(Note on Player Grades: They are going to be low across the board. This is not because I am a mean person. This is because the team won 19 games, with most of those wins coming at the beginning and end of the season. The team appeared to have something of a mini-renaissance at the end of the year, but this is only because they literally managed to set expectations to zero during the middle of the season. This was an awful season, and it was an awful season because the players did not play well. There are very few ways around this. The grades will be done on a curve according to each player’s role on the team, but no grading curve is steep enough to reward the kinds of efforts we saw this season.)
Our first report of the season is for J.J. Hickson, who led the team in minutes this season. After the whole thing with LeBron happened, the New Cavaliers were supposed to be built around two things: youth and athleticism. Hickson, who barely played in the 2010 Conference Semifinals, has both in spades, and immediately became one of the team’s building blocks. With Zydrunas Ilgauskas gone, a new coach preaching uptempo offense, and a brand-new jumper, Hickson seemed poised for a breakout season. When Hickson scored 21 points in the season opener and 31 points in the third game of the season, things looked pretty darn good.
Unfortunately, Hickson didn’t have another 20-point game in 2010. Hickson’s jump shot vanished just as quickly as it appeared, and without it, Hickson was forced to force things on offense. Things went poorly. In the month the Cavs forgot to win a game, Hickson barely shot over 40% from the floor, and the last three months of the season were the only ones that Hickson shot better than 45% in.
Late in the season, Hickson started to click with Ramon Sessions and Baron Davis, and the results came. Hickson looked much more confident offensively, and ended the season on a tear, averaging 19.5 points per game on 52% shooting in the month of April.
While Hickson showed some serious flashes over the course of the season, he still wasn’t a consistent offensive option, and his defense was just as much of a liability as it ever was. This wasn’t a new version of Hickson — it was the same guy with an infinitely longer leash.
2010-11 Grade: C+
What Hickson Does Well:
Hickson excels in two areas. The first is scoring at the rim, especially off of assists. He can jump, he can get off the floor quickly, he has decent touch around the basket area, and he covers ground extremely quickly. He’s slowly getting more comfortable with his left hand around the rim and incorporating some counter-moves, but most of his success comes from finding seams, attacking them, getting off the ground, and putting the ball in the basket. He’s at his best when he can move without the ball, catch, and dunk, but he’s also pretty good at getting the ball in the 12-15 foot area, taking one or two big dribbles, and attacking a late-rotating defense.
Hickson led the team with 3.3 made baskets at the rim per game, and 64% of those baskets were assisted. With Baron Davis replacing Mo Williams full-time next season, Hickson should get more assisted opportunities than he did last year, and that’s a big deal. Hickson will likely continue to try and incorporate more of a post-up and perimeter game next season, but he’s always going to be at his best when he can just catch and dunk, and that requires a good passer.
Hickson also had a really good rebounding year. While I wouldn’t call him a dominant force on the glass, he did average over 10 rebounds per game throughout 2011 (calendar year), and he finished 9th among power forwards in rebounding rate. While some of those numbers are probably inflated because of the rebounders around Hickson (they sucked), Hickson’s rebounding was very solid for a good part of the year.
What Hickson Does Poorly:
Literally everything not mentioned above. Hickson’s defense was an issue when he was starting next to Anderson Varejao. When he was forced to start next to Antawn Jamison and had to try and make up for Jamison’s mistakes, he had no chance. He doesn’t rotate quickly enough, he doesn’t really block shots or take charges, he doesn’t defend the post very well, and he never quite looks engaged defensively. So there are some problems there.
Hickson’s offensive game has some problems as well — it lacks refinement in a major way. Just over half of Hickson’s shots came from inside the restricted area last season, and he made 59% of those shots. When Hickson ventured away from the immediate basket area, things didn’t go so well for him — he shot 36% from the non-restricted areas of the paint, 30% from midrange, and didn’t make a three. Those are not favorable numbers. Hickson’s jump shot was just good enough for him to shoot it when he should not have, and his post game is still far too dependent on low-percentage fadeaway shots instead of good positioning and footwork. Even though Hickson put up some nice numbers near the end of the year and had games where he looked unstoppable, he’s still a work in progress on offense.
Outlook: If the Cavs were capable of going into win-n0w mode next season, they’d have to make some decisions about Hickson’s spot in the starting lineup. Fortunately for Hickson, they have no choice but to try and build around their youngsters. Hickson is far too talented to give up on, but he’s also far to raw to have complete faith in, especially on defense.
There’s a chance that Hickson will hit his ceiling and become one of the best power forwards in the league. As of now, however, he’s an undersized center offensively, a lackluster power forward defensively, and probably best suited for a bench role on a good team. I don’t know if Hickson will make the big leap next season, but I do know he’ll be given more than enough chances to make it.