Sometimes, it just sucks to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Omer Asik managed to spring free of a backup spot in Chicago, burst onto the scene as a double-double man in Houston, and now finds himself right back where he started, the backup to an All-Star center. Numerous reports have surfaced that Asik is unhappy and wants out of Houston, but the Rockets continue to say that they have no plans to trade Asik and that he will play alongside and behind Howard for the 2013-14 season.
Just yesterday, McHale commented in an interview with the Chronicle that they plan on playing the two together and that Asik's "job is to come in and play" and nothing else. As nice a sentiment as that is, I have a hard time believing it.
The Rockets have stressed spacing ever since Kevin McHale came to the team, and with two ball-dominant guards in Jeremy Lin and James Harden, they had every reason to do so. If you aren't a big X's and O's guy, essentially spacing is just having people who can shoot the ball so that the lane doesn't get clogged. If you have too many non-shooters on the floor, the men guarding them can sag towards the paint and are thus in a much more advantageous position to block shots from guards penetrating the paint or double team post players.
With Dwight Howard now in the fold, spacing takes on an even greater importance. With shooters around him, he can create serious mismatches, forcing teams to either guard him one-on-one down low or double team off an open shooter. With a lineup like Lin/Harden/Parsons/Motiejunas around him, helping could become a dangerous game.
However, with Asik in the lineup, that spacing gets absolutely destroyed. Neither Howard nor Asik can shoot a jumper outside five feet, so both of their defenders have no reason to leave the immediate basket area. If James Harden or Jeremy Lin get into the paint, they will have two big men waiting for them at the rim who have been staying with Howard and Asik.
There are ways to try to counter this by taking the bigs out of the paint with pick-and-rolls, but there is an inescapable fact that neither Howard nor Asik can reliably shoot a jumper. Thus, if their defender stays at home, there is nothing they can really do.
And when Howard gets the ball in the post, Asik's man will be ready and willing to double team him and force him to give up the ball. Howard, not the most adept at post passers, will have trouble taking care of the ball and almost certainly won't be able to hit Asik for the score.
Finally, we get to defense. Both Howard and Asik are tremendous defenders, and they gobble up rebounds like it is their job. Well, I suppose it is their job. Anyway, the two are terrific in the post, but with both of them on the floor, any team can completely neutralize one of them by putting in a decent shooting four. When the Pelicans bring in Ryan Anderson, suddenly the duo of Howard and Asik doesn't look so imposing. Instead, Asik would then be forced to run around the floor chasing a three point shooter he has no business going after.
After watching Howard struggle with a much more skilled but equally big partner last year in Pau Gasol, I don't know why the Rockets would ever try to put the two together on the floor except in rare occurrences (the Grizzlies, Spurs, and a couple other matchups come to mind).
Instead, this seems like classic posturing from a team that doesn't want to lose its biggest trade asset for nothing. There is a ton of value in having the best backup center in the league, especially behind an injury prone starter, and the Rockets would do well to have Asik going fifteen minutes a night behind Howard. But any talk that they will feature Asik alongside Howard seems crazy to me.
What say you? Can it be done or are the Rockets kidding themselves?