Anthony Davis: Omer Asik will 'help my game a lot'

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

There are a few mitigating circumstances – the two haven’t always been matched up one-on-one against each other, for example – but the statistics Anthony Davis has produced while facing Omer Asik in the NBA seem like misprints. During a total of four matchups vs. Asik and Houston over Davis’ two-year career, the 2014 All-Star has averaged just 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds, never registering more than 10 points in any game. Davis’ career averages in those categories are 17.3 points and 9.1 rebounds.

While it’s open for debate how much of that drop-off was due specifically to Asik’s interior defense, there’s no argument that the 7-foot, 255-pounder is a difference-maker on that end of the floor. Davis has seen first-hand Asik’s impact as a rim protector who patrols the paint. Asik averages a shade under a block per game in his four-year NBA career, despite logging only 19.4 minutes a night.

“He definitely uses the rule of verticality well,” Davis said of his new fellow New Orleans Pelicans starting big. “He doesn’t get in foul trouble because of being able to go vertical when guys try to go to the rim. That’s good, because it means we can have him stay on the floor. He defends pick-and-roll very well. I didn’t know he ran the floor that well until we played them. He also finishes around the rim well. So there are a lot of great things that he can do. Now it’s all about getting him adjusted to our system, and the things we try to do.”

For Davis, the presence of the native of Turkey should mean he’ll be able to spend most or all of his time on the floor at power forward, his natural position, which is known as the “four” spot in common basketball parlance. Asik’s true position, center, is designated as the “five.” According to Basketball-Reference.com, 42 percent of Davis’ minutes in 2013-14 were at center (the remaining 58 percent were at power forward).

“Whatever position the team wants me to play, I’m going to do it and try my best and excel at it, but my game is really more of a power forward’s,” Davis said. “This is going to help my game a lot. I like playing the four. Now I get a chance to work on more stuff, knowing that I’ll be playing the four a lot more than I have in the past couple of years.”

At times last season, the Pelicans had no choice but to match up Davis defensively with some of the NBA centers who play with their back to the basket. Although the old-school, traditional five-man is starting to become a dinosaur in the NBA, that meant Davis sometimes had to grapple with the likes of Dwight Howard, Nikola Pekovic and Marc Gasol in the paint. That hard-hat duty will now go primarily to Asik, particularly at the outset of games.

As Davis points out, there are also NBA power forwards who have thicker body types than Davis, including players such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin, but that trio prefers to face the basket on offense, instead of backing down defenders. That’s a better fit for Davis’ 6-foot-10, 238-pound frame and elite athleticism.

“I think their games are similar to mine,” Davis said of the three aforementioned Western Conference All-Stars. “They’re not back-to-the-basket kinds of players. If a player is a face-up guy, it’s more of a case for me to just be able to stay in front of him on defense. If he’s a five, you have to fight your way and battle with him in that low post. It’s not just that they’re heavier; the biggest difference is the way they play. Most (centers) aren’t doing a lot of facing up or making plays off the dribble.”

While battling widespread key injuries, New Orleans finished 27th in defensive efficiency in 2013-14 and was 17th in rebounding margin. Asik, who averaged 11.7 rebounds as a full-time starter with Houston during the 2012-13 season, should be able to help the Pelicans in both areas.

“It’s good,” Davis said of acquiring Asik. “He’s another big body who can defend, rebound, runs the floor, a great passer. It’s good for us. It kind of takes me off that five position and lets me work on my game as a four and get used to playing that four now. He brings great energy. I’m just happy to have him."