Omer Asik is currently in year two of what is technically a five-year contract. 47 million of the reported 58 million he could potentially make is guaranteed. Omer Asik is also averaging 3.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 0.4 blocks while playing 17 minutes per game, numbers that wouldn’t appear to match the price tag.
But, Asik was never going to be a heavy minute’s player this season, or even a consistent starter. Prior to the season, head coach Alvin Gentry said that the team would be starting whoever was best for the team on any given night.
What comes as a surprise, however, is the fact that Asik appears to have been outright cut from the rotation lately in favor of Alexis Ajinca. Ajinca, who has started the Pelicans last nine games, has averaged 5.2 points and 5.3 rebounds since becoming the starter, while playing a similar amount of minutes per night as his predecessor did.
Asik, meanwhile, has sat out three of the last seven, and averaged just under nine minutes in the ones he did play. He has also reportedly been made available on the trade market, which is rather unsurprising at this point.
Is there any rhyme or reason behind this sudden quasi-benching? It wouldn’t appear so. It could be argued that Asik saw his minutes evaporate because of matchups, but he received no playing time against a Spurs team that features two post up threats before finally getting some run against the 76ers. Ajinca, who stands 7’2, would figure to be a capable post defender and rim protector, but he doesn’t possess the strength or foot speed to be a consistent defensive force.
Compare that with this defensive possession from Asik in the same game:
He doesn’t force the miss, but other than it is picture perfect post defense. Based on those two possessions, it should be easy to infer that Asik trumps Ajinca in several key defensive categories, especially team-based statistics. The Pelicans play some of their best defense when Asik is on the floor, and they are actually at their worst when Ajinca is in the game.
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Asik also bests Ajinca when it comes to protecting the rim. Of players who defend at least 3.5 shots per game at the rim, Ajinca ranks in the bottom 15 in field goal percentage allowed, as opponents convert 57.1% of their attempts against him within five feet of the hoop. Asik’s numbers in this area aren’t anything to write home about, but he only allows a 48.9% conversion rate in similar scenarios.
On the offensive side of things, it is true that Ajinca does possess a much better skillset than Asik.
Asik, clearly, lives directly under the rim, while Ajinca is equally as likely to expand his game out to the perimeter. This has no doubt been a key factor into the decision to start Ajinca, as his ability to at least be capable of hitting an outside shot should open up driving lanes as well as give Anthony Davis more room to roll to the rim.
But, the offense has not been better with Ajinca in place of Asik. In fact, the Pelicans score at a slightly higher rate per 100 possessions with Asik in the game. Since he has become a starter, the team’s offensive rating is also 10 points higher when Ajinca sits.
Despite being only 3-7 in their last 10 games, the Pelicans remain only a few games out of the eighth seed in the western conference. They still have 51 games remaining on the schedule and are currently healthier than they have been in years. Putting Ajinca into the starting lineup has not worked out so far, but it’s not too late for Gentry to reverse that decision. It’s time to go back to Asik.