Daryl Morey was criticized last summer when he signed Omer Asik to a $25 million, three-year contract. Asik was unproven as a starter and had lingered behind Joakim Noah in Chicago, and his offensive abilities were still far behind that of the average NBA center. Fast forward a year, and Asik is one of the league’s better bargains at the 5-spot, a tough defender and a player whose work ethic should figure to make him only better as time goes on.
And then, enter Dwight Howard.
Suddenly, the emergent Asik’s role as a starter was put in question. Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and almost unarguably the best center in the Association.
Where does that leave the Turkish big man in the Rockets plans? Is Asik mere trade fodder at this point?
These are questions we do not yet know the answer to. Asik could fade back to his reserve role behind Howard and see 10-12 minutes a game, demand a trade; and maybe that is what most expect to happen. Asik, paid $8.3 million per year, could net a number of nice players in a trade, and presumably interest would be high in a true big who could defensively matchup with any at his position.
But the real hope for Asik and his future in Houston lies in the potentiality of playing alongside Howard. The problem here is how difficult that lineup may be to work out, especially on the offensive end. Traditionally, in ‘Twin Tower’ lineups, one of the big men must excel at facing up, while the other lingers more around the basket. Neither Asik nor Howard are suitable for the face-up role, and neither have a great mid-range jumpshot, which will only further spacing problems. It could create a clogged paint, moreover, which would inhibit James Harden’s takes to the basket.
It’s just difficult to see an Asik-Howard tandem working very well unless one, or both, develop significantly better ball skills. Asik, at one point had enough trouble catching passes, and his improvement have been drastic, but it’s difficult to envision him ever becoming a Turkish Pau Gasol.
While the ‘Twin Tower’ look may be cumbersome and uncomfortable offensively, it could potentially prove rewarding defensively. With the NBA’s rules now permitting a zone, the Rockets could effectively collapse with Howard and Asik protecting the basket and keep teams entirely out of the paint. Houston fans will remember a similar theme with Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson some 25-plus years ago, but Howard is not The Dream, and Asik is not Sampson.
It’s exciting to have two strong and capable centers on the roster, and the Houston Rockets stand to be a much improve team with the best center in the league and a top notch tough guy like Asik. But the right components have to be present in players for the aggregate parts to form a nice team, and it’s just not logical to think Asik and Howard would thrive together given their lack of offensive skills.
Morey already shopped Asik, and it’s a good safe bet that he will be shopped heavily up to the trade deadline. Asik turned in a nice season and could easily have won the Most Improved Player award, but his place in the picture has been supplanted by Dwight. It’s a twist of fate Morey is delighted about, but when Asik was signed, Howard was a pipe dream. Now he’s a Rocket. It’s created a delightful problem, but a problem nonetheless. Expect Asik to find a new home come February.