The Rockets did not make that a priority from the onset, even experimenting with (failed) twin tower lineups featuring Asik and Howard.
But over time, Asik was demoted further and further down the bench, eventually taking a leave of absence of sorts, though it was in the disguise of a hip injury.
Asik didn’t play from Dec 2 until Feb 10, and he only played 48 of the 82 regular season games, but when Howard went out with injury late in the season the importance of Asik was seen. Immediately, he stepped into a starting role and reeled off five double-doubles in eight starts, including an 18 point, 23 rebound game against the Denver Nuggets and another 12 point, 23 rebound effort against the Brooklyn Nets.
If Howard were to get injured, the Rockets have shown they can step right in place with Asik in the lineup. He’s not the three-time Defensive Player of the Year Howard is, but he is a very serviceable starter. He’s improved a number of aspects that dogged him last season, including an increased focus on finishing strong around the basket.
Asik may not be able to rip the rim down like Dwight, but he is capable of finishing in traffic and he’s stopped the habit of flipping the ball up awkwardly, which seldom resulted in made attempts.
But Howard is also foul prone, which is another instance in which Asik’s importance will be seen. The Blazers don’t start an offensive minded center in Robin Lopez, but expect Howard to have to help out plenty with LaMarcus Aldridge.
It’s less nerve-wracking to have Howard in foul trouble when Asik is healthy and able to go. Frontcourt depth is a major luxury in the playoffs when basketball becomes more physical. As the 2014 playoffs grind on, expect there to be numerous instances where Asik bails Houston out.