Re-Imaginaing Omer Asik Under Gentry

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Published: June 13, 2015

The lasting image in our mind of Omer Asik is him with his shoulders slumped and his head down as he struggled to make any kind of impact in the Pelicans playoff series against the Warriors. Despite his improvement throughout the season, including a really good stretch after the All-Star break, as human beings we tend to have a recency bias and nobody can be blamed for remembering Asik in this way. But the truth is that he gave the Pelicans what we expected coming into the season for the most part on the boards and on the defensive end.

Where he fell below our expectations was on the offensive end, where he looked lost at times and had a FG% drastically lower than he did two seasons ago in Houston, while also getting blocked far too many times for our liking. But the Pelicans changing their coaching staff and implementing a faster pace, along with more space and movement, gives Asik chance for a resurgence. Asik was at his best in Houston back in 2012-13, and that team played with pace (#1 in the league), and surrounded him with shooters (2nd in 3-pt rate). With more space to operate, Asik had his best offensive season, both overall and on a per minute basis.

Asik was also much better after the All-Star break this past year, with some of the credit going to better health and some going to his new found familiarity with his teammates. The question then becomes: What can the Pelicans expect from Asik moving forward and what would he be worth in that new role? The Pelicans systems will look so different next year, that looking back at last year for that answer would be foolish. Next year’s team will resemble the 2012-13 Rockets far more than it will the 14-15 Pelicans. So, what kind of player was Asik then and why?

The Lineups

Nearly 85% of the minutes Asik played in 2012-13 featured Lin-Harden-Parsons as the 1, 2, and 3. Those three combined to launch over 1100 three-pointers, all shooting a respectable percentage. At the 4 position, the minutes next to Asik were split between Patrick Patterson, Donates Montiejunas, Carlos Delfino, and Marcus Morris – all guys who were three-point threats. What this left was plenty of space for Asik to rim run off of pick and rolls or finish in the restricted area – something he did MUCH better in Houston.

Many clamor for Asik to go up stronger, and he did back in 2012-13, but it wasn’t because he was more athletic. It was because of the space he had to gather and finish strong. Look at the highlight clips below and tell me how often you saw that last year. It was rare, but another thing you will see in those clips is that Asik only has one guy to deal with down low, and without guys hanging all over his body he appears far more athletic.

Now, after you have picked your jaws up off the floor, realize that this version of Omer Asik didn’t just disappear. He was covered up by a Horns offense that rarely gave him space and a set of lineups that put too many bodies around him to allow him to catch passes clean and finish strong. Asik played nearly 1700 minutes with Tyreke Evans – more than he played with any other player last year. He played nearly 700 with Dante Cunningham, including nearly 600 with both Evans and Cunningham. In 2012-13, the only guy he played with that lacked a 3-point shot was Greg Smith, and that was for a whopping 228 minutes.

Production

Asik’s raw numbers and per minute numbers were better in 2012-13, but what is even more interesting is where he was better specifically. The biggest difference was from 0-3 feet where Omer Asik shot 61% in 2012-13, compared to just 55% last year. And as for that “going up strong” narrative, well, his number of dunks were 50% higher in 2012-13 than they were last season. Overall, Asik shot 54% from the field in 2012-13, and honestly, that percentage would have been higher if not for some ill advised jump shots.

The Rockets offensive rating was better with Asik on the court, both in the regular season and in the playoffs, and their defensive rating was massively improved. And don’t discount Asik’s role in helping the Rockets achieve that league high pace, as you can see in some of the highlights above, Asik got the rebounds and quickly got the ball to a guard who got out in transition. The Rockets played at a slightly higher pace with Asik on the floor and Asik actually got stronger as the game went on, averaging more points and rebounds in the 2nd half of games, with a higher FG%.

Some of the frustrations we had with Asik last year were due to traits that, to be honest, will never change. His hands will always be questionable, and he will remain below average athletically. But history shows that you can get more out of Asik with a different scheme and personnel.

New Schemes

Not only will Gentry bring a new offensive scheme to New Orleans, but Darren Erman will bring a new defensive system that should be more to Asik’s liking as well. For much of the first half of the season when Asik and the Pelicans defense struggled, Monty Williams was having the big playing with Asik hedging hard, and that left Asik in no man’s land far too often. In addition to adding Pondexter, Monty went more conservative with his defensive scheme, and the result was the Pelicans defensive rating going from 107 to 102 when Asik was on the floor. Expect Erman to implement a scheme where ‘ICE-ing’ and switching is utilized far more often than hard hedging.

On the offensive side, expect Gentry to use Asik as a screener far more often off the ball. Check out the video below to see how Bogut or another big is constantly being used as a guy who gets others open and can be used as a release valve at the top of the key. While Bogut is a much better passer from the low post, Asik showed the ability to be a good to great passer when he had some space and was facing the basket. And when it comes to setting a quality screen, Asik is as elite in that area as he is on the glass.

Conclusion

Look, Omer Asik is limited as a basketball player and can be downright to frustrating watch in certain situations, but he has shown enough in both the 2012-13 season and the second half of last year to believe that he can give the Pelicans more than he did over the entirety of last season. The issue might be his fit with Tyreke Evans, as he is the lone guy of the core players that are likely to come back who teams don’t respect from behind the arc. We have seen how Asik’s numbers go up with shooters, and he is not alone. Andrew Bogut shot 59% this season when Andre Iguodala was off the court and just 50% when he was on in Gentry’s system.

Golden State got away with it because those two are elite defenders, and they won in a different way, but Tyreke is not that level of defender. The question then becomes whether you can have Asik and Evans as two key members of your rotation, and if they are, do they need to be staggered? The Pelicans can bring Evans off the bench and have him play with Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis, but for at least 5-10 minutes per game, Asik and Evans would have to play together. And in those minutes, the Pelicans offense is likely to struggle more often than not.

But if Gentry and Erman come in and implement the systems they are likely to employ and Asik plays with Evans far less than he did last year, I think it is safe to say that we can expect a fairly sizable improvement in the Turkish Hammer’s game.

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