When Omer Asik came to Houston, who knew what was going to happen. Asik had rebounded and defended well in limited minutes, and though Daryl Morey seemed convinced he could repeat that performance with more time on the floor, the fact remained that Asik had just averaged 3.1 PPG and 5.3 RPG in the best season of his two year career. Add in a putrid effort offensively (45.6% from the field as a center), and there was plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the 3 year, $25 million deal the Rockets handed him.
Nine months later, Asik has blossomed into one of the top defensive big men in the league, anchoring a defense that struggles on the perimeter. He averages 10.3 PPG and 11.7 RPG, the latter figure the third best in the NBA. But what has led to this success? We'll take a deeper look in our playoff scouting report of him.
This article is the third in a series of ten where we look at each member of the Rockets' rotation and evaluate them piece by piece. We will be populating this page (bookmark this!) with every article in the series.
1) Dreadful shooter who avoids outside shots like his life depends on it
Of the 569 shots that Omer Asik has attempted this season, 544 have been in the paint. When he is forced to take a shot outside the paint, it is often a late jumper with the shot clock with an awkward release and extremely slim chance of going in.
His shot chart has some interesting figures from random variation in statistics (60% from the right elbow on 5 attempts!), but all in all, it paints a picture of a truly awful jump shooter. Unfortunately, that applies at the free throw line. He shot well at the beginning of the season, but he has slumped to a 55.8% mark at the line, a fairly awful figure for someone who has been in the league for nearly three years.
2) Bad hands, but improving in the pick-and-roll and post
At the beginning of the season, the extent of Asik's offensive game was put-backs off of offensive boards and the occasional fast break bucket. Now, Asik is improving in both the pick-and-roll and in the post, two plays where his hulking size can play a big part in success.
In the pick-and-roll, he sets tremendous picks that defenders struggle to get around which creates mismatches off the bat. His hands of stone have been a detriment at times, but players are getting more comfortable working with him and getting him the ball where he can catch it, and, more importantly, his footwork is vastly improved, allowing him to put up shot fakes and pivot for easy buckets. This goes for his post game as well; Asik is able to back most opponents deep into the post with his huge frame and his improved footwork gets his defender into the air so he can get an easy shot. At this point, he's not a weapon in any way in the post with good defense, but if a defender slips up, he's improved his game to the point where he can make them pay.
3) Superb outlet passer
We've written about how Asik is a hardworking big that gets out in transition, but perhaps his biggest contribution to the fast break is his excellent outlet passes. The Rockets run like crazy, and whether it's off makes or misses, Asik is quick to look up the floor and rifle a pass to a streaking teammate.
After watching Chuck Hayes do it for years, having a replacement in Omer Asik that has the same skills is a great sight to see.
Yes, Asik is a great outlet passer and can get some points in the pick-and-roll, but that is not why Daryl Morey committed over $8 million a year for him. With his massive body, his athleticism, and his impressive discipline, Asik has become one of the class defenders in the NBA and helped the Rockets avoid embarrassment on the defensive end.
In the pick-and-roll, Asik's ability to show on the ball handler and then recover to his man is tremendous, and is extremely unique for a player of his size. Jason Friedman's film session on Rockets.com does a great job discussing this, and that's definitely worth a watch.
In the post, the story is pretty similar. Asik has the strength to keep opponents out of the paint, and is disciplined enough to stay on the ground when they pump fake. This allows him to excel even against faster opponents like Blake Griffin, and keeps him out of foul trouble.
You will notice, however, that Asik does not run up a ton of blocks despite playing ostensibly good defense. This has a lot to do with his discipline. Asik contests guards in the paint by jumping straight up and down, trying to avoid foul calls. While it does cut down on the number of blocked shots he collects, he does succeed in altering shots down low.
When all is said and done, Asik is by far the Rockets' most important player defensively. When he's on the floor, the Rockets allow 105 points per 100 possessions. When he's off it? 112.7.
Asik is a below average offensive player, but he's improving and his elite defense and rebounding make him one of the more valuable centers in the Western Conference. He's extremely disciplined and fundamentally sound, and though he can be frustrating on the offensive end at times, he can still help them in many other ways.