Dwight Howard is a tremendous player. As is Omer Asik. Together, however, they are not a good pairing. The Rockets insisted all preseason and into the regular season that the two could make it work, but, at least in the early going, the results have not been pretty. Last night against the Raptors, Kevin McHale finally decided to make a change, going with Terrence Jones at power forward at the start of the second half in place of Asik, and the Rockets pulled out a victory. Could that be the start of a new philosophy for the Rockets?
From the beginning, the pairing of Asik and Howard seemed destined for failure. In theory, the two would lock down every rebound in sight and control the paint, but issues were more noticeable and the positives never truly manifested themselves. On TrueHoop TV this morning, Daryl Morey talked to Tom Haberstroh about the Twin Towers and how if they were to be successful, they needed to create a significant rebounding edge, an edge that hasn't materialized in the first seven games. Without that edge, almost the entire basis for the dual big man lineup disappears.
Instead, what has been evident in the first few games has been the complete lack of spacing on the floor when both Howard and Asik are playing. Teams have been getting out to early leads against the Rockets, and those leads are hurting the Rockets as they have to claw back at the end of games.
If you breakdown team performance into four categories, interior offense, perimeter offense, interior defense, and perimeter defense, the Rockets are sacrificing three categories for an upgrade in one with this lineup. While they are stronger in the paint on defense, they are struggling to go help out on to shooters on the perimeter with Asik and Howard in the middle, and teams are burning them from deep. The Rockets are third worst in the league in terms of three point shots made, and their failure to control teams from shooting has cost them dearly in their losses to the Clippers and Lakers.
Offensively, the lineup hurts spacing inside and limits the shooting outside. With both Asik and Howard on the floor, Asik's man is lurking on the other side of the paint each time Howard catches the ball in the post, and is there ready to help when Howard makes a move at the rim. Meanwhile, when James Harden or Jeremy Lin penetrate the paint, both big men from the opposing team are already there in the paint. With just Howard in the lineup, the Rockets have space on the inside and four players to hit jumpers outside of him, allowing Howard space to operate and giving him the weapons to hit shots when teams feel the need to send help.
Reducing the game to just four categories is overly simplistic, but it underlies the fact that the Rockets sacrifice points in many facets of the game just to potentially gain a few when guarding players in the paint. They aren't rebounding significantly better with the Twin Towers lineup, and so it just doesn't make sense to stick with it.
McHale made the change at the beginning of the second half last night, and let's hope it's a change he makes permanent tomorrow night. It might hurt Asik's feelings, but it's for the good of the team.