JJ Hickson, Gritty Game-Changer
By sarahhecht Posted in: j.j.hickson
Hustle, energy and heart. Unlike many aspects in life, it’s easy to specifically describe what center JJ Hickson
brings to the floor every time he dons a Trail Blazers uniform. Since his arrival in Portland, the 6-9 big man has rooted himself firmly into the starting lineup by consistently outworking his opponents with gritty plays, by ripping away rebounds and often being the spark to ignite the potency of his teammates.
In no area is this truth more obvious than in the number of extra possessions Hickson earns for his squad. “He changes the tempo and the whole tenor of the game because of going after those rebounds. It’s a force that teams have to reckon with,” Head Coach Terry Stotts said. “Extra possessions, however you get extra possessions in this league, is important, whether it’s causing turnovers, giving up turnovers and offensive rebounds, you can’t make those up and the law of averages are you get extra possessions you’re gonna be in a better position.”
It’s not difficult to recall specific instances in recent games when Hickson’s hustle was the difference maker—a big offensive rebound at the end of the game against San Antonio immediately stands out as one that defined the outcome of the night in the final minutes—and launched the play of his teammates sky high.
“I think people feed off that energy,” Stotts said. “When one player makes an energy play there’s a tendency for the other four guys on the court to raise their level a little bit, so when JJ gets and energy rebound he gets a rebound and a foul, gets a defensive rebound and we’re out running because that sparks us, he gets an offensive rebound and everybody picks up because we get another shot at the basket, so I think from an intangible standpoint it really is able to bolster the other guys.”
All those influential moments result directly from Hickson’s style of play and that’s what he attributes much of his success to.
“I’m just playing hard,” Hickson said. “I know for a fact playing hard and being active is gonna keep me on the floor. That’s something that me and coach talked about before the season even started. I’m just trying to make basketball plays and make myself available on offense.
“I know what type of player I am. I know what my bread and butter is and I know what I have to do every night to stay on the court and to help this basketball team win, so I know what my job and I’m in tune with it.”
Hickson’s awareness of his strengths and his focus on those aspects of his game may earn him accolades in the intangible areas of the game like energy and grit, but they also translate to the stat line. Through 22 games Hickson has fought his way to 13 double-doubles with five of those coming consecutively in the last five games, a stat good enough to launch him into the top tier of double-double earners in the league.
But for JJ, it’s not about stats it’s about wins and his entertaining and tough approach to the game is without a doubt a catalyst to many.