through eight games.

Schuhmann: It’s tough to score with no penetration and no shooting. We saw some decent post-ups from Favors, but the bigs don’t demand a double-team down there.

Denver looked good when they went to last year’s formula of dribble penetration from the point guards and crashing the glass, though with Brewer and Iguodala gone, they’ve lost a lot of their potency on the break. I’m not a fan of trying to work through Faried or Hickson in the post, but they went away from that in the second half. Of course, we can’t really evaluate their D from a game against the Jazz.

Barry: No, but the Horns set seemed to open up basic opportunities for Denver. They will look much different when they have a full complement of players.

But the Jazz have reasons for concern, as Trey Burke is not going to come in and take the Western Conference PG position by storm.

McGee’s Injury Adds To Denver’s Woe

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – JaVale McGee‘s hope-filled season started poorly and has taken a sharp turn for the worse. McGee is out indefinitely with a fracture to his left shin, the team announced Sunday.

This season was supposed to be something of a new start for the 7-foot center renowned more for his goofiness than his contributions in his five previous seasons, three-and-a-half spent with the Washington Wizards before getting traded to Denver.

Under rookie head coach Brian Shaw, McGee expected to take over as the starter, and he did, and figured to be a focal point of an offense that was turning more traditional coming out of George Karl’s up-tempo attack. But McGee’s minutes didn’t rise; they dipped to lower levels than under former coach George Karl, just 15.8 mpg. He was averaging 7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 1.4 bpg.

His struggles have mirrored the team’s lackluster performances leading to a 1-4 record coming off last season’s franchise-record 57 victories. Before training camp commenced, McGee, who dealt with left shin pain last season, was as juiced for this season as any previous year. He was determined to be taken seriously as a difference-making center.

“I feel like I’m extremely athletic, extremely fast, extremely agile for being a 7-foot big man and just need the right people behind me to be able to bring what has to come out to be a dominant center in the league,” McGee told NBA.com in September. “There’s a lot of things that haven’t even been [brought out] of my game that people haven’t even seen. So I just feel like this is going to be the season.

“It’s really up to the coach as to how he wants to use me. It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

Apparently Shaw wasn’t seeing what he wanted from the big man. Because McGee wasn’t playing much, perhaps his loss won’t be as costly as it might have been if he had gotten off to the start he had hoped. Shaw told reporters he’ll either start Timofey Mozgov or undersized J.J. Hickson, the 6-foot-9 power forward who played out of position in the middle all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Denver plays at winless Utah on Monday and returns home Wednesday to play the Los Angeles Lakers.

That McGee got off to such a slow start is discouraging for his future with a franchise that gave him a $44 million extension in the summer of 2012. Only 25, McGee has long been considered a talent just waiting to break out, yet is constantly sabotaged by errors or buffoonery of his own creation. He has enticing offensive skills on the block and is an excellent shot blocker, but he has never been able to put together a full repertoire and execute it.

Last season, Karl was asked why McGee couldn’t crack 18 mpg. Karl simply simply said he didn’t deserve more. Shaw apparently didn’t need to see much to be in agreement. Now McGee will sit idle as he waits for his shin to heal.

The transitioning Nuggets, meanwhile, will try to figure out how to string together consistent efforts with a roster still missing its top two forwards, Danilo Galinari, who continues to rehab from ACL surgery and Wilson Chandler, who has yet to play this season due to a hamstring injury.

McGee’s injury only adds to his personal frustration and the team’s growing challenge.

2013 Free Agents: The Numbers

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – At 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday, 144 free agents became available. While there are some big names at the top of the list, it’s not the deepest free-agent class we’ve seen.

Only two 2013 All-Stars — Chris Paul and Dwight Howard — are on the market. Only 19 of the 144 free agents scored at least 1,000 points last season, and only 11 started at least 50 games for a playoff team. One of those 11, of course, was Paul, who took himself off the market pretty quickly.

Two of the other 10 — Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings — started for the 38-44 Milwaukee Bucks. Jennings was a minus-289 last season. The other eight: Howard, Tony Allen, Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, Josh Smith, Tiago Splitter, Jeff Teague and David West.

