NBA PM: Can Kings’ J.J. Hickson Return to Form?
There was once a time when the Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly balked at a chance to include power forward J.J. Hickson in a trade for then-Phoenix Suns power forward Amar’e Stoudemire. The thinking, supposedly, was that the Cavs wanted a young core to build around if and when LeBron James jumped ship.
Obviously, things have changed.
After a solid, if unspectacular, 2010-2011 campaign in which he averaged 13.8 PPG and 8.7 RPG, Hickson was dealt to Sacramento for Omri Casspi and a 2012 first-round pick. That’s not exactly being traded for nothing, but it’s a step down for a player once considered to be the cornerstone of the Cavaliers’ rebuilding efforts.
“I was very surprised,” Hickson told HOOPSWORLD. “I didn’t see it coming but we are professionals and at the end of the day that’s what it is—a business.”
Hickson’s new team wasn’t necessarily more talented than his old one, but, he admits, it was an opportunity to start over. Coach Paul Westphal was looking for a power forward to compliment center DeMarcus Cousins and Hickson seemed like a good fit.
Of course, Westphal was relieved of his duties at the beginning of the season and Hickson has yet to really catch on under Keith Smart. The 6-10 former N.C. State star logged 39 minutes in a Jan. 8 loss to the Magic and hasn’t played anywhere close to that amount of time since. Jason Thompson has reclaimed his spot in the rotation and Hickson has averaged less than 15 minutes per game in the month of February—not a lot for someone who was swapped for a first-round pick.
“I still do,” Hickson said when asked if he sees this as an opportunity. “I’m just here to get better everyday even if the minutes are not there. I’m not going to let playing time stop me from getting better as a player and as a person. Long as I grow and continue to mature on and off the court everyday ill be fine.
“Of course that’s real tough,” continued Hickson, referring to the firing of Westphal. “But like I said long as I continue to get better and not let the minutes not being there discourage me, I’ll be ok… It’s not just (a new coach), it’s a new team, new system, coaching staff, new front office, new way of running things, new plays, new defensive schemes, so it’s not just him it’s the overall theme of being on a new team.”
Hickson is accustomed to logging serious minutes and since he’s only 23, he’s undoubtedly eager to get better before his current contract expires at the end of this year. He’ll be a restricted free agent and the Kings can match any offer, but given the amount of playing time he’s been getting, Hickson has no idea how that will play out.
“I don’t know what’s going on right now,” he said. “I’m just here trying to be the best basketball player I can be and whenever my name is called, I’m going to go out and play hard and rebound the ball and try to get on the break and get easy dunks.”
Of course, nothing has been easy this year. Hickson is averaging 5.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG and his Player Efficiency Rating (10.33) would be the worst of his career if the season ended today.
There’s no denying Hickson’s talent and athletic ability, but his once-bright future isn’t as certain as it once was.
Is it Xavier Henry’s Time Yet?
New Orleans Hornets shooting guard Xavier Henry was selected 12th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies at the 2010 NBA Draft, so it was a bit of a surprise that he was traded to the New Orleans Hornets in a three-team deal back on Jan. 4. After all, this was a sharp-shooting, high-flying wing player that DraftExpress had compared to James Posey because of his defensive intensity and willingness to get up and down the floor.
Unfortunately, a knee injury prevented Henry from having the kind of rookie season that he had hoped, but now that the joint has improved, the 20-year-old guard hopes he’s on the verge of a breakout.
“Everything is good,” Henry told HOOPSWORLD. “I’m starting to learn the system. I’m playing defense as well as starting to find my role on offense, trying to be aggressive every way I can. It’s tough at first when you have to learn everything but now I think I’ve learned all the plays I need to. As long as I cut down defensive mistakes and be aggressive on offense, I think it will get better.
“I feel a lot better,” continued Henry, referring to his knee and ankle injuries. “Once I got hurt I wasn’t able to go anymore last year. Now my body is getting better and my ankle and my knee are better. Now I can run up and down and play.”
Henry is averaging just 12.4 minutes and 3.8 points over 10 games this season, but now that his legs are feeling better—and starter Eric Gordon is out with his own injury problems—the former Kansas Jayhawk is poised to get more PT.
“I think it’s good and bad,” Henry said of his situation. “We wish those guys the best to get back as fast as they can but for us younger guys just to get acclimated to the game, get in there, especially for me because I missed so much time last year. This is really like my real first year. It’s good for me to get out there, run around, play with the guys and make sure I know how to play the game right and try to succeed.”
But for that to happen, Henry said, coach Monty Williams wants him to focus on defense. If he can do that, he’ll have some more rope on the offensive end.
“All he says is to go out there and play defense, offensively you’re free to do what you need to within the system. Just go out there and play hard and that’s all you can really do.”
Specifically, Henry has continued working to extend his 3-point shot to NBA range. He made over 40% of his shots from beyond the arc in his only season at Kansas, so it’s fathomable that he can build on 2-for-5 mark from 3-point range this season.
“It’s going all right,” Henry said of his 3-point shot. “I’ve only shot about five 3’s this year. Once they come in a row then it will be fine and everyone will be able to see that I can shoot.”
The Hornets are a struggling team and Henry has barely played as a professional, but neither circumstance precludes him from developing into a nice NBA player. Remember, he’s only 20 and, as this season drags on, he’s eventually going to get his opportunities.
James, Durant named POWs
Miami HEAT forward LeBron James and Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant were named the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week respectively. James helped the HEAT stay undefeated during that time span as he averaged 27.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG and 5.8 APG.
Meanwhile, Durant capped off a 3-1 week for the Thunder by dropping a career-high 51 points in a 124-118 win over the Denver Nuggets.
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