New Orleans Pelicans Season In Review: Omer Asik

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Published: May 11, 2015

In Spain, Omer Asik told Monty/Anthony Davis he just wants to rebound/defend. Upon hearing that, Davis’ smile was “like the Kool-Aid Man – Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com

It’s been talked about everywhere, whether the Pelicans should re-sign Omer Asik. New Orleans was surging towards the playoffs thanks in large part to their improved defensive play. Their defensive rating, prior to the Christmas Day, was ranked 26th in the league. After that, it improved to 18th

When assessing Asik’s season we must understand two things:

1. What was the expectation for the player and his role coming in?

2. What was the result?

The complication for everyone is that despite acknowledging Asik’s value and contribution a certain frustration emerges when the team collectively fails and his individual flaws are some of the easiest to critcise.

These flaws are obvious: He can’t shoot free-throws, he has terrible hands and he cannot space the floor.

But why do we do this knowing full well he was never capable in any of those facets?

The truth is that Omer Asik improved as the season progressed and so did the team. Bringing him back becomes obvious even when we factor in his dismal playoff performance.

Post All-Star Break

There are fewer things obvious to me than the improvement of the Pelicans post All-Star break. Sure, they had some injuries, but the improvement was there and what was leading it was their defense.

I’ve always maintained that defensive improvement is based on the idea of continuity. A good defense is one that works together, because despite what modern day basketball commentators say, team basketball isn’t dead – it’s alive and well on defense.

Asik very much was a proponent to this improvement. When looking at the statistics it becomes clear how significant of an improvement it was.

Omer Asik pre and post all star break 2015

Not only did his defensive rating improve, but his offensive rating when up to over 114 – that would be the best offensive rating of his career by a full 5 points. Not just that, but his defensive rating fell back to his career average (101) and his overall +/- was a whopping 5.3

His Value Defensively

It’s quite obvious what Omer Asik’s value is and it was in the very top quote that began this review. Omer just wants to defend and rebound and you know what? He did just that.

There are two things that Asik did a very effective job at:

1. He forced mid-range jumpers

2. He grabbed defensive rebounds

Omer Asik on off court

Take the table above here; Asik when he was on the court forced 6% less shots around the 0-3 range and forced (+2%) in the 10-15 range and (+5%) in the 16-23 range.

This is what modern day defensive schemes are built around – forcing the mid-range shot. When Asik is on the court he is doing just that.

This leads me to my second point – rebounding.

Rebounds Omer Asik

The New Orleans Pelicans were a significantly better rebounding team with Omer Asik on the court. They were 8 per cent more effective at grabbing all rebounds, 8.31% better in terms of their defensive boards.

And I think it ties in with the types of shots that the team were forcing their opponents to take. Long, mid-range looks. Which, coupled with Omer Asik’s proficiency for grabbing rebounds lead to an improvement.

Extrapolating in the real word

I wanted to throw a few examples of the type of defense Asik plays.

This 1st example illustrates the beautiful way that Asik “ices” the pick. Here (without audio) Asik yells to Gordon, “ICE! ICE” communicating to Gordon that he will sink back and contain the drive. He does just that with Lawson kicking out to Randy Foye who then throws an errant pass into Faried. The recovery saves the day and it goes down as a shot clock violation.

Oh man do I love this example. This is in semi-transition. The Pelicans are recovering and the defense isn’t quite set. The Nets look to run a quick pick and roll to exploit Asik’s slow feet. But what wins the day here are two things: One, Asik has tremendous positioning. He sinks back and then eventually recovers to Lopez. Two, Cunningham fights through the screen and eventually recovers. This is what the guards need to be doing more often when involved with an Asik pick and roll.

This is my bad example and the reason for it moves on from the 2nd example above. If there isn’t solid guard defense then whatever Asik is doing just doesn’t matter. I believe it’s the issue that is holding the Pelicans back from being a very good defense. Here Cole tries to anticipate where Deron Williams is going, not understanding that even if he were to get screened he’s not going to give up a layup. Asik is playing to ice the pick and Cole doesn’t funnel the play where the defensive set is trying to go. Instead he overplays it, Asik is forced to help and once again (as per the usual Pelicans defensive breakdown) no one helps the helper.

