There are several questions surrounding the New Orleans Pelicans this season. The injury bug has been a constant dilemma for the Pelicans and have already limited Jrue Holiday until the All-Star break. Centers Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca have dealt with various injuries and Tyreke Evans recently missed a preseason game with "knee" issues.
Then we have the transition to head coach Alvin Gentry and his coaching style. There's already been a change on the offense, with New Orleans playing with the seventh fastest pace among NBA teams in the preseason. Time will tell if that will translate into a top offense in terms of pace come the regular season, but it's a good omen.. The other question, at least for me, is how Asik will fit into the new offensive scheme.
Last season, Asik joined the Pelicans after a trade between New Orleans and Houston. The trade - Omer Asik for a first round pick, later becoming Sam Dekker - was made after the decision to move Anthony Davis back to the power forward position for good It also doesn't hurt that Asik's arrival lessened the the low-post wear and tear and rigors from larger centers like DeMarcus Cousins in the regular season for Davis.
Defensively, Asik provided the Pelicans with solid defensive contributions, living up to his billing from his Chicago and Houston days.
On the court, the Pelicans were 3.5 points better defensively with Asik on the floor, but not great, sporting a 106.6 rating. The combination of Davis and Asik was a positive, sporting a defensive rating of 100.5 over 1665 minutes on the court together and ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus (RPM) measured Asik a 1.83 defensive real plus-minus (DRPM), 21st among centers, for his defensive value.
At the rim, however, Asik wasn’t as good. Dealing with various injuries, Asik had trouble defending the rim similar to previous seasons. Asik finished allowing 51.1% shooting at the rim last season, but helped with supporting Anthony Davis, who sported a 48.6% field goal rate at the rim. His defense against the roll man in the pick and roll was good, allowing a 0.87 PPP and just 47.5% shooting.
Offensively, it was a different story for Asik. Asik’s true shooting percentage dropped from 57.0% in 2013-14 to 54.5% in 2014-15, partially because of a dip in free-throw percentage (61.9% in 2013-14, 58.2 in 2014-15.) On shots from the left side of the rim, Asik shot 62.7%, but on the right side, Asik shot just 40.8%. Thanks to the Pelicans and their electric offense, Asik was a part of a good offense last season, but took away from it. On the court, the Pelicans had a rating of 108.0. Off the court, that number jumped to 110.9.
Asik is often noted as an offensive minus and the reputation is valid. There's no post moves in Asik's arsenal, he a bit of a lumber, and thus, not as great of a cutter as you would like. His offensive real plus-minus (OPRM) of -3.01 ranked third among Pelican centers - Jeff Withey and Ajinica - and 55th among all centers in the league. He can’t create his own offense outside of putbacks, dunks and the occasional post up. Asik finished with a 1.05 PPP and 56.4% on cut plays last season.
The vast collection of centers coached under Alvin Gentry means we should be able to find a similar guy to Asik. In his Detroit days, Gentry coached guys like Bison Dele and Rick Mahorn, while the Clippers had Michael Olowokandi in the midst of his first few seasons as a pro. The Suns had a rejuvenated Shaquille O’Neal, Robin Lopez and Marcin Gortat. It's a mixed bag to say the least.
Of the six centers he coached, I think Lopez is the best example of what the Pelicans could get from Asik. Lopez is a bit more athletic, but Asik has a bit more size - girth - compared to Lopez. He’ll never be a major factor offensively, but Asik could get points off of offensive rebounds and putbacks. Anthony Davis stretching the floor will leave Asik in the interior for some one-on-one low post chances.
After recovering from injury, the thing for Asik is to reclaim his status as a one-man defense. In his first two years in Houston, Asik was a good defender, regardless of what was occurring and who joined him in the five-man lineup. Last year, Asik really played well with Anthony Davis, but that’s about it. According to NBAWowy, the Pelicans allowed 1.21 PPP when Asik was on the floor and Davis wasn't.
That's not good, there are other factors that go into that, but it's not good.
One dimension that would help is if Asik can retain his defensive value with Ryan Anderson on the floor. When Asik and Anderson shared the floor, the Pelicans had a defensive efficiency rating of 112.9, which would rank among some of the worst duos in the league. With a new system, getting that combination in gear would be good for the Pelicans as an offensive curveball.
In the summer, New Orleans rewarded Omer Asik with a five-year deal worth $60 million - with the last season non-guaranteed this past summer. The idea was promoting the idea of continuity and keeping Davis at the power forward position for the long-term. Now, with one season in New Orleans under the belt, Asik has to find his spot in this offense as well as take a step forward on defense to show the true value of the contract.