NBA Saturday: Has Hickson Dethroned Faried?
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J.J. Hickson To Start Over Kenneth Faried in Denver
While it may have something to do with Kenneth Faried battling injuries in the preseason, J.J. Hickson has been the Denver Nuggets’ starting power forward the first two games of the season and is averaging eight more minutes a night than Faried in those games.
His first official showing as a Nugget went pretty well, too. Always an efficient scorer, Hickson scored 12 points on 60 percent shooting from the field and even chipped in nine rebounds and four blocks. Under new head coach Brian Shaw, Hickson believes this fresh start in the Mile High City will be to his benefit.
“Coach wants to play inside-out. Not just the bigs, but he’s giving everybody freedom inside his offense,” Hickson told HOOPSWORLD. “He’s definitely a player’s coach, and when you have a coach like that you’re going to run through a wall for him.”
So far, Shaw seems to like Hickson enough to consider making him the starter on a more permanent basis. Hickson didn’t necessarily plan on that when he decided to sign with Denver this offseason, but he did admit that opportunity was a big reason he chose this particular team.
“It was a situation where I could come in and play and thrive,” Hickson said. “I’m new, it’s a new front office and we’ve got a great new head coach with a new coaching staff, so I felt like it was a great situation. I’m looking forward to 82-plus games.”
The “plus” after 82 was deliberate; Hickson believes this is a playoff team, even though most of the NBA community seems positive that the Nuggets will see a significant drop-off after last year’s surprising 57-win season.
“We’re just trying to win as many games as possible,” Hickson said. “We’re not setting any expectations for ourselves other than to take it one game at a time. That’s all you can do. I don’t think you can make expectations based off of last year. You can’t get caught up in what you did last year or the situation you were in last year. We’ve just got to stick together.”
In the meantime, Hickson is just trying to find his way, not only with a new system, but with new teammates and a new, unique city. Denver, he is discovering, can be a challenging hometown for someone who makes his living doing physical activity.
“Yes, it is [hard to play home games in Denver],” Hickson said. “I know that because when we play on the road, I don’t get tired. I get winded, but by I’m nowhere near as tired in the fourth quarter as I am in the first quarter in Denver. Playing in Denver, you just have to channel your energy and make sure you don’t let your adrenaline take over. It something I’ll get used to, but it’s going to take time.”
“I’m jelling well with this team, but it’s a process,” Hickson added. “I can’t say that I fully understand or grasp everything just yet, but like everything it’s a process. Everyday I’m getting better and better with it. The further we get into the season, the more you’ll see guys getting more comfortable with what’s going on.”
It’s impossible to know whether Hickson will remain in the starting lineup once Faried is fully healthy (or sent packing via trade), but for now he’s off to a respectable start with his new team.
“Denver is a great city with a great fan base,” Hickson said. “It’s definitely a sports city with four professional teams, so it’s great to play in a city like that. It’s full of action, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Denver, meanwhile, is looking forward to more good things from Hickson.
Early Statistical Surprises
While the season is only a few days old, we have already seen enough to know that some things have happened over the course of the first few games that were entirely unexpected. Obviously, a lot of these anomalies will work themselves out with a larger sample size of games, but through the season’s first few games there have certainly been surprising statistical showings. Here’s a look at the most notable of those surprises:
Derrick Rose (.289 FG%) and Carlos Boozer (.720 FG%) – That game-winning shot at the end of the Knicks game was undeniably impressive, but outside of that, Rose has been the least efficient volume scorer in the league through the first couple of games of the season. It would be easy to label his shooting woes as rust, but Rose was just so efficient in the preseason that these first two games have been pretty frustrating for Bulls fans to watch. Boozer, meanwhile, has made almost three shots out of every four he’s taken. Neither guy will keep up these extremes, but both numbers really jump out for now.
Omer Asik (13 RPG) – The arrival of Dwight Howard in Houston was supposed to signal the end of Omer Asik’s stint with the Rockets, but so far it looks like these two guys are probably going to be the best rebounding frontcourt in the league this year. Howard is averaging a ridiculous 21 rebounds through two contests, leaving a scant 13 rebounds for Asik as the team’s starting power forward. Nobody expected Asik to be this effective on the glass playing in Howard’s shadow, but since he’s more alongside Howard than behind him, double-digit rebounding numbers are absolutely sustainable throughout the season.
Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis (6.0 TOPG) – While it’s not necessarily a surprise that Curry and Ellis are turning the ball over—they both did so exactly 3.1 times per game last season—it is surprising to see them double their carelessness with the basketball this season. It’s not like either guy is handling the ball any more often than they did last season, but early season rust happens, and that’s likely all that’s behind this particular statistical outlier. Their turnover numbers will stay high, but hopefully not this high.
Spencer Hawes (20 PPG, 11.5 RPG, .615 FG%) – Michael Carter-Williams has garnered the most attention for Philadelphia thus far thanks to that insane debut in the win against the HEAT, but Hawes has quietly been one of the most effective centers in the league over the course of his first two games. He has had a double-double in his first two games and is second on the team in scoring. Somebody has to haul in the stats for the crummy teams, but Hawes is hauling in more than most people probably expected.
Miles Plumlee (15.5 PPG, 14 RPG, 3.0 BPG) – Anybody who said they predicted this is lying. Plumlee was a toss-in for the trade that brought Luis Scola to Indiana, but was only thrust into Phoenix’s starting lineup when Marcin Gortat was also shipped out of Arizona. Now, Plumlee is fourth in the league in rebounding and fifth in the league in blocks through two games. It would be easy to say he won’t keep this up, but he’s going to play 38 minutes per game for a bad team. The numbers might not stay quite this high, but there’s a very good chance that they’ll stay good.
Tristan Thompson (19.5 PPG, 10 RPG, .583 FG%, .786 FT%) and Anthony Bennett (1 PPG, 3 RPG, .000 FG%) – Brace yourself; through two games, Thompson is actually leading the Cavaliers in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage. Even better, he’s got his free-throw shooting up to a respectable level after the world-famous hand switch, something that was very important considering he shot just a shade over 60 percent from the charity stripe last season. Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in the most recent draft, has been just as bad as Thompson has been good. After showing flashes of brilliance in the preseason, Bennett has shot 0-for-8 to start his rookie campaign, scoring only two points through two games on a couple of free-throws.
Larry Sanders, (15.5 MPG, 3.5 RPG) – Milwaukee wouldn’t pay Sanders $44 million to ride the pine, right? The lack of minutes would suggest the reality of that possibility, but this one’s relatively easy to explain in that he has simply been in foul trouble his first couple of games this season. The 3.5 rebounds per game is ugly, but the fact that he’s still averaging 2.5 blocks in such limited minutes proves he’ll be among the league leaders in that category no matter how much (or how little) he plays.
Other statistical surprises are bound to rear their heads, and most of these numbers will eventually work themselves out. Surprises like these are what make early-season basketball (and fantasy basketball) really fun.