It perfectly illustrates that the layups the Pelicans give up so often (they conceded the most point in the paint in the NBA) aren’t to do with what the big-men are doing.

What Happened in the Playoffs?

It was a disaster, pure and simple. Asik’s offensive rating took a nose dive to 89 (remember his 114 post all-star mark?) and his defensive rating also worsened (though how could you contain the Warriors?)

Andrew Bogut pure and simple outplayed Omer. It was quite disappointing considering the similarities in their game. Both are asked to be the defensive anchors, rebound the basketball and set solid screens on offense. But something was missing and Omer just didn’t have the energy that Bogut did.

playoffs vs reg season omer asik

To get a full grasp on just how bad things were take a look at the table above.

Asik’s minutes diminished from Game One where he received 21 minutes. By Game Four he had just 13 minutes of tread.

Throughout the entirety of his 79 minutes of action Asik didn’t record a single block. While I’ve praised a lot of what he’s done this season, it’s more than a little disheartening when he find out he didn’t block a single shot.

There are mainly two reasons why he wasn’t effective in the series. One, the Warriors would ignore Asik on the offensive end more than any other team. When I say ignore I mean like, forget he even existed. Bogut would just sit in the lane, set up camp and just help his team-mates. When Omer was given the ball the Warriors would converge and blitz Asik forcing in to quick decisions which he just couldn’t make.

The other is that Bogut just outplayed him. His movement and energy was just too much for Asik. Curry caused his own problems too because the guards couldn’t just let Curry take a three so Omer was on his own at times.

I don’t really believe in the train of thought that Golden State pushed the tempo. In three of the four games the pace sat around the 90 mark, which would rank right near the bottom of the league.

The playoffs were just not a great series of the Turkish Hammer. The Warriors exploited his weaknesses forcing New Orleans the reconsider their strategy.

The Best Game of the Season

I don’t think it’d be fair to go an entire season review without giving everyone the best Asik game of the season. This was probably the very first game of the season where Asik was a monster, grabbing everything on his way to 14 points, 17 rebounds and 5 blocked shots

The bleak times…

Summary

All things said and told, the role that Asik was brought in to do was more or less fulfilled. He played good defense and he rebounded the ball. The transgressions of a fan-base fixated on the impurities of a players game should not be a defining factor in whether he’s a long term piece.

The evidence is there in teams before us: the Warriors, Grizzlies, Hawks, Bulls and Clippers – if the continuity is there your defense will improve. Asik has played a role in improving this already this season. The Pelicans do not make the playoffs without him, which he was brought to New Orleans for.

New Orleans’ issues are many with experience right at the top. Asik came in and produced as he usually does with and added bonus of a career low in TOV% and a solid career free-throw mark. For an idea of what Asik’s next contract might look like, McNamara did a great piece here.

If the Pelicans are to ascend to a championship caliber their defense must need improvement and Omer Asik needs to be a part of that.

7 Comments

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  2. ryanschwan

    May 11, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Bring back Asik says I.

  3. Pingback: A Look Inside the Omer Asik Contract Negotiations | Pelicansreport Blog

  4. soulbreaker

    May 12, 2015 at 1:16 am

    excellent ost man good job. Like any other especialist(funny now it´s the same with Bogut against Memphis haha) on PO time he won´t play much, but he´s great in what he does. I just hope Monty cut the crap with the hedging and jut go full Thibs with the ice defense unless it´s necesary like against Curry. AD sucks at hedging, and thank god Monty was using it less and less trough the year, another reason the D got better. 
    I really hope he comes back with a good contract for both he and the team, it really will be interesting to see

  5. isthisyourhomeworklawrence

    May 12, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    MONTY????

  6. LKL

    May 12, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Bye bye Monty. Finally we get to leave the 90’s NBA and bring some excitement to the city. Monty may be a nice guy but this boring religious persona doesn’t fit this city. TIME FOR KICK IT UP SEVERAL NOTCHES.

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