Jennings’ minus-289 was not the worst mark of available free agents. That belongs to Byron Mullens, who was a minus-419 (in only 1,428 minutes) for the Bobcats last season. Mullens’ teammate Gerald Henderson was a minus-402.

The Bobcats were pretty awful whether or not Henderson was on the floor. The Bucks were pretty good (+6.9 points per 100 possessions) with Jennings on the bench and pretty bad (-4.4) with him in the game. His on-off-court differential of 11.2 points per 100 possessions was the worst among free agents who played at least 1,000 minutes with a single team last season.

Worst on-off-court NetRtg differential among free agents

Player Min. On NetRtg On NetRtg Off Diff.
Brandon Jennings 2,896 -4.4 +6.9 -11.2
D.J. Augustin 1,226 -1.1 +7.8 -8.9
Byron Mullens 1,428 -16.2 -7.4 -8.8
Tyler Hansbrough 1,366 -0.6 +8.0 -8.6
Al Jefferson 2,578 -3.5 +4.3 -7.8

Minimum 1,000 minutes with a single team
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Devin Harris, whose Hawks were 10.0 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the floor than when he was on the bench.

Best on-off-court NetRtg differential among free agents

Player Min. On NetRtg On NetRtg Off Diff.
Devin Harris 1,421 +7.3 -2.7 +10.0
David West 2,435 +8.5 -0.9 +9.4
DeMarre Carroll 1,111 +5.4 -3.1 +8.4
Kyle Korver 2,259 +4.4 -3.7 +8.0
Brandan Wright 1,149 +5.1 -2.6 +7.7

Minimum 1,000 minutes with a single team

It shouldn’t be any surprise that, on offense, Paul was the biggest difference maker of the 145 free agents …

Best on-off-court OffRtg differential among free agents

Player Min. On OffRtg On OffRtg Off Diff.
Chris Paul 2,335 112.1 101.3 +10.8
David West 2,435 104.9 96.1 +8.8
J.J. Redick (ORL) 1,575 103.7 95.3 +8.4
Kyle Korver 2,259 105.7 98.8 +6.8
Roger Mason Jr. 1,218 107.2 100.6 +6.6

Minimum 1,000 minutes
OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions

And it’s no surprise that the Lakers were much better defensively with Howard on the floor, or that the Grizzlies got more stops with Tony Allen in the game. Lamar Odom‘s DefRtg differential, combined with Paul topping the list above, makes it clear that the Clippers were an offensive team with their starters in the game and a defensive unit when they went to their bench.

Best on-off-court DefRtg differential among free agents

Player Min. On DefRtg On DefRtg Off Diff.
Lamar Odom 1,616 95.4 104.9 -9.5
Tony Allen 2,109 94.3 101.1 -6.8
Tiago Splitter 1,997 96.1 102.3 -6.3
Devin Harris 1,421 97.9 104.1 -6.2
Dwight Howard 2,722 101.7 107.8 -6.0

Minimum 1,000 minutes with a single team
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions

Redick was a big difference maker on offense with Orlando, in part, because he shot 39 percent from 3-point range and helped spread the floor. But he shot just 32 percent from beyond the arc after being traded to Milwaukee and isn’t among the top 10 3-point shooters among free agents…

Highest 3-point percentage among free agents

Player 3PM 3PA 3PT% 3PA%
Jose Calderon 130 282 46.1% 44.4%
Kyle Korver 189 414 45.7% 68.9%
Mike Dunleavy 128 299 42.8% 47.9%
Kevin Martin 158 371 42.6% 47.7%
Martell Webster 139 329 42.2% 51.7%
Chris Copeland 59 140 42.1% 36.8%
Roger Mason Jr. 66 159 41.5% 52.1%
C.J. Watson 88 214 41.1% 46.6%
Randy Foye 178 434 41.0% 58.8%
O.J. Mayo 142 349 40.7% 34.0%

Minimum 100 3PA
3PA% = 3PA/FGA

Howard ranked second among free agents in rebounding percentage, only topped by J.J. Hickson

