Apr 21

Hickson Impressive in Memphis

By mikebarrett
At times it's difficult to know exactly what to be looking for late in a season like this.  Moral victories are about all you have left, and you don't usually spend much time worrying about the scoreboard.

We all know that's not the case with interim coach Kaleb Canales, and he's got his players thinking exactly the same way.  They continue to play to win, and unlike a lot of the teams out of the playoff race, are approaching each game as if everything is on the line.  The fact that he has his guys buying into that, not only says a lot about them, but probably says more about Canales.

Saturday night in Memphis, the Trail Blazers opened their final three-game road trip of the season.  The Grizzlies came into the game with some big-time playoff positioning on the line- like the chance at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  They had also lost their two previous meetings with Portland, so motivation wasn't going to be a factor there. They're also one of those teams ramping up to the playoffs, and trying to fine tune and sharpen before the second season.  Given what they had to gain, and what the Trail Blazers were playing for, it would have been natural to expect both teams to play their respective parts.

But, what we saw was a Blazer team fight for 48 minutes like they were the team trying to focus and gain momentum.  Playing without LaMarcus Aldridge, Raymond Felton, Nicolas Batum, and Joel Przybilla, all starters, no one expected Portland to put up much of a fight.  Again, they didn't win, and it would be easy to simply jot this down as another late-season loss, but that's not what the philosophy is around this team right now.

J.J. Hickson, one of the great stories to come out of this season believe it or not, is the main reason the Trail Blazers have stayed competitive on most nights late in the schedule.  As much as it's evaluation time for the young guys (and Hickson is only 23), this has been all about him making a statement, and making a case for being involved in this team's future plans.

Yep, Hickson is playing for a contract.  Players who suddenly start putting up big numbers at contract time are sometimes criticized, or at least looked at with a skeptical eye.  I've heard that mentioned about Hickson, naturally.

But, remember, this has been a contract year for Hickson all season- even when he was in Sacramento averaging five points per game.  So, even while some of the desperation of this being a job interview should be considered, I tend to look at this as more of a good player growing, and finding a role, and a team, that suits him perfectly. Perhaps we're simply seeing a guy who's motivated, is believing in his coach, and has a strong desire to make an impression on his current team.

And, it's not like this is the first time Hickson has shown flashes of brilliance in his game. Cleveland thought so highly of him that they refused include him in a potential trade that would have netted them Amare Stoudemire.  We're seeing that player now, and not the guy who was quite possibly simply in a bad situation in Sacramento.

Credit once again goes to Chad Buchanan and his staff for pulling off the trade on draft day that scored them a trade exception from Houston, which allowed them to grab Hickson off waivers despite being over the salary cap.  So, even if this has worked out better than many of us had hoped, these guys thought enough of Hickson that they structured the Camby deal specifically with Hickson in mind.  Don't forget that.

As you also probably know, the Trail Blazers are in a good position when it comes to Hickson as well.  On June 30th, they'll present him with a one-year qualifying offer that he can either accept or decline and become a restricted free agent giving Portland the opportunity to match any offer that's made to him.  Obviously, he won't accept the qualifying offer.  Then, the Blazers will have to decide what they'll match and what they won't.  The nice thing about Hickson is that he's now a known-commodity, and that's not the case with some young free agents.

If this season has been about anything in this last few weeks, it's been about the J.J. Hickson test drive- a dress rehearsal that has gone extremely well.

Against the Grizzlies on Saturday, Hickson posted his fifth double-double in his last seven games, scoring 23 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.  One of the great things about Hickson is that he's become a very good rebounder, an area he talked focusing on when he got to Portland. He'd always shown the ability to score, but hadn't been noted for having the nose and desire for the loose balls that he's shown here.

So, in Memphis, it was Hickson who led the Blazers back from the dead and helped them draw to within two points at 91-89 with over 30 seconds to go.  And, he was doing this against a very active Marreese Speights and a very good Marc Gasol, another of the very talented front lines he's been going against lately, with very little help.  

In the end, the Trail Blazers didn't get the big bucket to fall on that final possession, and didn't pull the upset of the Grizzlies.  But, there were reasons to feel positive in an otherwise ho-hum situation late in the season.  Hickson has provided so many of those in recent days.  

Two more to go, and both will be chances for Hickson to continue to state his case.  All he has to do is go up against the extremely-talented San Antonio Spurs, and playoff-hungry Utah Jazz, with both games coming on the road.  



  1. Mike great blog.
    You are so right about JJ being a future player; I don't care what he has done in the past, it is now that is important; JJ brings us that toughness that we have been missing since we lost BRoy; oh I know that will bring some static around the BlazerNation, but that is what he reminds me of. I heard Mike Rice, while talking to you say that JJ does what a 2gd should be doing; I don't know if that was a slip of the tongue, a thought for the future, or wishful thinking????
    Of course that statement got my mind going, as in what if; what if Matthews learns to drive score and rebound like that, which since JJ has arrived he is doing much better at that. and what if Wesley can teach JJ to concentrate on draining threes; JJ is starter material as it is plain to see, but at the moment where do you start him. He does what I would want our next center to do but is too short, although that does not seem to bother him. I know that Lamarcus playing along side of JJ is great, JJ backing up Lamarcus is great. Both draws a crowd and the opponents can't zero on both of them at the same time. Also given more time JJ can take the high post and LMA can take the low, but right now I see LMA as the high post and JJ as the low. I feel JJ has better dribble drive then LMA, but LMA has that sweet perimeter shot of his. Wow you have my head spinning on all the positives of JJ on our team in a full year scenario.

