Omer Asik and Potential Pelicans Lineups
The Pelicans are in the process of acquiring Omer Asik, the soon-to-be 28 year old center from the Houston Rockets. Asik has split his 4 years in the NBA between the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls and has fostered a reputation as an elite defender and rebounder.
This article will focus on understanding Asik’s strengths and weaknesses so that we can determine optimal Pelican lineups for the big man from Turkey. To do so, I enlisted the help of Avi Saini from Bulls By the Horns and Michel Pina from Red 94. Here are their contributions.
Despite two strong seasons in Chicago as anchor in the paint in Tom Thibodeau’s system, Omer Asik remained a fairly large enigma. During his two season Bulls fans had limited exposure to Asik due to Thibodeau’s practice of benching rookies (Asik played only when Kurt Thomas was injured) and due to a minor minutes increase during an already lockout-shortened season in his second year with the team. But more so than anything Asik remains a mystery because of Thibodeau’s rigid system of rotations.
According to NBA Statistics and 82 Games, all of Chicago’s best and most played lineups featuring Asik on the floor always had him on the floor with fellow defensive stalwart Taj Gibson. Regardless of whoever else was played alongside them, the two man lineup of Asik-Gibson was impenetrable on defense. On average, teams shot in the low 30% in the paint when both were paired up on the floor. Unfortunately the statistics for Asik end with that one lineup. He played insignificant minutes with the defensive blackhole known as Carlos Boozer and saw even fewer minutes with Joakim Noah so it’s difficult to assess just how well he performs on defense in other situations/lineup from his time in Chicago.
Offensively there is almost nothing to take away from his two seasons with the team. As a whole the Bulls had terrible floor spacing during the years Asik played for the team. Given his lack of offensive ability in general, this congestion only made matters significantly worse. As a result Asik’s offensive production was one of the worst amongst the team.
For various, well-known reasons, much of Asik’s disappointing play last season should be taken with a grain of salt. But two years ago, Asik was Houston’s second best/most valuable player. His imposing presence allowed Kevin McHale to go small without losing much on the glass or in rim defense. Houston was at its best with Asik surrounded by pick-and-roll artisans and/or three-point specialists (James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Carlos Delfino, etc.)
Nearly all his frontcourt partners could space the floor, be it Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Donatas Motiejunas, or Francisco Garcia. These weren’t deadly three-point shooters, but they did enough to keep Houston’s offense effective while Asik’s primary role was setting screens on and off the ball.
There are two main takeaways from Avi and Michael’s descriptions:
- Asik has had a game changing defensive effect. Chicago’s loaded defensive frontcourt prevented Avi from ascertaining how much of that was Asik and how much was Taj Gibson. However, Houston was a top 10 defense in 2012-2013, and Michael notes that Asik was not playing with a bevy of defensive talent.
- Asik is not considered a plus on offense.
Playing in a pace and space lineup (Houston) is far different from playing in a traditional lineup (Chicago), and you can tell from Michael and Avi’s descriptions that Asik is much better on offense when he can roll to the rim in less traffic. His pick/roll finishes were easier in Houston because he was surrounded by shooters and help on the roll had to come from further away. The amount of Asik’s offense from the pick/roll spiked when he landed in Houston, and it is fair to question whether his substantial uptick in pick/roll efficiency was a result of Houston’s excellent offensive system. Asik’s pick and roll numbers from the last 4 years (via mySynergySports) are below. Unfortunately, each season has very limited data, save for 2012-13.
|| % of Offense
Picture 1: Asik rolling to hoop in Chicago
Picture 2: Asik rolling to hoop in Houston
Want to take a guess at which P/R Asik finished? Having 4 players who can shoot 3s decreases the amount of interference Asik has to navigate on his way to the rim. Contrast this with the photo from Chicago, where Elton Brand is in position to defend his roll because Taj Gibson is a foot from the paint. Asik has to put the ball on the floor, runs into Brand, and is called for the charge. The Pelicans should avoid Asik putting the ball on the floor at all costs.