Highest REB% among free agents

Player MIN OREB% DREB% REB%
J.J. Hickson 2,323 13.1% 28.0% 20.5%
Dwight Howard 2,722 10.6% 27.5% 19.3%
Zaza Pachulia 1,134 13.9% 21.5% 17.7%
Marreese Speights 1,300 12.6% 22.8% 17.4%
Lamar Odom 1,616 8.6% 25.2% 17.2%

Minimum 1,000 minutes
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds grabbed
REB% = Percentage of available total rebounds grabbed

There are a good amount of distributors on the market, including a couple of guys who had more assists than field goal attempts last season…

Highest ASTRatio among free agents

Player MIN FGA AST TO ASTRatio TORatio
Jamaal Tinsley 1,221 234 290 106 45.2 16.53
Pablo Prigioni 1,263 220 236 86 42.7 15.55
Jose Calderon 2,159 635 518 126 39.4 9.59
Chris Paul 2,335 856 678 159 36.9 8.66
Beno Udrih 1,457 476 302 108 32.4 11.60

Minimum 1,000 minutes
ASTRatio = Percentage of possessions ending in an assist
TORatio = Percentage of possessions ending in an turnover

Paul doesn’t only dish dimes, but he’s pretty good at getting himself to the free throw line, ranking fourth among non-big (PG, SG, SF) free agents in free throw rate…

Highest FTA Rate among non-big free agents

Player FGA FTM FTA FT% FTA Rate
Andrei Kirilenko 560 188 250 75.2% .446
Manu Ginobili 539 164 206 79.6% .382
Darren Collison 724 242 275 88.0% .380
Chris Paul 856 286 323 88.5% .377
Gerald Henderson 855 258 313 82.4% .366

Minimum 500 FGA
FTA Rate = FTA/FGA

Morning Shootaround — April 10

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Entering last night’s home game against the Suns, the Rockets needed only to win to clinch their first playoff berth in four seasons. A game against one of the West’s worst teams seemed to make that goal even easier to reach, but Phoenix showed plenty of fight all night and had the game tied with 9.1 seconds to play. The Rockets had their shot to lock up their postseason dream in the hands of All-Star James Harden, who took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that bounced off the rim … but as that was happening, the Suns’ Jermaine O’Neal went up through the net and touched the ball on the rim. The result? A goal-tending call … which meant a Rockets victory … which meant a playoff berth clinched … which, in turn, makes it our one to watch this morning.

News of the morning

Jay-Z looking to become NBA agent | James expects to rest down stretch | Blazers, Hickson ready to part ways | Lowry sounds off on first season in Toronto

Jay-Z looking to sell stake in Nets, become agentThe Nets have perhaps the most famous minority owner in all of the league, rapper Jay-Z. Although the hip-hop mogul owns less than 1 percent of the team, he was reportedly instrumental in the design of the Nets’ uniforms and has been a key figure in the team’s mostly successful first season in Brooklyn. But Jay-Z is never one to rest on his laurels and is thinking of getting into the agent game, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, and may soon sell his stake in the Nets to do so:

Entertainment mogul and rapper Jay-Z has started the process of divesting his small share of ownership with the Brooklyn Nets to extend his Roc Nation Sports representation business into basketball, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Selling his share of the Nets is a necessary prelude for Jay-Z to obtain his National Basketball Players Association certification as an agent.

NBA rules mandate that no one individual affiliated with a player representation company can have an ownership stake with an NBA team.

Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company has partnered with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to launch a sports representation business that recently secured New York Yankees star Robinson Cano.

The process is expected to be completed in time for Roc Nation to compete for players entering the June NBA draft, but there’s no guarantee of the timing, sources said. Those within Roc Nation and the CAA alliance aren’t “chasing a clock on this,” one source said. “This isn’t about one draft, but taking the long view of the business.”

Rival agents are anxious over the possibilities of Jay-Z on the recruiting trail, believing the lure of his iconic business and cultural standing will have a major impact on attracting top prospects and current league stars.

CAA and Jay-Z are taking time to carefully formalize the arrangement on the basketball end, sources told Y! Sports, and are sensitive to making sure he exits the Nets partnership in a way that is respectful to the organization.

