Omer Asik is that hardworking co-worker who never gets a project of their own. No matter how well he plays, or how hard he works, he’s always being replaced by someone better, or just more talented. Now, with Kevin McHale inserting Asik into the lineup with Dwight Howard tonight against Dallas, it’s worth pondering how Asik again finds himself on the outside looking in.
The 27-year-old Turkish center is entering his fourth season, but after starting 82 games last season for the Rockets as he helped them get back into the playoffs, he’s been replaced by free agent acquisition Dwight Howard.
Before the Rockets brought Asik aboard last summer — when he signed an offer sheet for a 3-year, $25 million contract — he was playing as part of Chicago’s bench mob. He put up some dazzling 36 minute numbers in the process, and turned into one of the best rebounders and rim defenders in the league. But he wasn’t going to start.
He came off the bench in Chicago behind Joakim Noah. Over two seasons in that role, he got two starts. Despite some of the best defensive on/off numbers in the league during his second season in Chi-town (more than 8 points less per 100 possessions when he was on the court), they let him walk when Rockets GM Daryl Morey dangled that 3-year deal.
Now Asik is again on the outside looking in, as Dwight Howard commands all the attention on the block for the Rockets this season. Both Noah and Howard are considered upgrades over the ponderous Asik — who can struggle, though he has improved, on offense — but who is one of the best defenders in the league. Rarely off balance or out of place on a rotation, Asik is a truly elite defender.
Last season, while starting every game for the Rockets during the regular season, they gave up close to 6 points more per 100 possessions with Asik on the bench. That means Asik’s presence is the difference between a top 10 defense, and one that ranked in the bottom 5 when he was getting a breather on the sidelines. Despite this, Dwight Howard has started every preseason game for the Rockets this summer as they look to assimilate him into their kinetic up-and-down attack.
But not tonight. With the Mavericks in town, head coach Kevin McHale wants to see his two imposing centers on the court at the same time. Via the Houston Chronicle:
“We’ll start big with Omer and Dwight, see how that looks,” McHale said. “It will be a really good test because Dirk [Nowitzki] is such a good spread four. Both Omer and Dwight haven’t done that that much. If that’s going to work, they’ll have to play against those type of guys. I want to look at that.
“They’re working their way through stuff. They both have the same instincts to protect the rim and protect the paint. When one is down there the other is going to have to pick up a trailing shooter. There’s some little things they’re working on.”
Depending on how Dwight or Omer fare while defending Nowitzki on the perimeter, the Rockets may use both Howard and Asik at the same time moving forward, effectively closing off the paint to any attacking players, but also possibly limiting the spacing on the offensive end.
James Harden says he’s been attacking just fine with both on the court in practice, but that might change depending on the defensive schemes Mavs coach Rick Carlisle decides to use against the twin towers 2.0.
When asked how it will go with both big men on the court at the same time, Harden said, “I don’t know. We’ll see tomorrow. Today was pretty good. We got to the basket pretty easy. We’ll see in an actual game when teams are trying their defensive schemes against us.”
So now Asik, who has already asked for a trade and been rebuffed by Morey, will try to co-exist with the most prominent — and vocal — big man in the game. If you look at some of the rosters in the league, at least half of them could use Asik at the 5, but he finds himself again on a team with a more talented center.
The disgruntled journey of Asik continues again in preseason tonight, but don’t be surprised if Morey deals the Turk if he can scoop up a first round pick for him. Until then, we’ll all just watch Asik languish on the bench, again finding himself in the wrong spot at the wrong time.
What do you think?
Follow Spencer on Twitter at @countcenci.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.