Q+A: JJ Hickson
The big man speaks on his time in Sacramento and his new opportunity in Portland with the Trailblazers.
by Brendan Bowers / @StepienRules
Before the Sacramento Kings traded Omri Casspi and a conditional first round pick to Cleveland in exchange for JJ Hickson this past off-season, the then third-year power forward had just averaged 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds in 80 games as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In 35 games for the Kings this season though, Hickson’s numbers dipped to 5 points and 5 rebounds per night. He admittedly did not fit with what Sacramento was trying to do this year, and was eventually released by the Kings in March as a result. The Portland Trailblazers then quickly acquired 23 year-old big man, and he’s since picked up right where he left off in Cleveland.
In his first 14 games as a member of the Blazers, Hickson is back to averaging 14 points and 8 rebounds per night, and he’s been more than a pleasant surprise so far in the Northwest. He’s brought an energetic and physical style of play to the court in Rip City, and he’s seen his role under Coach Kaleb Canales increase in the process.
He’s scored as many as 29 points as a starter against the Clippers during this recent stretch, and has gone for as many as 21 against OKC as a reserve playing alongside LaMarcus Aldridge. As a starter in five total games for Portland, he’s averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds per night. On Sunday, JJ also became the first Blazers’ player to register four consecutive double-doubles this season, when he went for 10 points and 13 rebounds against his former Kings squad.
With Aldridge now sidelined for the rest of the season with a hip injury, Hickson is slated to start the remainder of these games to close out the year. He says he’s excited for the continued opportunity to show his new team what he can do too, and is looking forward to capitalizing on the change in scenery and better overall fit that his new team’s provided.
This weekend, SLAM caught up with JJ Hickson and discussed his time spent in Sacramento, as well as his thoughts moving forward in Portland.
SLAM: What were your initial reactions when you first learned that you’d finish this season as a member of the Portland Trailblazers?
JJ Hickson: I was really excited. I was ecstatic about joining this team in Portland, and getting into a situation where I could really prosper, and show what I can do.
SLAM: Why do you think the situation in Sacramento didn’t work out the way that you and the organization had hoped it would when they first traded for you?
JH: As far as Sacramento, there wasn’t, and isn’t, any bad blood on either side there as far as me, the organization, and the team are concerned. There wasn’t any animosity there on either side at all, and I wish their team the best of luck. It just wasn’t a good fit for me there. I don’t have anything negative to say about that team, it just wasn’t a good fit for me, as far as my game is concerned, and I’m happy now to be a Portland Trailblazer. I’m glad to be in this situation, and I’m just focused on trying to make the most of it.
SLAM: Since you’ve been in Portland, what has it been about that team, that fit, and the Portland organization that has helped you be as productive as you have been in these last 14 games?
JH: I just feel comfortable in this system; it’s a system that works for me. We run a lot of pick and rolls, and I have guys on this team that compliment the way I play, and vice versa. I think we all compliment each other on this team right now. We all share the ball, there’s nobody with selfish attitudes on this team, we like to have fun, and we like to win. I know our Playoff chances are slim right now, but at the same time we’re all about finishing up strong, and creating as much momentum as we can heading into next season.
SLAM: Can you talk about playing for Coach Canales…and how has the team responded to him since you’ve been in Portland?
JJ Hickson: Coach is a great coach, man. He’s young and he’s very energetic; he’s just like me. He’s very hands on, but at the same time he’s a great coach who’s going to tell you when you’re messing up, and he’s also going to tell you what you’re doing well. He’s definitely a defensive minded coach too. I’ve only known Coach for a couple weeks or so, but I’ll run through a wall for him already. I think I speak for the whole team when I say that.
SLAMonline: Has it been the opportunities that Coach has created for you here with his system that weren’t there for you in Sacramento, or is it more of a better fit for you personnel-wise here?
JH: I’d say it’s both. With the personnel that we have on the court, Coach is playing everyone to their strengths. We have guards that can come off pick and rolls and throw dump-off passes, find shooters in the corners, find shooters on the wings, and throw lob passes, things like that. So I think he’s put in a system where we are able to thrive and have an opportunity to be at our best. So when you have a system like that, and have the freedom to play the game, have fun, and share the ball, it works well for everybody. And Coach has a great system that we all buy into it, and I think that’s one of the most important things that we have, in that everybody buys into his system.
SLAM: LaMarcus Aldridge is out right now, but in the games that you were both on the court together you guys seemed to play well off each other. What’s it like playing alongside LA, and what’s your mindset like while closing the season out as a starter with him currently sidelined?
JH: We all know what kind of player LaMarcus is, and I just think I can help us compliment each other’s games by me doing the dirty work. I feel like I can help inside by hitting the glass, attacking the rim, and that kind of thing, to take pressure off him that way, and that’s what I tried to do when we were on the court together. As far as him being out now, I’m not going to change that approach to my game. Coach Kaleb told me he loves what I’m doing, and he’s been satisfied with my play as of late, so I’m going to keep doing that. I think I bring something that we don’t have, that’s to get into the paint and do all the dirty work, so I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunity, maximize my minutes, and do everything I can individually to help our team win.
SLAM: Next year, being a restricted free agent, is Portland a place you’d like to stay and possibly re-sign with moving forward?
JH: Of course, I would love it. I’ve been getting some positive feedback from Coach, and from the organization as a whole, and I would love to re-sign here. As far as the guys on the court, as far as my teammates go, we all like each other off the court and we all get along too. Guys hang out off the court, and I think that builds a chemistry that leads to winning basketball. So I would love to come back here, continue to be a Portland Trailblazer, and help be part of something special that we’re building here.
SLAM: What were your thoughts heading into Sunday’s game against your former Kings team in Sacramento?
JH: At the end of the day I’m a pro, so I wasn’t going to get caught up in that hype too much. I’m just going out, and playing the game the right way, and that’s what this team is all about, playing the game the right way. So that’s what I’m always trying to do, and I’m not trying to get caught up in that off-the-court stuff.
Special thanks to @SportsMediaWrld for coordinating this interview.