LeBron likely to rest down stretch of seasonFans planning on seeing the Heat — and their vaunted Big Three — between now and the end of the season might want to save their money. Already the Heat have been without Dwyane Wade (knee) for five straight games and Chris Bosh sat out last night’s win over the Bucks as he recovers from the flu. LeBron James did play against Milwaukee and had his usual stellar night, but even he is likely to rest some games as Miami comes to the end of their season, writes David J. Neal of the Miami Herald:

LeBron James said Tuesday morning he would be a scratch for some of the last six. Dwyane Wade will travel to Washington for Wednesday’s game, but is no lock to play. Center Chris Bosh called in sick Tuesday and could miss Wednesday’s game at Washington, too.

“He has flulike symptoms, so unless he gets dramatically better [he won’t travel],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before Tuesday’s game with Milwaukee. “It’s something we talked about. I don’t know if we will bring him around everybody.”

Spoelstra said Wade is day-to-day with his knee and ankle injuries. Wade went through Tuesday’s morning shootaround and worked out later in the day.

James said he’s “getting back to form” and his hamstring has “reacted well the last few days.”

But as for the last six games…

“I want to play, but I’m going to go against myself for the first time in my career,” James said. “OK, probably about the third time in my career. I sat out a few games when we had it locked up in Cleveland as well, to really use those games to get healthy as well.”

James started Tuesday with point guard Mario Chalmers and forwards Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem.

Hickson, Blazers set to move on separatelyBy the time J.J. Hickson arrived in Portland on March 21, 2012, his NBA stock couldn’t have been much lower. The Kings had dealt for him before the 2011-12 season with hopes he’d shore up their front line, but Hickson mostly disappointed in Sacramento. After arriving in Portland, though, Hickson’s numbers rose dramatically as he averaged 15.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg in 19 games with the Blazers. This season, it’s been even more success for the big man, as he’s averaging a double-double (12.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg) for a thin Portland team. Despite the success he’s had in the Rose City, though, it’s unlikely the unrestricted free-agent will be back in the Rose City next season. Jason Quick of The Oregonian has more on Hickson and his future:

  There are no hard feelings and no regrets, but it appears these are the final days that JJ Hickson and the Trail Blazers are together, with both sides acknowledging this week that the writing is on the wall.

The Blazers, who have given up the most interior points in the NBA, want to find a more defensive-oriented center next season, while Hickson – a power forward who bit his tongue and played as an undersized center for the Blazers – wants to start, and is eager to test his market value when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Blazers general manager Neil Olshey this week said he is not ruling out keeping Hickson on the roster, but he doubts the team will have the role, and the money, to pacify Hickson’s desires next season.

“For us to make a jump next season, JJ can’t be our starting center,’’ Olshey said, referencing the Blazers’ 47.4 points allowed in the paint per game, an NBA high. “I’m not saying he can’t be part of the roster. But we need to find a starting-caliber center who protects the rim and gets defensive rebounds at a high rate and that has a presence. And we have to do a better job at defending the paint. So you have to ask: Is it likely there is enough minutes to commit the kind of dollars JJ will command, when clearly there are other positions that need to be upgraded? Probably not.’’

The Blazers figure to enter the offseason with $11.8 million in cap room. A large chunk, if not all of that money, will likely be used to lure a defensive-minded starting center or to absorb the contract of a starting center in a trade. That leaves Hickson on the outside looking in when it comes to meeting his desires to find a team that can both give him chance to start as well as award him a raise from his $4 million salary this season. If he stayed in Portland, Hickson would play behind franchise player LaMarcus Aldridge, who plays close to 40 minutes a game.

Andy Miller, who represents Hickson, said Olshey hasn’t flat-out told him Hickson is not in the Blazers’ plans, but Miller said he is under the impression that the Blazers will move in a different direction than Hickson.

“I think Neil has been fairly candid to me as far as where they stand,’’ Miller said. “I don’t feel confident about the situation. Earlier in the season there may have been mood swings and perspective swings where I felt the tide swinging, to where I felt that this would be more than a rental for both sides. But lately, I haven’t felt that way at all. He definitely hasn’t misled me.’’

In the end, it was probably a win-win scenario for Hickson and the Blazers. Hickson, who was picked up off waivers last March after Sacramento released him, got an opportunity to resurrect his career, while the Blazers found a capable center to buy time for rookie Meyers Leonard to develop.

