Dec 4, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Omer Asik (3) and Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) attempt to get a loose ball during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
When Dwight Howard ultimately announced that he would choose to sign with the Houston Rockets in early July, it created a stir with starting center Omer Asik. After signing a 3-year, $25 million contract last summer, Asik proved his worth in his first full season as a starter, averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds while starting all 82 games for the Rockets. He clearly established himself as a valuable starting center in the NBA, so it wasn’t a shock when Asik himself voiced his demands to be traded elsewhere.
But the Rockets never found a viable deal, and they most certainly will not ship him away just to satisfy his happiness. So it looks like, barring an unexpected trade happening in the next 3 weeks, Asik will be at Rockets training camp, as the back-up center behind Howard.
Or……..could he possibly be alongside Howard?
General manager Daryl Morey has already come out and said that the 2 centers would not be on the floor at the same time, or only for short periods of time, but this isn’t the first time that the Rockets franchise had 2 productive 7-foot centers.
In 1983, Houston had the no. 1 overall pick and selected 7’4 giant Ralph Sampson. As a rookie, he averaged 21 points and 11.1 rebounds while winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award for a 53-loss team. This gave the Rockets the no. 1 pick again in 1984, and they took another 7-footer, Hakeem Olajuwon. Many sports writers and critics were confused by the move, not knowing how the center duo would work, speculating that Olajuwon would be the back-up. But when it was announced that the Rockets planned to start the two of them together, a mixed reaction ensued. Some thought the idea would be a failure, some thought the tandem would become unstoppable. Then Dallas Mavericks coach Dick Motta stated at the time, “”That front line, when history is written, when they’ve grown up, might be the best ever assembled on one team. Ever.”
And so, the term “Twin Towers” originated, and that’s exactly what Sampson and Olajuwon were: two glaring giants that dominated and controlled the flow of the game. In their first season together, Sampson averaged 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds while Olajuwon averaged 20.6 points and 12 rebounds as they turned the franchise from a doormat in the Western Conference to a playoff team.
A Classic Shot Of The Original Twin Towers, Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon (Circa 1985)
In 1985-’86, Sampson and Olajuwon carried the Rockets all the way to the NBA Finals, where they would eventually fall to the Boston Celtics in 6 games. The future looked bright for Houston, and the duo were on their way to carry the franchise for years to come. However, Sampson began suffering from knee and back injuries the following season, and was traded away to the Golden State Warriors mid-way through the 1987-’88 season for Sleepy Floyd and Joe Barry Carroll.
As quickly as the dynamic duo rose to NBA prominence, their downfall happened just as fast. Sampson was the never the same, making stops with the Warriors, Sacramento Kings, and Washington Bullets as his NBA career came to an end after the 1991-’92 season. Olajuwon, of course, became one of the greatest players in Rockets history, and avenged his ’86 Finals loss by winning back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995.
Of course, Asik was not a no. 1 overall pick(36th overall in 2008), and is not even close to Sampson in terms of his offensive game(I should probably also include that Howard is no match to Olajuwon as well). But he is a great compliment piece to a Rockets team that rely heavily on their guard penetration and pick-and-roll schemes.
And who’s to say that the Rockets won’t try to fit Asik into the starting line-up during training camp? Greg Smith, a natural center at 6’10 with no outside jumper, started the final 10 games last season at power forward, so coach Kevin McHale shouldn’t be reluctant to try starting 2 centers. Oh, by the way, do people forget that McHale, himself, was a 7-footer who started alongside another 7-footer in Robert Parish for a span of 4 or 5 years?
While Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas will enter training camp battling for the starting power forward spot, the Rockets best line-up will include both Howard and Asik together. Houston was in the bottom 3rd in just about every major defensive category a season ago, and having the two 7-footers stacking the paint will be a major boost defensively.
But the question will lie on the offensive end. Even as the Rockets lone low post threat last year, watching Asik’s offensive game was like watching Michael Bolton on ‘Dancing With The Stars’.
His role on offense then may to just be a roamer around the basket, fighting for offensive rebounds, tipping back misses, as well as setting picks for the perimeter players. Asik did develop himself into a decent pick-man on pick-and-rolls last season, so he could serve some value with that to give some different looks for the defense, with Howard being a roamer around the basket.
The Rockets may have found themselves a second dynamic duo on accident, next to the tandem of Howard and James Harden. The only shame would be to not try to play the two together before Asik’s contract runs out in 2 years.