J.J. Hickson made a leap this year and with it made a statement — he is a quality NBA big man. He’s averaged 12.9 points a game on 56.7 percent shooting with 10 rebounds a game on top of that. He’s got a PER of 19.9.
The problem is, the Blazers use him as a center next to their All-Star power forward LeMarcus Aldridge. Even in today’s “small ball” NBA a center at 6’9” is going to get you in trouble.
Blazers GM Neil Olshey was frank in speaking with the Oregonian and saying he doesn’t expect the Blazers will bring back Hickson, who is a free agent this summer.
“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.’’
Portland is 24th in the NBA in defense (on points allowed per possession) and that is the end of the floor where they need to improve. That means players need to get better at staying in front of their man (I’m looking at you, Damian Lillard) and they need a big to clean up some of those messes from the perimeter.
Those kinds of big men cost money, and while Portland has the cap space (about $12 million this summer) that’s not enough to sign a quality defensive center and bring back Hickson at what he will likely draw on the open market.
So let the bidding for Hickson begin.