The Fall of Omer Asik: Does He Have a Future With the New Orleans Pelicans?

Omer Asik was originally brought to the Pelicans to help bolster their defense. Two years and some injuries later, his impact hasn't been what the team envisioned. Does he have a spot on the team?

It may seem a distant memory nowadays, but it was only a few short years ago that Turkish center Omer Asik was thought of as one of the more underrated, and under-appreciated players in the league.

He was an analytics darling on the defensive end, capable of defending at a high level in just about any situation. He was also one of the better per-minute rebounders in the league, and in his last season with the Chicago Bulls he averaged 5.3 total rebounds per game in just under 15 minutes a night.

When he signed with the Houston Rockets before the 2012-2013 season, general manager Darryl Morey was banking on Asik’s per minute production sustaining itself as his workload increased. His notion was correct, as the burly center posted career highs (up to that point) in defensive rebounding percentage, true shooting percentage, usage rate, and free throw percentage. He averaged 10.1 points per game to go along with 11.7 rebounds, in all 82 regular season games.

In the eyes of everyone, Houston had found a legitimate defensive anchor to pair with their superstar scorer, James Harden.

Enter Dwight Howard.

Once the Rockets acquired the former 3x defensive player of the year, Asik was shifted to a bench role, and he did not hesitate to vocalize his unhappiness with that role. Regardless, his production remained consistent and he even managed to set new career highs in key statistical categories.

Still, his days in Houston were numbered.

The New Orleans Pelicans swooped in and landed the disgruntled big man, sending away Alonzo Gee, Scotty Hopson and a first round pick to acquire his services. Two drastically different seasons later, Asik stands in familiar territory, once again having to worry about his role on a team looking to fit the right pieces next to their franchise player.

The irony this time around is that Asik was brought to New Orleans because the front office believed he was the perfect fit next to Anthony Davis.

Davis is a jack of all trades player, capable of dominating down low and on the perimeter both offensively and defensively. He has injury concerns, however, and since the day he was drafted the Pelicans have done all they can to prevent him from having to deal with the league’s behemoths on a game-to-game basis.

Asik, of course, is perfect for such a task and his lack of an offensive game (and even more so his lack of caring about offensive touches) also made him a perfect fit for a team full of ball dominant players.

So, how did things go so south so quickly?

There are quite a few contributing factors, and some of them have nothing to do with Asik as a player. Would the Pelicans have traded for him if they knew how fast the league was going to evolve into an up-tempo, shoot all the threes you can, and switch as much as you can on defense type of affair? It’s hard to say, but the shift in philosophy throughout the league has begun rendering players such as Asik nearly obsolete.

Then there is the possibility that Asik was never an ideal running mate for Davis or the rest of the roster in the first place. As I detailed in an earlier piece, Davis is at his best inside the arc, facing up from mid-range and using his quickness to attack the basket. Asik is almost always camped out in the lane on offense, making it easier for his man to help out when Davis drives. Since Asik joined the team, the Pelicans have been much more effective on offense when pairing Davis with a less traditional center:

Since 2014 Points Per Possession Effective Field Goal % Turnovers Per 100
W/Asik 1.041 48.8 14.2
W/Asik & Davis 1.055 49.9 13.9
W/ Davis & W/o Asik 1.111 50.6 12.8

Asik wasn’t brought in for his offensive prowess, however. His value to the team is based solely on his defensive contributions, so let’s check out how he’s done there since arriving in New Orleans:

Since 2014 Points Per Possesison Against Effective Field Goal % Against Defensive Rebound %
W/Asik 1.078 51.1 79.1
W/Asik & Davis 1.057 50.4 79.1
W/Davis & W/o Asik 1.098 50.4 75

Even though the numbers aren’t very good regardless of who’s on the court or who is paired with who, Asik very clearly has a positive impact on the Pelicans defense, especially alongside Davis.

But, the Pelicans have only managed a positive net rating over the past two seasons when Davis didn’t share the court with Asik. Ryan Anderson, Davis’ usual running mate in those Asik-less minutes, is gone now and while they have signed players to soak up the minutes left behind, there is no one on the roster capable of replicating what he brought on offense.

If the big man duo is incapable of producing together, who will the team turn to?

The Pelicans are entering the 2016/2017 season with no other real center on the roster besides Alexis Ajinca, which means unless Gentry and the front office are ready to 100% commit to Davis playing center this year, Asik is going to have a large role on this team. He’s on the wrong side of 30 now, and battled back issues last season, so his best days are likely behind him. With at least three years and about 32 million dollars left on his contract, the Pelicans hope that isn’t the case.

Asik hopes it isn’t either, and he’s eager to show his injuries are behind him and that he can get back to being a dominant presence down low on defense. If he can’t, it may be curtains for him in the big easy, and this time it’ll be hard to envision another team picking him up.

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