The Houston Rockets begin their 2012-2013 campaign on October 30th and already commentators are remarking on the Houston Rockets in February. Specifically they speak at length about the trade deadline and the future of Omer Asik. The most cited rationale for shipping out Omer Asik is the preseason assessment of the power forward position in Houston. I readily admit that Omer Asik is a prime candidate to get dealt if the Rockets want to receive anyone of value back. For those of you who would put Jeremy Lin on the block, stop. Jeremy is the starting point guard of the Rockets and is showing improvement in all the right places. I wanted to take some of your time to take a realistic view at the reports swirling out there and separate the fact from the fiction, state a few things you and every other Rockets fan knows, and separate the hype and ignorance from the reality.
Omer Asik is reportedly not that thrilled with Dwight Howard's presence on the Rockets. Consequently, Asik may or may not be seeking a trade out of Houston. Reports vary but the situation makes it at least plausible that he would be disgruntled after the year he just had. He was third in the league in rebounds at 11.7 a game last year. Compared to Marcin Gortat, the center most widely considered available, Omer averaged 1 point less, 3.2 rebounds more, .3 assists less, and .5 blocks less while shooting 2% better in True Shooting and posting a 103 defensive rating compared to a 105 (Aggregate between NBA.com's stat comparison and Basketball Reference information). Without Asik on the floor the Rockets defense crumbled. Daryl Morey has openly stated there are no plans to move Omer Asik. Asik has stated he will do whatever is asked of him in Houston and that Dwight Howard's addition is a great one for the team. Asik's game is not particularly conducive to spreading the floor or at the very least failing to congest the rim. The Rockets may experiment with Asik and Howard combination lineups but it's not a foregone conclusion that that is the plan.
The Houston Rockets sorely lack an emergent answer at the power forward position. Terrence Jones has impressed in Summer League and is off to a quality start in his second preseason in the NBA. Donatas Motiejunas has put on mass but continues to struggle rebounding the ball and with defensive awareness at the NBA level. Greg Smith is currently nursing an injury. Of all the Rockets starters the least is known about what the power forward position has to offer.
Various media outlets are focusing on the idea that the Houston Rockets will need to find some form of answer at the power forward position. Since Houston has two starting caliber centers on their roster it makes sense to move one of those centers in order to cure their power forward deficiency. Omer is in a class of starting centers and should, in theory, return a starting power forward in a deal. Reportedly LaMarcus Aldridge is unhappy in Portland and he makes sense as a fit in Houston. Kevin Love reportedly wants to stay in Minnesota but wants to see a reflexive commitment from the organization and he, too, makes sense in Houston next to Dwight Howard. Either of these two players could help push the Rockets from "possibly contenders" to world-beaters.
The Assumptions Required
In order to lend credence to this speculation Rockets fans need to make a few leaps of faith and betray some conventional thinking that the fan base has recently eschewed. These leaps? They range from things you can forgive as excitable amnesia to things that require a great deal of ignorance as to this team and how basketball works.
First, in order to buy national appraisal of the power forward position you would have to accept, at face value no less, that the national media has a firm grasp on Houston's personnel situation. For years fans have clamored about the national media's failure to acknowledge Houston (Commercials every time Houston picks in the draft, for one) yet now that same media's word is gospel. You have to betray your own good sense.
Second, in order to believe moving Omer Asik is a legitimately intelligent idea it must be assumed that the Rockets' bench would not have the same defensive failures as it did last season. Houston was 6th in offensive efficiency and 16th in defensive efficiency. For comparison's sake, respectively, the Spurs and Heat were 7th and 1st in offensive efficiency and 3rd and 7th in defensive efficiency. To accept the idea that trading Omer Asik is a smart one it must be believed that either the Rocket's defensive woes of last year would not return while still using the same replacement center from last season. I heard once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same set of circumstances and expecting a different result each time.
