When the 2013-14 season ended, Monty Williams lamented about the lack of a solid center on the team.
"When we played at Charlotte (on Feb. 21), we couldn’t stop Al Jefferson in the low post. And the game at Washington (on Feb. 22), Nene went for 30 points," Williams said. "You can’t have that and expect to win."
Thus, Dell Demps went out and traded for Omer Asik, a known quantity on defense and in the rebounding department.
In his first season as a Pelican, he's done just that. Among NBA players who have played a minimum of 1000 minutes, Asik has a total rebounding percentage of 21.8%, good for 3rd in the entire league. He sits behind only DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond.
Defensively, Asik's impact has been very good, but not great. Part of the reason for this is because the team has failed to improve significantly from last season. Apparently, one man can't turn around a tidal wave of excrement. According to NBAwowy.com, when he's been on the court, the Pelicans allow 1.059 PPP and a true shooting percentage of 52.8. When he sits, those numbers rise to 1.101 PPP and 53.8 TS%.
When examining Nylon Calculus' Four Factor Ratings, Asik has been the league's 36th most important defender. He's behind Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol and Joakim Noah, but ahead of Al Horford, Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut and DeAndre Jordan.
Two years ago, as a full time starting center for the Rockets, the four factor ratings had him 27th on their list, but his impact on the team was more significant: 1.039 PPP, 52.7 TS% ON / 1.119 PPP, 56.0 TS% OFF. Below is a list of Asik's four factor ratings during the course of his career.
It should immediately jump off the page that the years he came off the bench, he was absolutely dominant. In his two seasons as a starter, the results dip somewhat, but he remains more than quite serviceable. He's always been a fantastic rebounder and has avoided putting opponents on the free throw line, but it's interesting to note the slippage in his effectiveness at deterring opponent shooting percentages. Is this a product of playing against better competition or does it speak more to the ineffectiveness of particular systems?
If it is largely a stamina issue, could this be the justification for Monty Williams playing Asik just 26 minutes a game? It's true that Asik's best defensive ratings have occurred in the first two quarters per NBA Stats.
Well, I'm not buying it. First, this pattern is true of nearly all other Pelicans. New Orleans is a significantly better team in the first half of games, but they get progressively worse in the final 24 minutes, culminating in the third worst defensive rating in the league in the fourth quarter of games.
Moreover, when Omer Asik plays 28+ minutes a game, the Pelicans are 15-8. According to Basketball Reference, when he receives 30+ minutes (it's only happened 14 times this season), he posts his best splits.
Lo and behold, he had the same type of splits in his other season where he was exclusively the team's starting center in Houston.
When Asik plays, the numbers seem to validate the minutes -- just check out those +/- figures. Yet, inexplicably, Monty is playing him a mere 4.8 minutes in the 4th quarter of games this season, the second lowest amount of any Pelican who has suited up for the team this season. (That includes Darius Miller, Jimmer Fredette, etc!) Considering how much worse the Pelicans have performed defensively in the second half of games, it's astonishing to see Asik sipping freely on so much Gatorade.
Before he went down with his knee injury, Ryan Anderson was leading the team in minutes in the final frame with 9.8, despite a negative rating of -4.9 and a defensive rating of 113.4. Since his injury, Asik's minutes have dropped even further (!!!) to 4.1 a game. This, despite sporting a sparkling, team-best 91.7 defensive rating. (Please tell me that this scenario reminds somebody of the Tyreke Evans mind-bloggling dilemma from last season!)
Currently, I'm seeing talk that the Pelicans are close to having a top 10 offense AND defense, but I just don't see it. In his first year in Monty's system, Asik is posting career worst defensive numbers and not playing the type of minutes everyone assumed he'd be given.
In his first year under Kevin McHale, the team integrated not only him but James Harden (who was a liability back then), Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley and they finished with the 16th best defensive rating in the league. That team did not have a good power forward, let alone a two-way player of Anthony Davis' caliber.
Prior to coming to New Orleans, Omer Asik was one of the best defenders in the league.
Now, not only has most of his defensive statistics slipped to career lows, Monty Williams has relegated him to the bench during the game's most important minutes. So, while I believe that the New Orleans head coach has not made good use of Asik when he's been on the court, he's made a much larger mistake by keeping him off of it for far too many crucial minutes.
You best believe this will not reflect positively in Monty's evaluation at season's end.