For the sake of the bench
J.J. Hickson has been outstanding as the starting center for the Portland Trail Blazers this season. He is averaging 10.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and has exceeded the expectations of those who thought his 6’9” frame would be a hindrance when it came to his success on the low block.
So why exactly would the team move him aside for rookie center Meyers Leonard?
Because the bench needs a serious makeover.
The Trail Blazers bench is averaging just 12.8 points per game this season, which is hands-down the worst in the entire NBA.
It’s gotten to the point where fans are beginning to cringe when there are more bench players than starters on the floor. The reserves have no energy, they don’t rebound and they’re lacking any sort of go-to option on the offensive side of the floor.
J.J. Hickson may be happy as a starter, but he could boost every one of those lacking areas immediately—not somewhere down the road.
A Tale of Two Units
When it comes down to it, the Blazers have lost games because of their bench this season. The year is young, and the team has time to grow, but why sit back and wait when you can take a proactive approach to improving your rotation?
The starting lineup has shown incredible enthusiasm this year. They lead the entire NBA in points per game among all starting units, they’re in the top 5 in rebounding and they push the tempo night in and night out.
The Blazers’ first five are about as fun to watch as it comes in this league, but it’s a shame that their efforts are often times lost with the inexperience and unproven nature of the reserves.
Moving Hickson to the bench will take away some of the starters’ production; no doubt about that.
But with his energy and resilience in the second unit, the starting lineup would be allowed to rest more throughout the game, potentially avoiding collapses like we’ve seen already against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks.
It’s true that the team made a great second-half rally against the Houston Rockets early in the year, but with four of the five starters playing more than 42 minutes in that game, you have to wonder if the same kind of comeback would take place at the end of a long, grueling season.
What becomes of Hickson?
On the surface, bringing Hickson off the bench seems like a decreased role for a player who is thriving at his position. Coming off the bench may equate to fewer minutes per game, but when we’re truly talking about his role, his impact on the team will be far greater as a reserve than it is as a starter.
Whether or not Meyers Leonard is ready to become a starting center is debatable, but as we’ve seen up to this point in the young season, he’s certainly not ready to be the leader of a reserve squad that looks as bad any bench in the entire NBA.
Hickson, on the other hand, is just what the second unit needs to thrive, and while he may not want to decrease his minutes at this point in his career, if he has any selfless bone in his body, he’ll realize that the bench needs him in order to remain competitive throughout the 2012-13 season.