That is not to say that Asik has no offensive ability. He is an elite offense rebounder and both an active/able screener. Asik also times his roll very well and is cognizant of opportunities to slip screens and get to the rim. But I don’t want to get too in depth about Asik’s P/R game because Michael McNamara will be exploring that area of his game sometime soon.
Pelican Lineup Comments/Ramblings
- Omer Asik is here for Davis, and there are few better defensive pairings for the still-svelte 21 year old. Asik is a defensive monster who can take on bruising centers, gobble up rebounds, and deter shots in the paint. Playing Asik should allow Davis more liberty to gamble (because Asik can still act as the final line of defense) and the Pelican guards will likely have less rebounding responsibility. The days of needing 2-3 guards/small forwards to gang-rebound are hopefully over.
- I have seen the idea of Ryno/Asik/AD pitched for the end of the games. I imagine this trio will have defensive issues, even with Asik and Davis paired together. The main question is “who defends the perimeter?” and the obvious answer is Anthony Davis.. but as we saw last year, as good as Davis is defending perimeter players in isolation, he simply cannot chase a perimeter player around screens for extended minutes. This combination may work for a few minutes, tops.
- The oft-criticized Eric Gordon graded as a terrible defender, but if Asik can cover for James Harden, maybe there’s hope. And Gordon is still a solid offensive player, albeit not the offensive force he once was. Gordon’s contract is still cumbersome, but his defensive/rebounding issues are less of a concern next to Asik. In fact, if Gordon is to be kept, I think his time with Asik should be maximized.
- There could be issues with a Tyreke/Asik lineup if the Pelicans cannot put 2-3 very good shooters next to them. Anthony Davis is working on the corner 3, which could mitigate this issue when these 3 play together. I also think Tyreke/Asik/Ryno could be a potent 3 man combination. Asik sets strong screens and Tyreke gets to the rim at an extremely high rate. If Asik can set a solid screen on Tyreke’s man, Tyreke can get to the rim and attack the shot-blocker (opening up an offensive rebound opportunity for Asik) or dump it off to Asik. Anderson’s presence helps prevent the defense from collapsing on the penetration.
- I am excited to see potential Ryan Anderson/Omer Asik lineups next season. Make no mistake, Asik is here because he fits well beside Davis, but that doesn’t preclude the Pelicans from trying Asik next to Ryno when Davis is sitting. Anderson and Asik are very much opposite sides of the same coin: Anderson’s presence changes an offense, and Asik’s presence changes a defense. Each is limited in his effectiveness on the other side of the floor.. so why not try combining them? Asik’s excellent rebounding alleviates concerns regarding Ryno’s weak defensive rebounding, and Ryno’s lethal shooting lessens the concerns of Asik’s limited offensive ability. Perhaps the biggest concern of this lineup is that teams will bring Asik out in the pick and roll, which leaves Ryan Anderson to protect the rim. The effectiveness of this lineup could very well depend on how Monty chooses to have Asik defend the pick/roll. I would advocate for Asik not to show/hedge if Anderson is his frontcourt partner.
- If Jason Smith is kept, I think he fits alongside Ryno and a bench unit much better than he does with Asik. A Smith-Asik lineup would most likely require a lethal 3 point shooter running the show on offense.. and I mean one who will pull up from 3 on the P/R, not one who can spot up from 3 off the ball. Unless Jrue starts taking a higher volume of 3 pointers in this manner, I don’t think the Pelicans have this type of player. Granted, I am unfamiliar with Russ Smith’s game.
- If Ajinca is back, I don’t think he fits next to Asik.
- Jrue Holiday’s game can be changed to fit the players around him. He is not nearly as good as Tyreke Evans at penetrating with the ball, but it would require a poor combination of players to drag down an Asik/Jrue lineup. Jrue’s ability to pressure at the point of attack and Asik’s ability/willingness to protect the rim could be a potent combination.
- Getting stops/turnovers is conducive to getting points in transition. As I said earlier, the Pelicans gang-rebounded on the defensive boards in 13-14, which prevented them from getting out and running very often. Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis are lethal in transition, and Asik’s ability to protect the rim and rebound may give them license to get on the break more often.