    I have heard a lots of crap about Thabeet, but regardless of what some thinks he looks like, he does OK inside in my book, He has improved in just the short time he has been here, and I like his play. If Buck returns next year and they keep Thabeet on a cheap contract, I think they could do wonders for him; it is said that he seems to show no interest to improve, but it looks to me like he just doesn't know what to do.
    I don't know who is staying and who is going, but I am liking Jonny, JJ, and Thabeet adding to Nolan who is on a rookie salary, Of course Wesley and Elliot Williams, In Which is still a mystery player, which also boggles my mind in how to make him fit. I am wondering about Babbitt, wow what a different a little playing time and confidence can bring. He is most definitely a shooter and scorer, can play a little defense, rebounds better and is improving in leaps and bounds every game. I am almost positive Batum, and Joel will be here and of course LaMarcus If you think about it just those 10 players makes a great team; given a little summer league, a full training camp, and we could make waves, that is not including an elite PG and a strong center that we can pick up with all our options this summer.
    It was said on Blazer Edge that Memphis was sleeping on us, if that be true or not, if one thing, even in our distorted line-up with JJ in the game you can't sleep on Portland

    by Hg on 4/22/2012 5:40 AM
  2. The NBA's been too busy for me to catch any of the Portland games, but I was relatively surprised, and satisfied that the outcome was so close. Good to see Hickson is playing well. I had a feeling when he joined that the Blazers made a great move. I'm happy he's doing well.

    It's also good to see these guys get some run in that don't play much, despite it being basically a way to see how these guys can play and to showcase their talents.

    I don't expect us to beat the Spurs or Utah. But it'd be very pleasant to see Utah get knocked out of the playoffs by the Blazers.

    by Herr on 4/22/2012 6:28 AM
  3. Hey Mike,
    Thabeet. Every team needs one project player on the end of the bench. He's big. He's clumsy. He's passive. I think if he was willing to dedicate himself to work, had good development coaching, (Bill Bayno, just saying) he could contribute some quality minutes in the future. Somebody needs to show him the movie Glory Road. When the coach tells one player " the first time you get the ball near the rim I want you to dunk it. I want you to dunk it so hard your elbow goes through the rim."
    Looks like we will indeed get the NJ pick.
    GM search. I like it. Then a coach.
    See you the next two games. We've came this far, why stop now. Right?

    by Divotking on 4/22/2012 6:30 AM
  4. @Divotking:
    Thabeet has already improved with Buck Williams coaching, and if we kept him as a project player for a full year he can become better on offense, like you said, DUNK instead of that 1 foot fadeaway shot. Now, on his passive game, it is partly due to not being used as an offensive player much and lack of confidence. They said Greg was clumsy also, and I said I didn't care what they look like, you are not being graded for your grace, but graded for putting the ball in the hoop. I am somewhat of a clumsy bowler, but at the age of 71 I still carry a 180+ average,(bragging a little), do you think I care if I am clumsy?
    Long, short, IMO, Thabeet just needs someone with interest to work with him and the Portland Trailblazers can do just that.

    by Hg on 4/22/2012 6:56 AM
  5. I say Hickson is impressive peroid. I wanted to trade for him when he was a wash out with Cleveland.

    by mbmurr1 on 4/22/2012 7:31 PM
  6. I think we're seeing the real JJ, not just a guy playing for a contract. It's not his stats that convince me of this, it how he's getting those stats - by working his butt off! Give me five guys who work as hard as Hickson and I'll put a winning team on the court in any league.

    by dgpdx on 4/22/2012 8:49 PM
  7. @Don; I agree wholeheartedly. If Matthews learns to be that aggressive with a littl practice on his handles, and Batum could do the same. Right there would be enough to make things happen, well of course LMA keeps right on doing. I think regardless of who we get next year, LMA and Hickson will be on the floor together quite often.

    by Hg on 4/22/2012 9:30 PM
  8. If Portland can get Thabeet for almost free, it makes sense having him as a 13/14/15 guy that might be coached into 10-minute a night competence at some future date. Hickson, on the other hand, is the real deal as a low post player, and if Portland fails to bring him back given their right of first refusal and horrific shortage of bigs, that's 100% on them.

    by Carrite on 4/23/2012 7:40 AM
  9. The whole "playing for a contract" thing makes me laugh. EVERY NBA player is playing for a contract -- including some with URGENT contract situations like Nic Batum, the Rhino, the Roly Poly Point Guard, and Pryz. But we only hear a player's efforts dismissed as "just playing for a contract" in Hickson's case. And why is that? The cult of Luke Babbitt, that's what it is... The fan boys have convinced themselves that he's a Big and not a Wing, so everytime Hickson goes 18-and-10 or whatever, he's "just playing for a contract."