Third, the assumption must be made that the Houston Rockets would not be able to field a productive lineup with any of their current crop of power forwards. A starting lineup with James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Dwight Howard, and Chandler Parsons would have to be so woefully unproductive that a fifth option power forward would have to make up for their shortcomings. Does anyone sincerely believe that this starting lineup is going to struggle defensively or offensively? Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Dwight Howard are among three of the better defenders at their position. Arguably there isn't a better defensive center in the NBA than Dwight Howard.
Fourth, you would have to rely on the idea that a "big three" is required to win the NBA Title. This idea has lost some traction given the fact that the narrative of the Miami Heat has changed a bit but let's not forget when that team originally came together. The Rockets potentially have a big three depending on the contributions of Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons. The third major player on title contending teams tends to be an interchangeable player capable of exerting dominance on a game. Chris Bosh and Manu Ginobli are prime examples. Bosh and Ginobli are players that have great reputations and are hailed as saviors when they perform. They're also unheralded because when the two primary players (Duncan/Parker and James/Wade) perform up to expectation.
Lastly, one would have to believe that Marcus Camby is an adequate back up at center at the age of 39 (turning 40). Camby has a torn plantar fascia and may require surgery. Even when the signing was announced it was a foregone conclusion that he would not be healthy or reliable back up option given his last season with the Knicks. Camby is not a viable option at his age, most centers at this age are not viable options. Unless we're talking about Hakeem... Hakeem is viable at all ages.
The Realistic Implications
If Omer Asik is moved the Rockets will come to rely on Greg Smith as the primary back up for Dwight Howard. Last year that wasn't all that effective. The Rockets' pace didn't help matters but 16th in the NBA in defensive efficiency is unacceptable for a team with title aspirations. The last two teams standing in the NBA locked down defensively to secure their leads. The Rockets 6th place rating in offensive efficiency indicates they can score and they can score in a variety of ways. Their problem, and it's well documented, is making sure that lead stays in place. Last year that burden fell to the bench. The lack of defensive presence in the middle hurt the Rockets. Other teams can score with the Rockets, the Rockets can't prevent other teams from scoring. Removing Omer Asik from the current Rockets roster would only serve to invite that disparity yet again. If the Rockets want to make that next step towards contention they can't afford to lose Asik.
Any power forward the Rockets get in return will have to be a player with a range game, some ball handling skills, and the ability to rebound at a moderate clip. The demand on the power forward position is actually minimal in Houston as currently constructed. Currently the roster sports two power forwards who can stretch the floor in Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones. Additionally Omri Casspi can easily fill in the Ryan Anderson 2.0 role next to Dwight Howard. Casspi, if you'll recall, put up 20 points in his preseason debut as a Houston Rocket. Dwight Howard (22%), Jeremy Lin (21%), and James Harden (29%) all combine for 72% usage (Based on last year's stats). That means there are only 28% of possessions left for Chandler Parsons and whichever power forward the Rockets ultimately end up using. Chandler's usage last season was 18%. Granted, last year's usage rates will drop the end-result will be that whichever incoming power forward the Rockets acquire will see no more than 15-20% usage at the most. Players of Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge's pedigree won't be maximized with the kind of usage available to them. When you factor in the salary commitments these players would require it's a no-brainer, really.
I hope that this post has managed to shed some light on the ongoing Omer Asik rumors. Honestly, it just requires we step back and think about the implications of team building, realistic impact of certain acquisitions, and allow confirmation bias to guide us a bit. The national media just started paying attention to Houston. Shouldn't we take something from that and question sources pushing these ideas? If they couldn't be bothered to have paid much attention to this team how valid is that analysis? If we second guess what we know for no good reason other than an uninformed newcomer giving you a faulty argument in favor of something new, what's that say about our thought processes? More so, when we apply fact and simple reasoning, does our analysis agree with what we're being force fed? I don't think it does and I don't think you, in your heart of hearts, think it does either.