Exploring Omer Asik’s offensive limitations

A couple mornings ago I awoke from a dream that took place in a world where Omer Asik was a dependable offensive player. The Rockets would dribble up the floor, run some dummy weak side action to clear one side of the court, then toss the ball down low and wait for Asik to embarrass some anonymous unlucky giant who happened to be guarding him. Waking up, I forced a chuckle, knowing the likelihood of this scenario was about as probable as that time I eluded two great white sharks chasing me around a Starbucks.

Then I thought about it for a second. Is it really inconceivable for an athletic 26-year-old, who’s never been asked to score before, to incorporate a new function into his job description? In the case of Asik, maybe? Now that his minutes will more than double as a starter, the increase in possessions he’ll take part in could open up some interesting opportunities. Either that or Asik will find himself ostracized whenever his team has the ball. Only time will tell.

From a categorical standpoint, Asik is one of the most boring, easily definable players in today’s NBA. Everyone knows his identity, and nobody has ever expected much more. He’s a defensive big man whose basic responsibilities involve protecting the basket, containing ball-handlers on the pick and roll, taking charges, filling gaps, plugging holes, and, basically, existing as his defensive unit’s coat rack: while Houston’s other four defenders are scurrying around—gambling, helping, switching—Asik is the most important piece of the bunch, different in that he’s figuratively rooted in place with the function of holding everything together. Asik will have a ton of responsibility as the back line of Kevin McHale’s defense, tasked with enhancing an undersized defensive unit just as the Marcus Camby/Samuel Dalembert duo did with last year’s team.

In terms of traditional positions, he might be the only person (apart from Kevin Martin, whose speculated status on the trade market makes him less a Rockets player than a Rockets contract) on Houston’s entire roster who comfortably fits into one of basketball’s five customary slots. Jeremy Lin is a “point guard,” but last season he was more known for getting to the basket and creating opportunities for himself than anything else. Donatas Motiejunas is a three-point shooting big man. Royce White is whatever Royce White wants to be. Chandler Parsons is a do-everything glue guy capable of attacking the basket as much as skillfully defending almost any player in the NBA out on the perimeter. Asik is a center, and there’s no arguing it.

Being such that Asik’s defensive contributions are (hopefully) a given, it’s time to focus in on what this guy might be able to do with the ball in his hands. Recently, Rockets.com writer Jason Friedman wrote a fantastic piece describing the hard work Asik is putting in to overcome his offensive deficiencies, most notably at the free throw line and in post up situations. The article is an obvious must read, but there were a few lines from Asik’s trainer, Carroll Dawson, that I feel are worth quoting here.

“I have never seen how much power this kid’s got. I’ve been behind some of the best, from Moses Malone to Olajuwon to Yao, and you can’t move this kid. He’s 295, 7-foot and he’s strong as an ox. He can get on the floor and help us defensively already. He doesn’t have to be a great offensive player. He just has to handle the situations that come to him. If he does that, he’ll be a big plus for the Rockets….If we get where we can throw him the ball in the deep post and he can get us some points every now and then, that’s going to be a big plus.”

Two things stand out here: 1) If Asik is as strong as Dawson says he is, then he should be able to establish position deeper than most centers in the league. If able to do so, half the battle is already won. 2) It might not come this season, but if Asik can someday become a guy with the ball who is trusted by his teammates, then all of a sudden that escalated third-year in his contract doesn’t look so bad—both as a tradeable asset and appropriately priced commodity.

In two seasons of NBA action, Asik has attempted 297 shots from the field. 275 of them came in the Restricted Area. According to Synergy, approximately two out of every 10 attempts by Asik came in either a post up situation or as the drifting body in a pick-and-roll. By contrast, three out of every 10 attempts came from sheer effort on the offensive glass (throughout his career, Asik has averaged almost as many offensive rebounds per 36 minutes as field goal attempts).

Most of his shots in the post were rushed attempts off super quick entrance passes that make it look as if Chicago’s objective was more to catch the defense off guard than put the ball in the basket. Asik’s go-to move was an ugly jump hook that he’d catapult towards the back of the rim with a leathery touch. His up and under was more an up and eat-my-shoulder that afforded him very little space in trying to get a decent shot off.

Apart from those opportunities, one of the best ways Houston should look to use Asik on offense is after he sets a baseline screen for a curling guard. If the screen he sets is a typical brick wall, and the guard catches an open pass inside the three-point line, Asik should find himself open for a moment’s time as his man hesitates on whether or not he should close out on the guard or stay at home underneath. It’s almost as if he’s slipping the screen, but I wouldn’t dramatize it that far. The whole play is as simple as anything a player in the NBA can do to score, especially someone standing at a legitimate 7’0″.

All Asik needs to do is make himself available for a pass by giving a slight pivot or turn of the hips, put his hands up, then turn and attack the basket, which should stand just a few feet from his forehead. (Last season with the Bulls, only one teammate assisted more than eight of Asik’s total baskets: Kyle Korver, with 15. If Kevin Martin’s still on the roster next season, or Jeremy Lamb is able to establish himself as a catch and shoot threat, look for the Rockets to run a lot of the this action with Asik as a major beneficiary).

The entire process of transforming someone with limited offensive ability into a reliable option is a long one, if possible at all. But knowing Asik is willing to give it a try is more than any fan can ask for at this point. Unless he isn’t continuing possessions by attacking the offensive glass, getting on him for scoring faults this season will be unnecessary and misguided. Asik is doing his best to show his worth as a worthy two-way player. Like a young actor who fears being typecast, he isn’t settling into a role most identify him with, but instead exploring all his physical abilities and testing his limitations. It has the makings of turning into a dream come true.

Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

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Total comments: 22
  • blakecouey says 6 months ago Declined trade with Sacremento just anounced. Lowry and the 16 for the 5 and Hayes. Sacremento declined.
  • Sir Thursday says 6 months ago Apparently Golden State might be interested in trading down - they're supposed to be quite high on Zeller, and with the #12 they can probably guarantee getting him (whereas they couldn't with the #14). #7 will still have some decent players floating around.

    It would also make sense to me if Sacramento hold off on trading their pick until they know who's available to them at #5. Saw a suggestion somewhere that since Barnes is such a bad fit with them, they'd probably make a trade if that's who was left (I think it was Ford? I've been reading a lot of draft stuff recently...). Suspect they'd take any of the other consensus top 5 though.

  • blakecouey says 6 months ago I was just throwing things out there, I dont keep up with Sacremento's trends, no idea what they might do, I just know 12 is better than 14 regardless of who you're drafting.

    I expect another trade to be done tonight, 24hrs til draft got to keep the ball rolling.
  • Sir Thursday says 6 months ago So in what way is #12 better than #14? You get to pick ahead of Milwaukee and Phoenix, which you'd want to do if you suspected you were going after similar players to those teams. Milwaukee wanted a big man, and AFAIK Phoenix are looking for a wing (they keep getting linked to SG types). The sort of players who would be available at that stage...Zeller, Leonard are the primary big men, Ross and Lamb are probably the wing players. Do Sacramento want any of those guys? They've already got a glut of players at the wing, so I can't imagine they're looking there. I guess they could want another big man to pair with Cousins, so Zeller might fit - he's supposed to have a bit of range, which would complement Cousins quite well...

  • blakecouey says 6 months ago Kings may have wanted slightly better than 14 and 16, maybe the 12 is to get that trade going again?
    I like the point you made about recently having 2 starter quality PGs constantly battling/worrying about their job. Livingston is a good defender with great size, works well if Parsons/Lee are starting next year brings some defense to the 2nd unit. As far as Leuer, per 40mins he was one of 5 rookies that averaged 15pts and 10rebs-works for me..
  • Dan G says 6 months ago Not the trade I wanted to hear but if the 12th pick is more enticing and helps us in the grand scheme than the 14th pick, I guess a small hooray is in order.
  • Sir Thursday says 6 months ago Seems like a really good deal for us. We improve our pick, and Dalembert wasn't going to figure in our long-term plans anyway. From what I saw last year, Leuer played pretty well for the Bucks, not sure why they let him go. Really liking that acquisition, even if it makes our PF situation even more congested. And Livingston is a pretty serviceable backup PG - which I think is actually a good thing. In previous years we've had two PGs competing for the starting spot and getting in each other's way, but having an established starter will hopeful mean we avoid tensions within the squad.

    Whether it helps us get those top picks...I'm not sure. Maybe Morey's planning on moving up incrementally? Perhaps his plan is to convince Detroit to trade down - they really want a big man, and all the projections I've seen show Leonard and Zeller being available a bit lower down than #9. And once you've got the #9, maybe you can find the next step on the ladder who's willing to trade with you...kind of ambitious though, and we'd be shedding a lot of assets to make it happen. But that's what they're for :P.

  • blakecouey says 6 months ago Keeping Livingston almost assures us of getting rid of Lowry OR letting Dragic walk. Only reason I say it is because there are still a few who think we keep both Lowry/Dragic.
  • Alituro says 6 months ago Not Bad... Livingston can help now and Leuer has some potential, Brockman will go though... So we now have #12, #16 and #18? Still need to break into top 10 if we hope ORL will talk.
  • blakecouey says 6 months ago Apparently the Hawks are pursuing Gasol for Smith. Just got home, havent read much yet.
  • Ostrow says 6 months ago Conflicting reports not Ken Berger saying we might be going after Gasol, Ford says we aren't pursuing anymore

    Berger: http://www.cbssports.com/nba/blog/ken-berger/19431966/rockets-stockpiling-picks-for-run-at-howard-gasol
    Ford: http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/8104029/source-houston-rockets-make-trade-milwaukee-bucks-move-12
  • Ostrow says 6 months ago that's why i said "as of now." I believe they'll all be traded for cap for for other teams
  • Lyfestyle says 6 months ago

    Ostrow, on 27 June 2012 - 20:18 PM said:

    apparently, as of now, we are keeping all three

    I think that assumes we'll be dumping most of the roster in the next couple of days. If we can't make a big move we'll have to get out the ol' cutting knife.
  • Ostrow says 6 months ago apparently, as of now, we are keeping all three
  • rockets best fan says 6 months ago this is a good stepping stone trade.
  • Cooper says 6 months ago Not bad only move up two spots but we can dump Livingston and probably buyout brokman. Leuer is actually a decent player might be worth keeping around.
  • Lyfestyle says 6 months ago I gotta be honest, I thought Dally's contract (with its buy-out) would be worth more. There were rumors that Sacramento really wanted it.
  • blakecouey says 6 months ago Not a bad pickup. Back up pg spot may be sealed.
    Did you wind up getting a Twitter? if so hit up my thread in offtopic
  • Ostrow says 6 months ago Livingston has a team option for 3.5, Brockman is 1mil for next year, Leuer has a TO for 760,000 next year
  • blakecouey says 6 months ago Heard it also includes brockman and leurer.
  • blakecouey says 6 months ago What's livingstons contract look like?
  • Ostrow says 6 months ago I don't know why it posted twice....


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