[Long time lurker kickingcannons posts his first FanPost here at The Bird Writes. We tried to keep as much of the English (east side of the pond) as possible. - Editor]
Omer Asik divides opinions among Pelicans fans like no other player on the entire roster. Various interpretations on his negative offensive impact, lack of spacing and tendency to get blocked whilst attempting to finish around the rim are contrasted strongly with his strong defensive rebounding, underrated positioning defending the pick and roll and solid screen-setting abilities. Throw in the likely improvement of Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, the solid offence offense from Alexis Ajinca off the bench, and the arrival of the faster-paced Alvin Gentry as the new coach and it is incredibly difficult to get any two observers to come up with the same opinion on Omer Asik.
Asik against expectations
The first step is to compare Asik to the expectations of him when he was traded for last summer. That was to provide a big body for Davis while also improving the rim protection and rebounding. In 2013-14, the Pels were 21st for defensive rebounding and 30th for allowing free throws; both of which Asik did improve in 2014-15. The difference that Asik made on rebounding was extraordinary, and something that should not be undervalued. The team’s defensive rebounding improved 5% in the time that Asik was on the court relative to the time he was off it, and the ability to end an opposition possession was among the league’s top echelon when Asik stood on the court, something that he probably didn’t get the credit he deserves this season. Another area he didn’t get credit for was his impact on the team not fouling, even though his time off the court was often filled with Ajinca and his windmill arms. The difference in the defensive fouling with Asik on the court was immense, with the opposition shooting eight less free throws per 48 minutes. Asik is the primary reason why the Pelicans’ ability to not give up free throws improved from 30th to 11th in just one season.
However, Asik’s rim protection was at a much poorer-than-anticipated level, despite a couple of important end-of-game defensive stops. Whilst not helped by the poor perimeter defence increasing the quantity and quality of looks he had to defend at the rim, his 51.1% FG% allowed at the rim was down on his 46.8% from the season before, the type of numbers that the Pelicans were hoping to get when they traded for him. Whilst disappointing, it was still an upgrade over the poor rim protection of the previous season
Despite that, the improvement of Asik’s defensive impact over the season also cannot be ignored. Asik was a major contributor to the Pelicans' post-All Star improvement in defence, providing an elite defensive rating of 100.9. This late-season improvement, surprisingly without Jrue Holiday, probably occurred due to a better understanding of the defensive scheme. If he can post similar defensive numbers and maintain his elite rebounding, Asik will be a bargain if he can be re-signed for under $10 million whilst maintaining his improvement in rim protection and defensive efficiency throughout the season.
Asik’s impact on offence was worse than the already-low expectations heading into the season, as his brick hands and tendency to get blocked frustrated all Pelican fans. Asik was involved in one in six turnovers in his time on the court, and almost one in three blocks against, and was woeful finishing at the rim, his 51.7% FG horrible when you consider that 398 of his 412 FGA came at less than 5 feet from the rim. However, again, much like his defence, his FG% improved to 55.1% after the All-Star Break, as did his FT% from 57.8 to 59.2% after the break. However, the team’s offence was generally much better with him off the court, jumping almost 3 points per 100 possessions better with him off the court than him off it, though his personal Offensive Rating increased 2 points after the All-Star break. Like his defence, his offence improved after the All-Star break, which provides some hope heading into the coming season should he be retained.
Asik and teammates
Unsurprisingly, Asik’s best partnerships were those he spent time with in the post All-Star period. Also unsurprisingly, Anthony Davis was the teammate that he posted the best net rating with, whilst in limited minutes, the Ajinca-Asik Partnership was also effective, across 82 minutes the pair were 5 points per 100 possessions above their opponents. However, the Anderson-Asik pairing was terrible defensively and is one area of concern for teammates. Gentry would do well to avoid this pairing and play Anderson with Davis at the centre, or even play Asik with Ajinca playing as a pseudo-Davis as part of the big man rotation, should Asik be retained.
Asik was strangely a net negative paired with Holiday, though this can largely be attributed to the tough schedule and poor wing defenders in the minutes that they played together, as the Asik-Davis-Babbitt-Evans-Holiday starting lineup posted an overall net negative, as did 5-man lineups involving Asik, Holiday and Rivers playing the two-spot. The lack of spacing apparent with the Asik-Davis-Cunningham-Gordon-Evans lineup didn’t hinder the team, with that lineup posting a 10.3 per 100 possessions net advantage. These positive line-ups with Asik on the floor suggests that he can be effective if he is avoided being paired with Anderson, and if players such as Cole and Ajinca are retained into next season, could provide interesting and dynamic pairings with Asik.
