When Chuck Hayes went down with a dislocated shoulder against Milwaukee on Thursday, the Kings lost a veteran leader and vocal presence on defense.
In forward J.J. Hickson, the player who appears to have replaced Hayes in the starting lineup, the Kings gain another intangible.
"Energy," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "His energy and his effort will always keep him involved and active in the game."
With Hayes expected to miss three to four weeks, Hickson started at power forward in the Kings' 104-97 loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday and played a season-high 38 minutes.
Hickson finished with 14 points and a team-high 11 rebounds to go with four assists and four turnovers, though Smart said the Kings ran a "very small number" of plays offensively for Hickson.
An active presence
Smart said he might take into account a given night's matchup before deciding who will start alongside DeMarcus Cousins in the frontcourt. But the Kings have just three big men without Hayes, and Smart wants to make sure that Jason Thompson whom the Kings need to back up Cousins at center stays out of early foul trouble.
Smart likes having an active big man in the frontcourt with Cousins, and Hickson fits that description.
Hickson closed out to challenge the Magic's perimeter shooters and made an athletic leaping block of a fourth-quarter layup attempt by guard Jameer Nelson.
Hickson also appeared on at least one occasion to try to push the pace a little too much. After grabbing a rebound with 17 seconds left in the third quarter and the Kings down by two, He threw a pass intended for Tyreke Evans that zipped by Evans "a bullet," Evans said and out of bounds for one of Hickson's turnovers.
"I thought he should've just passed it, but I guess the adrenaline was going, he grabbed the strong rebound, and he was trying to get the ball to me," Evans said. "He's aggressive. You've got to like the way he plays."
A starter in Cleveland
Undersized against some of the league's power forwards at 6-foot-9 and 242 pounds, Hickson is the Kings' second-leading rebounder (7.3 per game) behind Cousins.
"I think every coach knows I'm going to run the floor and I'm going to play hard," Hickson said. " It's easy to put me in there next to anybody because you know what you're going to get from me."
Acquired by the Kings in the trade that sent Omri Casspi to Cleveland last June, the 23-year-old Hickson started 66 of the 80 games he played last season for the Cavaliers, so he is familiar with the role.
His role already has fluctuated with the Kings. Hickson became a starter for a few days after Hayes' contract was voided because of a failed physical during training camp, and he resumed coming off the bench when Hayes returned.
Recently, Hickson started the three games in which Cousins was either inactive after being sent home by then-coach Paul Westphal or brought off the bench. Hickson was used as a reserve again against the Bucks, but he had 11 rebounds in 25 minutes after Hayes' injury.
It helps, Hickson said, that his understanding of his responsibilities does not change.
"I approach every game the same," Hickson said. "I'm going to be a professional about it, and I guess whenever Chuck gets back, coach has a decision to make. And whatever decision he makes, I'm (OK) with it."