Charles Barkley has made a second career out of saying silly things. And seeing as his own TNT colleagues often make fun of his lack of knowledge when it comes to non-stars in the NBA (“Who He Play For?”), it’s easy to just tune Chuck out when he tries to provide insight beyond the Chris Paw-woll and Kobeh Braaaahnt level.
A couple weeks ago during a Cavs highlight, Barkley said J.J. Hickson should be Cleveland’s permanent starting power forward, a couple games after Hickson had been inserted into Anderson Varejao‘s regular spot. You could have chalked it up to Barkley seeing Hickson dunk one time and blurting something out, but he was actually right on the money this time.
Since taking over as the starting PF on Nov. 6, Hickson has been averaging 13.6 points and 4.6 rebounds. He scored 20 against Utah, had 21 and nine boards against Golden State, and 15 points and seven boards in a comeback win over Indiana, where he made a few clutch buckets in the fourth quarter. Hickson has been the Cavs’ version of J.R. Smith, often punctuating wins with soul-crushing dunks late in the game.
Early in the season, the Cavs have shown signs of the same flaws that kept them away from a championship last season. There’s too much standing around waiting for LeBron to dominate, inconsistent outside shooting, and a lack of athleticism in the frontcourt. Hickson at least helps solve the last part. During that fourth-quarter run in Indiana, there was a play where he stripped Troy Murphy and got behind the defense in transition like Randy Moss, took a long pass from Mo Williams in stride, elevated without taking a dribble and finished a two-hand dunk as Danny Granger pushed him in the back in mid-air.
I can’t say I saw this coming. I watched Hickson play a couple times in high school and left thinking, “OK, he can dunk. What else?” That didn’t change the few times I saw him at N.C. State, so I was surprised when Hickson left school after his freshman year — even more surprised when he emerged as a first-round NBA pick.
Since then, however, Hickson has proven to be a promising pro. Just 21 years old, at 6-9 and 240 pounds, he has athleticism to match almost any power forward in the game, and by playing with the Cavs, he’s getting experience playing in big games that will help him — and them — down the line.