“I think JJ has had a remarkable season,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “He showed a lot of people what he can do. The most important thing is he sustained a certain level, for the most part of the season, with his energy and his rebounding. The mid-range jump shot, I think, is the biggest area where people questioned whether he could make it, and he turned into a very capable mid-range jump shooter. And he accepted his role. I didn’t call a lot of plays for him and he found his offense through the flow of the game. Although it was frustrating at times for him he accepted it and thrived in it.’’

Hickson said having a chance to start will be at or near the top of his offseason priority list.

“That’s just me being a competitor,’’ Hickson said. “I think everyone in this league wants to start, so of course I want to start, of course I want to play a lot of minutes to help my team as much as possible. That’s definitely one of the factors going into free agency – whether I start or not. Other than that, I’m just looking to win ball games and have fun doing it.’’

Hickson is not sure it would be fun playing center again next season. He said it was difficult enough playing the position this season.

“It was hard to play center. but I took it with a grain of salt and did what I had to do for the team,’’ Hickson said. “I felt like I laid it all out on the line. I definitely was playing out of position, but I sacrificed my position for the coaching staff and my teammates to play a position that my body is not made up for. And we all knew that going into the year I was an undersized (center) and that I would have to play that much harder to make up for what I didn’t have physically.’’

Lowry on first season in Toronto: ‘Very disappointing’The good news for Toronto this season? After last night’s victory in Chicago, the Raptors have won 30 games — their most since the 2009-10 season (also known as Chris Bosh’s final season North of the border). The bad news? The Raptors will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season and will do so despite somewhat overhauling their roster in the offseason by paying big bucks to sign free-agent point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry has had, at best, an up-and-down season in Toronto as injuries and an early-season logjam at point guard with Jose Calderon created an ambiguous-at-times role for Lowry. After the win over the Bulls, Lowry sounded off on his first season in Toronto, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star:

To say it’s been a tumultuous first year in Toronto for Kyle Lowry would be one of the great understatements of the season.

He has lurched from starter to backup to starter, working for another new coach with teammates that changed frequently over the course of the season and it’s no surprise that he answers quickly and emphatically when asked what it’s been like.

“For me personally? Very frustrating, very disappointing.”

And very up and down.

When he first arrived at the cost of a lottery draft pick and a spare part, Lowry was famously “given the keys” to a franchise that fully expected him to lead it to the playoffs.

He was lauded as a “pit bull” of a defender and a leader, a point guard with scoring skills who would give the Raptors a different look they wanted from their own court leader.

It hasn’t actually panned out that way: Lowry’s been criticized by his coach for gambling too much on defence, he was injured and lost his starting job when he got healthy and the team not only floundered terribly at the start of the season, it’s basically limping home in much the same fashion.

Lowry has not by any stretch of the imagination been the sole reason for the team’s struggles but he’s the out-front guy, the major acquisition of last summer, and in that regard it’s been a huge disappointment.

He has not openly clashed with his teammates or his coaches but the overriding sense around the team is that he’s not the happiest of campers.

His own words reflect that when he’s asked what he’s learned in his first season with Toronto.

“Things just have to be different, things aren’t always going to go the way you think they should go or they may not go the correct way to you, but you’ve got to fight through adversity and keep focused on the biggest prize,” he said this week after a practice here.

Lowry’s tenure as the team’s starting point guard was cemented when the Raptors dealt away Jose Calderon weeks before the late-February trade deadline in order to acquire Gay, who arrived trumpeted as the break-down wing the team desperately needed as well as one of Lowry’s best friends in the world. The Lowry-Gay-DeRozan triumvirate hasn’t exactly thrived after getting off to a torrid start.

“It’s been a challenge for Kyle to come in and not only come into a new culture and a new situation but come in with an established veteran like Jose running the show and knowing the offence, knowing the defensive concepts and trying to fit in,” said coach Dwane Casey. “It’s been a challenge

“But he’s a veteran, he’s worked at it, he’s tried to do what we’ve asked him to do, to . . . understand what guys can do and can’t do offensively and definitely defensively.”

