In a last minute move before the lockout-imposed deadline, the Kings have decided to solve their self-created logjam at small forward, by trading Omri Casspi and a conditional future first round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for J.J. Hickson. Marc Stein, via twitter, has the details regarding the pick:
“Protection specifics on pick going from Kings to Cavs: Protected 1-to-14 in 2012, 1-to-13 in 2013, 1-to-12 in 2014, 1-to-10 from 2015-2017; If first-round pick is not conveyed from SAC to CLE by 2017, then Kings convey their 2017 second-rounder to Cavaliers (protected 56-60)”
As an Israeli Kings’ fan, this hurts, but it makes a lot of sense. Between the re-acquired John Salmons, the previously present Francisco Garcia and Donté Greene, and the newly drafted Tyler Honeycutt, the 3 was by far the Kings’ most crowded position. Meanwhile, Casspi is coming off a second straight season of falling out of the rotation post-January, and has been mired with inconsistency throughout his Kings tenure. If any small forward was to go, it was Omri. With his main competition on the Cavs being… umm… well… yeah, he should be starter from day one, with a young, passing point guard to grow old next to, and a fanbase that could use a high-energy guy such as him. This is a great opportunity for him, even if seeing him leave Sactown is sad.
By moving the now superfluous Omri and what would hopefully be a mid-first rounder once the Kings make the playoffs again, the Kings take a low-risk, high-reward flier on a very talented player in J.J. Hickson.
Hickson was valued very highly by the Cavs for the past 3 years (though you may choose whether you want to believe that they refused to move him for Amar’e Stoudemire back at the 2010 deadling), starting 73 games on the 61 win team in 2009-2010 and 66 games on last year’s monstrosity of a squad. With the drafting of Tristan Thompson, though, the Cavs were clearly looking to clear out the power forward spot.
Hickson is coming off a very bad season scoring the ball. He posted an atrocious true shooting percentage of 50.3 last season, and showed very little semblance of a mid-range shot, making only 30% of his shots 10-15 feet from the basket (on 1.4 attempts per game) and 33% 16-23 feet from the basket (2.8 attempts, all numbers here on forth via Hoopdata). These numbers were actually higher than his 2009-2010 percentages of 17.1 and 27.0, respectively, so unless J.J. makes extremely good use of the lockout he should probably stay away from the mid-range shot entirely.
That said, Hickson’s terrible scoring numbers are undoubtedly a direct result of him being thrust into a huge role on a team with a 2-time-MVP-sized gap. Hickson’s usage rate leaped from 18.9 in 09-10 to 25.5 in 10-11, an increase that has no correlation whatsoever with his abilities. For the sake of comparison, his TS% in 09-10 was 58%, and while most of his shots were dunks and putbacks, that’s probably closer to where his true skills lie. Hickson is solid at cutting of the ball (which made him very effective playing off that Lebron guy) and has good hands, which can make him a dangerous tool in an offensive system that encourages movement – further stressing the need for Paul Westphal to actually implement one of those. If Reke, DMC, and even secondary guys like Salmons and Jimmer can find Hickson cutting to the basket, he will reward them. Ironically, Hickson would make a phenomenal pick and roll partner with Beno Udrih – he ranked 89th in the league as a roll man with 0.92 PPP – but alas, that ship has sailed.
Where Hickson made a huge leap last year was with his rebounding. Hickson posted impressive rebounding rates of 10.8% on offense and 25% on defense, and should combine with DeMarcus, JT, and Samuel Dalembert if he is resigned to form an extremely potent rebounding frontcourt.
A big concern with Hickson is that he’s absolutely horrendous defensively, often not knowing what it is he needs to do. Hickson ranked 367th in the league as a defender via Synergy, and a defensive +/- of +2.30 (via basketball value). So the Cavs – the worst team in basketball last season – gave up 2.3 more points per 100 possessions with Hickson in the lineup.
If you’re looking for optimism, Hickson was much better in the latter stages of last season, steadily improving after a horrid January and finishing on a tear with averages of 19.7 points, 11.7 boards, and 53.1% shooting in his last 10 games. Small sample sizes warn us not to be overly optimistic, but the raw talent is there. This guy is an athletic freak, and unlike your Bismack Biyombos, he already has some basketball skills. Of course, there is a lot of molding to do, but that could be said for the rest of the Kings as well. This is far from a guarantee, to be sure, but Hickson fits well on a team full of potential and question marks – for better or for worse.