Asik against other options
If the Pelicans renounce all the cap holds that they have (on Ajinca, Babbit, Cole, Cunningham and Withey) and trades any of Anderson, Gordon or Evans, they can sign Jordan on a max contract. Such an overhaul of the roster is borderline insane, let alone Jordan agreeing to land at NOLA, but it’s worth comparing the two players to see whether what’s required to land Jordan will actually improve the team.
Notwithstanding the fact that the entire bench will have to be composed out of cap exceptions and minimum contract players, it’s worth comparing the basketball ability of the two. Both are elite rebounders who shoot almost exclusively from the restricted area, but that’s where the comparison ends. Jordan is significantly the best rebounder in the NBA, which is where the major defensive distinction between the two is, as Jordan’s rim protection numbers are not elite, and not significantly better than Asik’s second half of the year. On offence, he would not add anything to the spacing, but he would be significantly better in hitting shots around the rim. If Asik’s ability to finish around the rim was at the level of Jordan, the Pelicans would have been about 1.7 points per game better, enough to increase the Pelican’s Offensive Rating from 9th to 6th in the league.
However, having to trade out one of the best 5 players (other than Asik) as well as having to rebuild the entire bench is simply not worth it for a medium level improvement on rebounding, marginal increase in rim protection, and greater ability to finish around the rim, with no changes to spacing whatsoever.
Many Pelicans fans have been calling to replace Asik with Koufos or Biyombo, a players that can be obtained at a similar or even lower price than Asik. Demand for Koufos is likely to be high, especially if a team misses out on one of the other deluxe free agent centers. However, the real question is, is he the better player? Biyombo is a much better rim protector, but has comparable offence to Asik and worse rebounding. Both players shoud only be considered if they are able to be obtained much cheaper, the loss in rebounding and having to teach a new system is difficult enough
Davis to play more center
Shifting Davis over to starting center is another thing that Gentry could consider. It would open up salary cap room, assuming that a healthy Anderson, Ajinca, and Withey could eat up the minutes; while Babbitt and Cunningham could play some small ball 4, is something to consider. Davis isn’t an elite rim protector, but the added athleticism in a faster paced-team would be deadly. When Davis played at the 5 in the last season, he proved that he could rebound very effectively, pulling down almost 12 boards per 36, and his and the team’s offensive efficiency went up when he played center without Asik on the court. However, contrary to many people’s beliefs, Davis’ overall defence was significantly better when he played at the 4, posting a 94.3 defensive rating compared to 102.2 at center, meaning that his net rating at both positions was identical. Whilst Davis playing more center, together with Gentry’s faster pace, would likely put the Pelicans’ offence into the top-5 level, it will do nothing to improve the bottom-10 defensive rating.
Asik’s role under Gentry
Gentry stated how he wanted Asik to play like Andrew Bogut, being a solid rim protector and good passer out of the post in a high-paced system. With the defensive scheme likely to be completely restructured (and probably improved) by Darren Erman, and with the improvement he showed over the course of the year, Asik’s rim protection is probably going to return to this 13-14 numbers over the course of the next year. Asik is unlikely to turn into a great passer out of the post, but a new scheme could suit him. It is possible for his offensive effectiveness to also diminish in a faster paced system due to his relative lack of athleticism and transition ability. All in all it is very hard to predict how well he’ll do under Gentry, but his statement does show that Gentry does have a place for Asik in his team.
Asik and the market
When considering Asik, you have to consider the market for big men and the resources required to retain Asik or gain an alternative. Asik is most likely to be re-signed for about $10 million a season which isn’t a lot compared to most starting centers in the league. Nothing will be needed to be traded out, either in a sign-and trade or to make room for a free agent signing, meaning that the cohesiveness that was developed among the players last season is to be kept. It’s useless to judge Asik without comparing him to the alternatives or the cost of replacing him, and it appears that it would be the cheapest and most effective option to re-sign him.
Statistics sourced from 82games, Basketball Reference, Nylon Calculus, and stats.nba.com