    I think anybody that really knows basketball understands the value of 16 points a game down low or whatever JJ may be expected to rack up playing next to LMA next year.

    Babbitt is a wing; whether he ever develops enough moxy and quickness to guard other wings is an open question. But you put him out on the circle and let him bomb.

    by Carrite on 4/23/2012 7:50 AM
  10. Carrite;
    You are right about Babbitt. He is a tweener. Too slow to guard the three. On the offensive side he belongs out of the paint. Unlike some other tweeners his range can make up for his weakness. Most definitely a role player. If used right and understanding of his role he could certainly be an effective player. His attitude seems right. He keeps repeating he just wants to "contribute".

    by Divotking on 4/23/2012 11:15 AM
  11. Interesting article written about Nate not endorsing the signing of Crawford. It stated that Nate felt like Jamal was a me guy not a team guy. 2 plus 2 does
    equal 4. Nate had it right from the beginning.
    What's done is done.

    by Divotking on 4/25/2012 8:28 PM
  12. Mike,
    I imagine you are decompressing. Don't blame you. That was an odd year.
    I wanted to say thank you. I enjoy reading your blog. You are a stand up guy with a passion for the game.
    Goodbye to the Blazer season, Nate, Brandon, Oden. Not Goodbye to Blazer basketball.
    It's like surfing Mike. You catch a good wave. Life is good. When the wave reaches the sand, the fun is over. To catch another wave takes effort. Swim back out and you are back on top. Life is good.
    The Blazers will be back.
    Thanks for everything. Enjoy your summer. Catch a wave.

    by Divotking on 4/28/2012 6:22 PM
  13. yes, thanks mike for all of the hard work you do. i don't get to see you and mike call the games often because i have nba league pass so these blogs give me a good idea of the tone you added to the game.

    unfortunately this was one of the most depressing seasons of all time. it's one thing to watch a bunch of cry baby losers go out and embarrass the city (bonzi, rasheed, randolph, miles) and it's another thing to see a bunch of quality players crumble and quit. i was ready to see mcmillan go but i felt bad that it took the players quitting for management to make the move.

    portland does not part gracefully with personnel and i'll blame that on management. to me management is paul allen. he's the number one problem with this organization. he'll welcome you with hug but when it's time to part be prepared to be flushed down the toilet. to me that makes portland an undesirable place to work. the constant good thing this club has going for it is the passionate fans. no nba team has fans who appreciate hustle and heart more than portland.

    last year we could see roy was done. of course you could hope that he'd return healthy but take off the blazer mania goggles for a second to assess his condition and you could see he was permanently crippled. roy retired and thank god for that. i'm so glad he wasn't flushed because he means so much to this city.

    gerald wallace was probably the biggest disappointment to me, more than felton. i've seen what he can do when his heart is in it but to see him chasing offense and bricking layups was ridiculous. his departure was handled well. he wasn't trying and he wouldn't sign an extension contract. the toilet was a good place for him to go.

    i don't know about camby.

    obviously felton was a big disappointment. what more can be said.

    crawford was a downer but i thought he took more heat than he deserved from the media and fans. he sacrificed money to come here so you can't say he's totally selfish and he was put into roles that weren't natural for him.

    a bad apple can spoil a bunch. who that apple is i'm not sure but i would bet it was one of the veterans.

    this team needs a clean up. we need some freshness and thank god for caneles we have some. it's hard to say that he was given a fair chance with the state the team was in when he inherited it and the roster that remained. i'd like to see what he could do with a full season and i don't see why he shouldn't be given the job unless we could score a hot shot big named coach.

    i think buchanan has done a decent job but it's tough to tell what he controlled and what he didn't so assessing him is tricky.

    i thought aldridge had a fair season but was disappointed that he rarely went into beast mode like he did after the all star break last year.

    matthews obviously struggle but it looked like he was always trying. i can accept that. he has the work ethic, competitiveness, and personality that good teams have so i think he's a keeper. i don't think his potential ceiling is high and i question if he is a true starter but i do think he's a valuable piece to keep.

    batum is a keeper but i don't expect him to be a go to guy. i see him as a compliment guy. he just doesn't have that eye of the tiger mentality.

    luke babbit proved he's an nba player but he's nothing to get excited about. i thought grew this season and i'm pleased with his effort.

    pryzbilla of course is my man. he's slow and isn't getting younger or healthier but he does take up space and he is an enforcer. every team NEEDS an enforcer.

    the rest of the team was okay but nothing worth writing home about.

    all in all, this season sucked. truth be told i watched maybe half of the games. i had better things to do then dedicate hours to this mess but i was always grateful for the news articles and blogs.

    so long blazer nut jobs! i thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments this year.

    go blazers!

    by thedanman on 5/1/2012 1:14 AM
  14. Thanks danman;
    Nut jobs is right. I agree with your comments. See you next year.

    by Divotking on 5/1/2012 2:13 PM
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