Optimizing Omer: Part 2

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Published: February 17, 2015

In Part 1 of this series, I outlined Omer Asik’s role, which is to defend, rebound, and protect Anthony Davis. He is accomplishing this role, yet is subject to a high degree of public criticism.

Now that I’ve gushed about Omer Asik the defensive player/rebounder, let’s visit Asik’s offensive game, which has some very visible flaws.

Scoring

At a quick efficiency glance, you wouldn’t notice Asik’s offensive flaws. Asik sports a fairly respectable 50% from the field. But when you consider that Asik barely ever creates for himself and that almost all of his attempts are inside the paint, you get a more clear picture of his limitations. 52% in the restricted area is below average for any player and is certainly bad for a player of his size.

But it’s more than his efficiency, because Omer also rarely scores. NBA defenses are so smart and it is becoming extremely hard to “hide” offensive players. He isn’t the only NBA big that has to be hidden, but it’s a real problem. He isn’t a threat outside the paint, he isn’t a great passer, and he isn’t a lob threat, so teams know they can leave him open and then adjust if the ball gets delivered to him.

There is often a perception that, because NBA players are elite athletes, they can substantially improve any skill if they work on it. This is not true. Some players have the capacity to learn just about anything and some players will never be good at certain things. Omer Asik does not have a soft touch around the basket, and it’s not because he’s lazy and doesn’t put in the reps. Show up early to the arena and you’ll see him working on scoring around the basket. He just isn’t good at it. It’s not his skill.

Turnovers

I consolidated some stats for the Pelicans, and Asik’s turnovers/touch are surprisingly not at the very top of the list.

This comes with the context that Omer is almost never asked to do creating for someone else, which means that a normal player in Asik’s role would probably have a TO/touch rate near the bottom of the list. And Asik also gets a lot of “touches” when the Pelicans run HORNS. Asik sits at the elbow, receives an entry pass, and more often than not, executes a handoff with a guard.. this is a far less arduous task than squeezing passes through a sea of defenders.

To put it simply, turnovers are a big problem for Asik. He is not blessed with good hands and, like many 7 footers, struggles to catch bounce passes thrown to him while he’s rolling to the basket. He is certainly not comfortable catching the ball in traffic. And when he catches the ball near the basket, Omer crouches down and starts his shooting motion with the ball down by his waist/knees. The problem with this is that he is bringing the ball down to the smaller opponents’ levels, allowing them to strip the ball as he’s going up for shots. This is a very common occurrence for the Turk.

Screens

Last year, Amin Elhassan posted an article (ESPN Insider needed) using new Vantage data that illuminated Asik’s most underappreciated skill: screening. The entire purpose of running an NBA offense is to get an efficient shot. Open shots in players’ sweet spots are often efficient shots and screens can create this “openness.” Asik is a very effective screener and it is often ignored in the analysis of his game.

Overall 

All of the analysis surrounding Asik’s individual offensive abilities is largely useless without answering the more important question: can you construct a good to very good offense with Asik on the floor? The quick is answer is that the Pelicans have been much better on offense this season without Asik playing. Given what we’ve talked about earlier, this isn’t much of a surprise. In sum, Omer Asik has played 1273 minutes this season, and with him on the floor, the Pelicans have registered a 103.0 OffRtg. With Asik off the floor, the Pelicans have registered a 108.1 OffRtg. This difference (-5.1) is worse for Asik than it is for any Pelican getting significant minutes, save for Ajinca and Babbitt; it’s lower than Austin Rivers, Dante Cunningham, etc. But there is always context driving on/off numbers. Ryan Anderson is usually the guy coming in for Asik, and Ryno is the flip side of Asik: all offense, little defense. Substitute a very good offensive player for a bad one and it’s not surprising that the offensive numbers look better. So I decided to look at the lineups driving Omer’s numbers.

Because most of the Pelicans’ top minute players have been nicked up at various times during the year, no Pelican lineup has played more than 201 minutes this season. There have been 3 main starting lineups on the year, and Asik has been a part of each of them. 2 of the 3 have been very successful on offense and one has been bad.

Lineups 3

A little context: among all NBA lineups with more than 100 minutes, the 2nd and 3rd lineups would rank near the top of the league in offensive efficiency. Not good or above average. Near elite. But in reality, these are extremely small samples, and the Pelican offensive numbers have been a little misleading this season. I feel very confident in saying a lineup with Asik and Cunningham would almost certainly not be an elite offense over the course of an entire season. It just isn’t practical. I don’t share that same level of skepticism for the unit that started the year (Asik/AD/Reke/Gordon/Jrue). I think it can be a very good offensive unit over the course of a regular season.

Theory

So to postulate that a lineup including Omer Asik cannot be good offensively is without foundation.. it just comes with the context that offensive lineups with Asik live on the edge of the knife. His total OffRtg this year is 103.0. If his 3 most used lineups (538 minutes) combine to produce a good OffRtg, then the OffRtg from his lineups in the 735 remaining minutes must be pretty bad. My theory is this – if you want to play Asik and have a good offense, you better surround him with 4 legitimate threats. It’s hard enough playing 4 on 5, much less 3 on 5. But if you can find 4 guys and let Asik roam around setting screens and the dirty work, you can probably hide him. At least for now.

I say all of this with the caveat that I think championship-level defenses may be too much for lineups involving Asik. For now, the closest thing that the Pelicans have seen to playoff defense (much less championship level defense) is what they face in the 4th quarter of regular season games.. and it’s not a coincidence that Asik gets little playing time in this period, as you can see in John Schuhmann’s table below.  

 

The offensive outlook isn’t pretty, but the Pelicans original starting lineup has 4 legitimate options surrounding Asik and the unit has been wildly successful in its limited time (am I in 2013-14 again?). Whether this team can win a championship with Asik getting minutes down the stretch is a speculative exercise.. and one I will perform this week or next week! So stay tuned for part 3.

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