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Omer Asik’s decline has New Orleans Pelicans in search of a replacement

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The Greg Monroe and Kenneth Faried rumors indicate the front office doesn’t trust the production around Anthony Davis.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans have been linked to both Greg Monroe and Kenneth Faried this summer and there is very good reason for this. Omer Asik, brought in to be the team’s mainstay at center to allow Anthony Davis spend most of his minutes at power forward, has sorely failed to live up to billing during his first two seasons with New Orleans.

From his offseason comments in June, Dell Demps recognized this fact but claimed the franchise still had expectations for the once highly regarded defensive center.

“For us to be good, he has to have a good season.”

I applaud the honesty, but it appears the Pelicans are smartly looking to hedge their bets. During the 2016 Summer League, Alvin Gentry was asked by Zach Lowe about the starting lineup, yet he only committed to naming Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis as sure things.

“I think right now all of the spots are open. I mean obviously I feel pretty good about AD and Jrue, and then we’ll see what happens with all of the other spots, depending on how we want to play and other stuff like that.”

With the departure of Eric Gordon and small forward long a significant weakness, it was assumed the wing positions were going to be decided in training camp anyways, but Asik’s role was expected to be solid, at least at the start of games. After all, Gentry expressed high hopes just one year ago, proclaiming Asik would assume an important Andrew Bogut type of role.

Whoops!

One year later and Asik’s starting job isn’t even guaranteed, despite the Pelicans still on the hook for three more seasons. If you think back to last year, I had warned of handing out such an expensive contract with so many years attached, even citing his back issues perhaps serving as an indicator of a quicker peak and decline than the average player in the comments section.

In his defense, when Dell Demps traded for Omer Asik several years ago, he thought he was getting one of the best paint protectors in the game and no one can argue with that logic. In his final season in Houston, Asik suffocated opponent shooting percentages, both at the rim and in a six foot circle around it. For instance, opposing players in 2013-14 typically shot the ball at 60.1% clip within six feet. When they faced Asik inside this area, their success rates dropped drastically, all the way down to a 49.2 FG%.

Opponents suffered a collective drop of around 18% in their field goal percentages when the Turkish Hammer stood in between them and the rim. This sadly hasn’t remotely been the case since donning a Pelicans uniform.

Omer Asik Defended FG% at rim Defended FG% inside 6 feet Usual FG% inside 6 feet Percentage Points Difference
2013-14 46.6% 49.2% 60.1% -10.9%
2014-15 50.9% 58.7% 60.5% -1.8%
2015-16 52.8% 58.2% 60.8% -2.7%

In his final year with the Rockets, Asik had an impact similar to Rudy Gobert and Larry Sanders, the version before the one that fell off a cliff. This past season, Asik more closely resembled players in the mold of Drew Gooden and Spencer Hawes.

That’s not going to cut it.

Although Asik’s rebounding rate has never wavered from elite status, his mediocre paint protection to go along with that limited offensive repertoire mandates the Pelicans strive to look in a different direction. After 3160 minutes in New Orleans, the magic isn’t probable to return.

So, now let’s take a look at the other center options on the team. Maybe, Asik’s replacement already sits on the roster. First, Alexis Ajinca.

Alexis Ajinca Defended FG% at rim Defended FG% inside 6 feet Usual FG% inside 6 feet Percentage Points Difference
2013-14 50.6% 61.4% 60.4% 0.9%
2014-15 52.3% 53.9% 59.4% -5.5%
2015-16 48.9% 58.4% 60.2% -1.8%

Ajinca has shown flashes on occasion, but in looking deeper the stomach begins to churn. One soon understands why Monty Williams and Gentry showed a reluctance to go to him for stretches of games. Outside of the post area, Ajinca’s defense has been synonymous with a fish out of water.

In totaling up the available isolation, roll man, post-up and spot-up numbers, the NBA database reveals Ajinca was on a pace to give up 104.8 points per 100 possessions. At the very least, Asik has proven an ability to stay with players in isolation situations or get out on spot-up shooters.

With Ajinca deserving to remain a reserve, let’s now turn our attention to Anthony Davis.

Anthony Davis Defended FG% at rim Defended FG% inside 6 feet Usual FG% inside 6 feet Percentage Points Difference
2013-14 48.8% 54.5% 60.2% -5.7%
2014-15 48.6% 53.2% 59.9% -6.7%
2015-16 47.7% 55.7% 60.2% -4.6%

Davis has not been otherworldly close to the rim, but it is important to remember that Davis is just 23 years of age and has been asked to cover players from the rim out to the three-point line on perennially bad defensive teams.

There is no question he should share some of the blame for often being out of position or making poor decisions; however, just as Buddy Hield was stymied in Las Vegas, the theory of stronger teammates should prevail. Davis’ overall effectiveness on defense compares well among the rest of the NBA, so if his talents were allowed to concentrate in areas of need, say playing the 5 and focusing on rim protection, I have the utmost confidence in the attainment of an acceptable level of success. (I promise I’ll go in greater depth on this line of thought this weekend.)

As a sidenote, assembling all the data for this article reminded me of the sizable error Demps made when opting to relinquish Jeff Withey. Sweet Pea was the team’s best defender in the paint and the statistics were not even all that close. His defended FG% at the rim sat between 43-44% and he reduced an opponent’s efficiency inside the six foot circle by about 10 percentage points during his two seasons in New Orleans.

Oh, dastardly bygones!

As mentioned, I’ll publish another piece as a follow-up to this post. In addition to expanding on my thoughts about Davis at center, I also want to chime in on the Greg Monroe vs Kenneth Faried debate. From my perspective, I think the case should clearly sit in favor of one current member of the Denver Nuggets.