The way basketball is now played looks entirely different from when the NBA was first conceived in 1949. Space and pace is the name of the game today and the ability to shoot from distance, enabling lineups to provide more driving lanes to the rim, is a skill teams continue to covet more and more.
One needs to look no further than the 2016 Finals: the Golden State Warriors led the league in three point attempts and percentage, while the Cleveland Cavaliers were third and seventh in those respective categories. Beyond that series, of the teams who ranked in the top-10 in three-point attempts, nine made the playoffs; similarly, teams ranked one through eight in three point percentage all found themselves in the postseason.
Guards and wings who are threats to score from beyond the arc may be the new fad, but that doesn't mean a good ole fashioned big man isn’t a treasured commodity. The sole reason franchises like the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings have hope rest in their prized bigs, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins; the Minnesota Timberwolves appear to have hit an absolute homerun drafting reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns; and the San Antonio Spurs enjoyed an unprecedented run of success thanks in large part to the greatness of Tim Duncan.
Then you have Omer Asik.
This once prized defensive center is a dinosaur by today’s standards and the continuing rise of the stretch-five center is looking like that may be his meteor. This isn't to say centers as a whole are going out of style — there is absolutely a need for big men to anchor down a defense or provide a huge offensive threat around the rim. It's just players with Asik's skill set, one that doesn’t dominate in practically all the facets of the game, are on the verge of becoming obsolete entities.
Asik will never be thought of as an offensive threat, but last year was a poor season even by his standards. His scoring output dropped to a mere 4.0 points a game, his lowest mark since the 2011-12 season. He played six fewer games last season than in the prior campaign, but the difference in points scored was staggering: Asik scored nearly 300 more points in 2014-15. It’s not just the fact that he looked lost on offense, instead he looked downright incapable. From mishandling passes to missing layups and dunks, Asik was off. Consider this: in those 68 played games last season, he dunked the ball 43 times; in 2014-15, he slammed it home 81 times.
To be fair, Omer Asik is hardly an offensive threat, we all know that. The Pelicans didn't trade a first round pick to the Houston Rockets and later re-sign him to a $58 million deal for his scoring; they brought him in for his rebounding prowess and defensive doggedness. The problem is Asik regressed in both categories. His rebounding metrics were the lowest they've been in five years. His offensive rebounding percentage, 10.9 percent, was a career worst; similarly, his total rebounding percentage, 19.5 percent, was the lowest figure since his rookie campaign.
"I wasn't very good defensively." pic.twitter.com/bCLgWYkUB6— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) September 23, 2016
Most concerning of all is Asik's hardly been the defensive anchor for the Pelicans. NBA Stats introduced new individual defensive statistics and Asik didn't score well in many areas. Among 88 qualified centers, here's how Asik fared guarding players in different areas on the court.
|Area of the Court||Opponent Field Goal Percentage||Rank|
|Paint-Non Restricted Area||41||44|
Omer Asik is the 15th highest paid center in the league and he defends, at best, like a middle of the pack center. Here's one more troubling statistic: the league introduced a figure called Percentage Points Difference. It measures the field goal percentage difference of a player when guarded by a certain opponent. A negative figure means that Player X shot the ball that much worse because Player Y was guarding him. Last seaon Omer Asik's Percentage Points Difference was +1.4 percent, placing him 66th among the aforementioned 88 qualified centers.
Asik's contract was voted least tradeable in the entire league by Realgm.com. While his salary isn't all that unreasonable on a per-year basis at $11 million, it's hard to imagine a team willing to add a floor-clogging center with no offensive game, a diminishing defensive impact, coming off recent injuries to both his back and calves and admitted to having a case of the yips. Unless Asik turns back the clock for a lengthy period of time, the Pelicans are stuck with him until 2019.
At yesterday’s Media Day, Alexis Ajinca was asked if he'll be the starting center for New Orleans and he said, "I will be a starter this year. You'll see." It remains to be seen if Alvin Gentry will make Ajinca's proclamation a reality, but if he does usurp Asik the Pelicans will be paying their back up center $10 million to vent on the bench.
And right now, it’s hard to say that’s not where Asik belongs.
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