Lowry has one year left on a contract that will pay him $6 million next season, although only $1 million of it is guaranteed if the Raptors want to cut him adrift this summer. But having already dealt away Calderon and without significant money to spend in the summer, it seems inconceivable that he won’t be back.

And Lowry, as everyone connected with the team is, remains confident in the pieces that are in place.

“I’m confident in all my teammates, I think they’re all confident in me and I think we’re all confident in each other,” he said. “We’ve got some young pieces, some learning to do to get better in the summer. . . . We had a disappointing year but we’ll bounce back.”

ICYMI of the night: When we see this off-the-glass dunk LeBron James assists himself on, we are left wondering if the Bucks were playing defense or were watching to see what the reigning MVP would do …:

Hickson’s Sacrifice Has Him Well-Positioned For July

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DALLAS – Portland’s energetic J.J. Hickson has played himself into a great position even while playing out of position.

At 6-foot-9, Hickson is the Blazers’ undersized center who’s putting up double-doubles at a higher rate than even his All-Star teammate LaMarcus Aldridge. Hickson’s 14 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday’s loss at Dallas was his 27th double-double, tied for third-most in the league.

It’s the kind of production that will put Hickson, 24, atop many teams’ offseason shopping lists when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

“I’d be lying if I wasn’t looking forward to it, but that’s something I’ll get more excited about when that period hits,” Hickson said. “It’s something that me and my agent will talk about, but right now I’m just worried about playing basketball and trying to make these playoffs.”

Hickson is averaging nearly 30 minutes a game, 12.9 ppg and a career-best 10.7 rpg to help a Blazers team with little depth to stay in playoff contention.

He’s been a steal for Portland at $4 million this season. The Blazers signed him off the waiver wire last March after Sacramento released him. The Kings acquired Hickson in a trade earlier in the season from Cleveland, the team that drafted him 19th overall in 2008 out of North Carolina State, but moved him out to make room for rookie Tristan Thompson.

Portland attempted to go the more traditional route at center last offseason, making an offer to restricted free agent Roy Hibbert, but Indiana matched to hold onto the promising big man. The Blazers also eyed Chris Kaman, who chose to sign with Dallas. Portland signed Hickson to a one-year deal.

“Nah,” Hickson said when asked if he imagined himself playing center on a daily basis. “But, you know, it’s what my team needs me to do and it’s what my teammates and coaches have asked me to do, so it’s something I’m willing to sacrifice for the team.

“I’ve just been strong mentally, I think, all season. I’m a physical player so that’s not a problem, but mentally I think I’ve been locked in and I’ve just been consistent with my play.”

He and Aldridge complement each other well. In first-year coach Terry Stotts‘ offense, Aldridge is extended out of the low block more often with Hickson occupying the weakside.

“L.A.’s the kind of player that can mix it up so I’m just playing off him,” Hickson said. “He knows my situation and we all know he hates to be called a ‘5,’ so we make it work and we’re doing a good at it.”

At 6-11 and equipped with a solid post game, Aldridge is closer to a traditional 5 than Hickson will ever be.

“Sometimes we get too concerned in pigeon-holing players in what he is or what he isn’t,” Stotts said. “I think [Hickson] is a frontline player, whether you want to say he’s a 4 or a 5, he’s an effective frontline player. He can score, he can run, he can rebound and I’m a little reluctant to pigeon-hole him as he’s this or that.”

Even if Hickson does feel pigeon-holed as a pseudo-center.

“Yeah, I do,” Hickson said, frankly. “But like I say, that’s something I sacrifice for the team. The NBA world knows what my true position is and they know I’m sacrificing for my team and I think that helps us even more knowing that I’m willing to play the 5 to help us get wins.”

So what’s next for Hickson? Aldridge isn’t going anywhere, so big minutes at the 4 wouldn’t seem to exist in Portland, which drafted 7-foot center Meyers Leonard last June and could make a run in free agency (or through trades) at legit centers that potentially will hit the market such as Al Jefferson, Nikola Pekovic, perhaps Andrew Bynum or even Kaman again.

Suitors and a handsome payday won’t be in short supply come July, and Hickson certainly sounded as if he’d look long and hard at a starting power forward gig elsewhere. Which could make it difficult for Portland to retain him.

