One of the most important things in basketball is protecting the rim. Having a player who can protect the rim not only removes one of the two most efficient areas to score in basketball, but it forces opponent to alter their plan on attacking the rim. One example is the four-year run for the Pacers. Center Roy Hibbert has been trashed as a poor player because of his offensive game and rebounding. Yet one thing he knows how to do well is defend the rim, constantly ranking as one of the best in the league.
The true "rim protectors" are at a premium in today's NBA, meaning they'll get overpaid just to have them on the roster. It's a difference between a good team and potential title contender The Warriors gave Andrew Bogut a three-year, $36 contract extension before the season, even with his questionable injury history, largely because he can protect the rim. The Mavericks stole Tyson Chandler from the Knicks and teams like San Antonio, Boston and Los Angeles will be anxious to pry Marc Gasol out of Memphis next offseason.
The Pelicans were no different in giving up a valuable asset for that rim protector, giving up a special 2015 first-round draft pick to Houston for Omer Asik this past summer. The pick was special because not only was it top three protected, but it also protected from pick 20 to 30, meaning Houston would only get the pick if it fell between 4 and 19. It's a ploy the Rockets used in the Kyle Lowry trade, and used that pick to acquire James Harden. After Houston acquired Dwight Howard, the Rockets had no need for Asik, and used his status as a rim protector to get a pretty good return for someone on the last year of their deal.
Originally, I wasn't a fan of this deal. Giving up another first round pick - making it three seasons in a row - for a fine player, but one with just one year left on his contract? I was dubious. However, the early returns for Asik have been fine, and the fact that Davis doesn't have play center has been great for his health.
It's also needed because the Pelicans have yet to have that rim protector on their roster since Emaka Okafor.
In 2012, the combination of a rookie Anthony Davis and Robin Lopez combined for a 104.9 defensive rating and the lineup used the more involving Davis and Lopez (Vasquez, Gordon, Aminu, Davis, Lopez) had a defensive efficiency rating of 105.7. As a result, the then-Hornets were 23rd in the league in opponent's field goal attempts per game (30.7) and allowed 59.1% at the rim, good for 16th in the league.
Last season is where the Pelicans saw that number plummet. The departure of Robin Lopez left a huge hole in the middle, and Ryan Anderson was injured for most of the season. Even if Anderson played, the Anderson-Davis combination proved poor the season prior, ending with a 115.0 defensive rating in 2012. The Pelicans were in the middle of the pack with attempts (20th with 30.3 attempts), but they gave up the fifth highest field goal percentage at the rim, allowing a staggering 61.3 percent on shots from five feet, and a 53.4% at the rim, via NBA.com's stats.
Enter Omer Asik.
This season, the Pelicans are still allowing a ton of shots within five feet, leading the league at 32.5 attempts per game. However, the Pelicans are in the middle of the pack at 52.4% at guarding the rim, 17th in the league. Being in the middle of the pack isn't great but consider two things: New Orleans' poor perimeter defenders (Austin Rivers leads the charge), and the fact that Asik missed four games this season. The difference between the Pelicans and the 10th best team (Memphis) is just 1.4%.
As his solo defensive numbers would suggest, Asik has done a great job of protecting the rim for the Pelicans. Even with the games missed this season, Asik ranks among the top rim protectors in the league. Among players who average at least 0.9 blocks per game and see seven field goal attempts per game, Asik's 44.0% ranks sixth in the league, behind guys like Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, and Roy Hibbert.
As I alluded to before, Asik's biggest addition is allowing Anthony Davis to freely roam around without being the last line of defense for New Orleans. As a duo, Asik and Davis sport a 98.6 defensive rating, offering two shot alters in the front curt. Davis has made a mockery of blocking jump shots, while Asik has become a one-man defense for the Pelicans.
For as great as Asik is defensively, his offense is still rudimentary at best. Via 82games.com, the Pelicans are 12.4 points worse when Asik hits the bench, but they're also 10.0 points better on the offensive side of the ball. He really can't score on post-ups, and they can't throw him the ball. When he's gathering the ball to go back up, Asik has a tendency to bring the ball all the way down, resulting in defenders getting a chance to disrupt his shot attempt.
Even with the offensive woes, Asik is a valuable player. There's a very good case that he's New Orleans' second-best player, and because of that, the Pelicans have no choice but to pay him. In the final season of an offer sheet worth $22.5 million over three years, Asik will look to cash in on his rim protector status, and the Pelicans won't be the only team that will look for his services.
This free agency class will be full of potential rim protectors. As I alluded to, Marc Gasol is entering free agency this summer, so will DeAndre Jordan, Robin Lopez, Tyson Chandler, and if he decides to opt out, Roy Hibbert will hit the market, too. Asik will get paid, but there will be a ton of rim protectors out there for teams to bid on this summer, and if Hibbert does decide to test the market, teams will be making moves and creating cap space to get one.
If I'm New Orleans, I use the large amount of rim protectors as an advantage and attempt to sign Asik as soon as I can. The deal I find "fair" for both sides is a four-year, $48 million, but I'm not going above $52 million for his services. Asik gets paid the premium price for his defense, while the Pelicans keep him in the midst of his prime seasons, and keeping the trio of Holiday, Davis, and Asik alive to build around. Upwards of $12-13 million per season sounds rough, but locking him in before the salary cap jumps is what's best for New Orleans.
Last week, the staff ran the gauntlet when discussing the roster. Trading Ryan Anderson, speculating what the Pelicans would do with those roster spots, and I added a post about the Jrue Holiday trade. In the midst of a so-so start for the Pellies, the addition of Omer Asik has been a blessing for the Pelicans so far, and it resulted in the acquisition in another fantastic building block for New Orleans in Anthony Davis' prime.
Now all they have to do is bring him back.