The Houston Rockets made the biggest splash this summer with Dwight Howard, adding the 6’11” center to an already talented roster. Dwight could be the difference between a perennial second round playoff team and a championship caliber group, so the excitement around Houston for the team and Dwight is easily justified. But as the Lakers learned last season, it doesn’t matter how good your team looks on paper, they have to stay healthy and learn to play together before words like “championship” can be said. The Rockets have a big challenge ahead of themselves in meshing the parts currently assembled, as Howard will try and gel with star guard James Harden and starters Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Omer Asik. Asik is the most intriguing in this case; there is no easy answer for how to incorporate Howard and Asik together.
Dwight Howard signed with the Rockets this summer knowing that the team already had a capable center in tow. Omer Asik averaged a double double in his third NBA season and first with the team, grabbing 3.4 offensive rebounds per game, good for 7th in the league, and 11.7 total rebounds, good for 3rd overall. He plays excellent defense, clogging the middle and defending the rim while playing with Houston’s less than spectacular defensive perimeter. His offense game was somewhat limited, as he averaged around 10 points per game with 95.7 percent of his shots coming from the paint area, per vorped.com. This basically means he was scoring off of put backs and dunks, without showing much of a post game or shooting touch. This isn’t an issue as much when you were surrounded by elite three point shooting and showcased as the main big man on the roster, but with the addition of Dwight Howard, Asik’s game could spell spacing and offensive issues for the Rockets.
Howard also shot more than 90% of his attempts in the paint last season, but he is known as a better pick and roll finisher, with more pure athletic ability than Asik. A Howard-Harden pick and roll could end up being unstoppable by season’s end, with all Houston’s three point shooting on the perimeter and Asik on the block ready to snatch up any offensive rebounds. This strategy would also work on Howard post ups. Asik could wait on the opposite block while Howard goes to work down low, and any time a double team is called, Asik would be in prime position for a board. But other than that, the two center lineup of Howard-Asik would just cause too many spacing issues to use for extended periods of games. Defenders would sag off both big men, hurting the Rocket’s spacing and potentially taking away some of the explosiveness of James Harden’s game. If there are two big defenders camping out in the paint, Harden will struggle to find open driving lanes, taking away his best strengths to drive and draw fouls. Also, with two big men in the paint ready to corral any drives, perimeter defenders will stay closer to their man, hurting the Rocket’s ability to shoot the three.
In the long term, the best solution may be trading away Asik. Marcus Camby, who the Rockets recently signed, could be a solid backup center to Howard, minimizing the loss of Asik. Also, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas may be ready to take the next step and be a solid part of the Rocket’s rotation this season. If Houston goes with the trade route, it won’t be too tricky to find a trade partner for Asik. He has two years left on what was a 3 year, 25 million dollar contract.
A popular speculation has been Ryan Anderson for Asik, a move that would make the Rockets look more and more like the 2009 Magic. Anderson would add more shooting to the equation, wouldn’t hurt the Rockets spacing, and would still rebound at an acceptable rate, so on the surface this move looks like a no brainer. But swapping Asik for Anderson would seriously hurt the Rockets’ defensive presence. The Rockets aren’t quite sure that Dwight Howard is the defensive force that he once was for the Magic; at times last season he looked out of sorts and lazy guarding pick and roles and anchoring the Laker defense. With Howard, the defense would struggle to about a league average mark. But any time Howard left the floor, the defense would get ripped to shreds. Marcus Camby and Ryan Anderson wouldn’t stop anybody on the defensive side of the floor.
There are other trade options for Asik of course, all still purely speculation at this point. Names like Jeff Green, Jason Thompson and Jimmer Fredette, and even Dirk Nowitzki have been thrown around. Dirk Nowitzki makes some sense, even though Mark Cuban would never trade him. But, then again, weren’t we saying the same things about Paul Pierce and KG in Boston? Dallas would have to get Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Motiejunas/Jones, and probably a couple of picks to make it work, but it is interesting. Put Dirk on the Rockets team… wow. Talk about an offense. Coach Kevin McHale would have so many pieces to use, it would be hard for everyone to get enough shots, but they would still be a super efficient, top-5 offense easily.
The Rockets probably won’t make any moves or decisions about Asik until closer to the trade deadline, gauging how the two big men play with each other. Those first couple games will be very interesting to see how Houston uses Asik and Howard together. Despite all the noise that was made about Dwight and the Rockets this offseason, it may not be Howard, but rather working out the Asik situation that is the final piece to the Rocket’s championship puzzle.