ESPN’s Marc Stein reported yesterday that Houston center Omer Asik is likely to be traded. He started every game for the Rocket’s last year but has seen his role reduced since the signing of Dwight Howard. With Portland’s defense still lacking a real anchor, the talk of an Asik-to-Portland trade will no doubt resurface. Let’s take a look at his fit in Portland’s system, as well as the logistics of pulling off a trade for him.
Omer Asik is an extremely limited offensive player. It’s the reason my mom’s never heard of him. If he could provide anything on offense, he would be a star. But he just doesn’t do much. Last year 95% of his shots came right around the basket. He shot 56.2% from the line. He can’t do much in the post. He’s even pretty mediocre finishing at the rim, and he can’t create his shot reliably or at all.
However, Portland probably wouldn’t need him to. The offense hums already. Another shot creator might be a fifth wheel in this system. Robin Lopez doesn’t get more than a few post touches per game, and his main offensive responsibilities, finishing at the rim and setting hard picks, are both things the seven-foot, 255-pound Asik can do without embarrassing himself. He would probably hurt the team on offense, but not much.
Okay, now to the good stuff. Omer Asik is an incredibly gifted rebounder. Last year he led the league in total rebounds in only 30 minutes per game, and he was second in the league in total rebound rate among players who played more than 1000 minutes. Houston’s rebound rate went up 3.1% when he was on the floor. He’s brilliant at both ends of the floor, and would allow Lillard, Matthews, and Batum to streak upcourt rather than waiting around to corral all the rebounds that Lopez and Aldridge tip out to them.
Now here’s where you want Asik. He’s a terrific defender, one of the best in the league. This is a pretty good demonstration of his defensive skill, bizarre music and all. He’s huge and strong, with unusually quick feet. Watch him bite on Al Jefferson’s pump fake and still recover to trap him against the baseline. Watch him annoy the living hell out of every post player he’s matched with. Watch him get a hand up on every jumper. Offensive players are legitimately terrified of his bulk.
It’s safe to say Asik would be a substantial upgrade over Lopez on defense. RoLo’s acquitted himself nicely and always seems to come up with a huge block near the end of a game that makes me forget about his slow-footedness. But Asik is on another level entirely. A starting lineup of Lillard, Matthews, Batum, Aldridge, and Asik would be long, quick, and scary.
So I want Asik over Lopez. Would it work, though? Asik’s value is depressed right now after a bad start to the season, and a trade request is never good for the team’s leverage. But Asik’s good enough that interest in him will be widespread if and when the Rockets decide to trade him. And there’s no rush. The Blazers (or any other trade partner) can’t count on the Rockets needing to offload salary the way they did with Thomas Robinson before the Dwight Howard signing. The Rockets don’t need to oblige Asik, so Daryl Morey will make sure he’s getting good return value.
So what would they want? They’ve already got James Harden and Jeremy Lin, so there’s no lack of ball-handling or scoring. A center is obviously out of the question, since the problem is a glut of centers. Their most glaring need, as Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons pointed out last week, is their perimeter defense. The obvious answer is Matthews, but he’d be playing behind Harden and probably couldn’t make a huge difference to the Rockets’ D. Plus, it’s not as if Wes is a game-changing defender. Wes and a pick? Maybe Morey’s super high on Meyers Leonard? Please?
Houston also doesn’t have much of anyone to play the power forward position. Dwight at the four went badly, they clearly don’t trust (CTRL-C, CTRL-V) Donatas Motiejunas with minutes yet, and Terrence Jones is undersized. The problem is that the Blazers don’t have a lot to offer on that front. Aldridge is off the table, we got Thomas Robinson from them, and I doubt the Rockets would want Freeland enough to part with Asik. Matthews and Freeland might work, but I imagine someone would want Asik more than that.
There are too many variables to say anything with much certainty. Also as Marc Stein points out, a trade wouldn’t be likely until after December 15, when 2013 picks and just-signed free agents can be traded (This also gives the Houston time to resuscitate Asik’s trade value.) Frankly, any trade with them is tricky because the Rockets are a) good and b) really really good in theory. Their problems aren’t ones that can be solved by an incoming player without disrupting their strengths. They probably think improvements are on their way as a natural consequence of players getting comfortable in a new system.
Ultimately, as fun as Asik would be on the Blazers–and as lame as it is that one of the league’s best defenders is being buried on the bench with indeterminate illness/sadness– it seems unlikely that he’ll end up in Portland.
Maybe the Knicks panic and trade Shumpert and a zillion picks for him. Maybe Dallas lands him somehow and they have a really cool Eastern European Twin Towers made of weird looking guys with completely opposite skillsets. (Actually, that would be intriguingly similar to the team that won it all in 2011.) I don’t know what’ll happen, but Asik’s good enough that any trade that lands him somewhere else would be a victory for both the team and the league.