“Well,” Stotts said, “we’ll worry about that later.”

Shaqtin’ A Fool: Vol. 2, Episode 9


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It was lonely last week without the star attraction. But never fear Fool fans: JaVale is back! The one and only JaVale McGee makes his triumphant return to Shaqtin’ A Fool this week, along with Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Hickson, Thomas Robinson and Kendrick Perkins. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!

Aldridge Skepticism Starting To Fade

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The early season controversy that swirled around LaMarcus Aldridge and his shot selection has cooled over the last six weeks, to no coincidence, as the Portland Trail Blazers have reversed a rough start into a 14-5 record since Dec. 1.

Terry Stotts imported his “flow” offense from his Dallas assistant days and it requires Aldridge to often begin offensive sets at the elbow, a la Dirk Nowitzki, and to shoot a lot of mid-range jumpers. 

In previous seasons under former Blazers coach Nate McMillan, Aldridge was the primary post man and McMillan ran loads of isolation sets through him, the kind that grinded away at Nowitzki when Avery Johnson called the plays, and eventually led Dallas to trade for point guard Jason Kidd and fire Johnson and hire Rick Carlisle.

J.J. Hickson or Meyers Leonard serve as the primary post man in Stotts’ scheme, giving Aldridge more freedom to roam and and pull his defender out and, yes, take far more shots from outside of the paint, where Aldridge does possess one of the prettier fadeaways.

Still, initially, the result was a drastically lowered shooting percentage and plenty of skepticism.

“In some ways they’re similar, obviously their size, they both have a great touch, they’re unique for their position,” Stotts said earlier this season, comparing Aldridge to Nowitzki. “LaMarcus is a great block player, but if I can get him on the elbow a little bit more — it will probably take time to get him as comfortable as Dirk is up there — but that’s one way, utilizing him in spacing the floor a little bit, not necessarily to the 3-point line, but he’s a good 18- to 20-foot shooter.

“So LaMarcus is his own player and he’s his own man, but I think there are some similarities that we can take advantage of.”

Through 33 games, according to NBA.com advanced stats, Aldridge has attempted 352 mid-range shots. In 55 games last season, he took 494 and in 81 games in 2010-11, he shot 564. On pace to put up 875 in 82 games this season, it is obviously a steep rise and a significant change to his game that has required time to adjust.

Overall, Aldridge’s shooting percentage continues to rise from the lower 40s of the early season. He’s still at a career-low 46.4 percent (he was at 50 percent or better the last two seasons and never below 48.4 percent), but Aldridge actually is making the mid-range jumper at the same rate he has the last two seasons, right at about 41 percent.  This season, he’s down a few percentage points on shots in the restricted area under the rim and in the paint, contributing to his lower overall shooting percentage.

And, the Blazers just keep winning, their latest conquest being Thursday’s come-from-behind victory over Miami.

With point guard Damian Lillard putting a stranglehold on the Rookie of the Year Award, the Blazers have put together a four-game win streak, including road wins over the Knicks and Grizzlies, to improve to a season-best five games over .500 at 20-15.

They’re doing it primarily with a starting five that all averages double-digit scoring and with little help from arguably the lightest bench in the league.

Aldridge is on an All-Star pace once again, leading the Blazers in scoring at 20.6 points a game, about a one-point dropoff from the past two seasons, and is second in rebounding at 8.6.

Portland’s schedule isn’t terribly unmanageable moving through January, but things get trickier starting tonight with another road game at Golden State followed by Oklahoma City at home and Denver on the road. Two games against the Clippers come later this month.

For now, skepticism has cooled as Aldridge and the Blazers have grown more comfortable in Stotts’ system.

Hickson Rebounding In Many Ways

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Tuesday night at Sleep Train Arena, there was J.J. Hickson grabbing 13 boards against the Kings, which was after 18 rebounds a day earlier against the Hawks and 14 rebounds two days before that against the Spurs. After everything.

Hickson has gone from the Cavaliers giving up on him … to the Kings really giving up on him … to the Trail Blazers spending the No. 11 pick on a center to eventually replace him … to being impossible to pull from the starting lineup. That’s impressive enough. That it has all happened in 16 ½ months is more like unbelievable.

June 2011: The player Cleveland once refused to include in an Amar’e Stoudemire trade package with the Suns, causing the deal to collapse, is traded from the Cavaliers to Kings for backup forward Omri Casspi and a first-round choice.

March 2012: Hickson is cut by Sacramento less than three months into the season, then signed by the Trail Blazers to help the Portland roster limp across the finish line.

October/November 2012: Hickson, re-signed as a free agent during the summer, is averaging 11.9 rebounds a game and has five double-doubles, tops on the team.

“It was tough,” he said of the path. “I’m glad I’m in the position I’m in now. It shows that hard work does pay off. For me, it’s all about being consistent and finding a home in this league. And I think I found my home with the Blazers.”

Meyers Leonard, the lottery-pick center out of Illinois, would have been at least a year away from real impact anyway, maybe two. Hickson, though, has played well enough to end any debate over the opening lineup before it started. Coach Terry Stotts gave the informal nod to Hickson heading into camp, as the closest thing the Trail Blazers had to an incumbent there, and hasn’t had to adjust.

Aldridge Must Get Back To The Paint

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LaMarcus Aldridge is at it again.

Drifting from the basket, failing to get into the low post and settling for jumpers.

Two years ago, Aldridge transformed his game by getting into the paint a lot more than he did in his first four seasons in the league. The transformation helped him become an All-Star last season. But now, he’s gone jumper-happy again, and the issue is much more pronounced than it ever was.

LaMarcus Aldridge’s shooting, career
Season %FGAP FG% FTA Rate
2006-07 50.7% 50.3% .240
2007-08 46.7% 48.4% .257
2008-09 46.8% 48.4% .269
2009-10 45.3% 49.5% .260
2010-11 58.5% 50.0% .314
2011-12 46.4% 51.2% .291
2012-13 30.8% 43.0% .112
Total 49.0% 49.4% .273

%FGAP = % of total FGA taken from the paint
FTA Rate = FTA/FGA

It’s simple math. Aldridge has made 58.3 percent of his shots from the paint over his career, and he’s made 41.8 percent of his shots from between the paint and the 3-point line (a far cry from Dirk Nowitzki, who’s a career 46.8 percent shooter from mid-range).

Right now, Aldridge is shooting a paltry 43 percent overall and he’s gone to the free-throw line just 12 times in five games. It’s early, but he’s having the worst season of his career, and you can easily point to his shot selection as the reason why.

Jason Quick of The Oregonian sees the problem. But apparently, neither Aldridge nor Blazers coach Terry Stotts does, as Quick writes in Friday’s paper

I’m not against Aldridge shooting jump shots. He is a terrific outside shooter. But long-range jump shots shouldn’t be his bread-and-butter.

In a salty postgame interview Thursday after 7-for-17 shooting night, Aldridge said he doesn’t believe he is shooting too many jumpers.

“I don’t,” Aldridge said. “Obviously you do, you asked the question.”

And coach Terry Stotts, at least publicly, is saying Aldridge’s shot selection is not of concern.

But the numbers don’t lie.

Read the entire article, because it’s right on point. Aldridge gets even testier with his responses to Quick and Stotts seems to brush the issue off as a result of what other teams are doing defensively.

The Blazers are going to be a bad defensive team this season. That’s a given already. They rank 27th defensively through Thursday, allowing 107.4 points per 100 possessions. They fell off a cliff on that end of the floor when they got rid of Gerald Wallace and Nate McMillan. And all you really need to know about their defense is that they start J.J. Hickson at center.

But with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Aldridge and Hickson, they can be a pretty good offensive team and, therefore, stay somewhat competitive in the Western Conference.

Right now, Portland ranks 16th offensively, scoring just 99.7 points per 100 possessions, which is below the league average. They’ve attempted just 41 percent of their shots from the paint, the third-lowest rate in the league.

Over the years, there hasn’t been a correlation between the percentage of shots a team takes from the paint and its offensive efficiency. But it’s clear that the Blazers need Aldridge to get in the low post and get to the line. If he continues to float around the perimeter, they’re going to struggle on both ends of the floor, and it could be a very ugly season in Portland.