Former teammates weigh in on NOLA addition of Omer Asik

by Jim Eichenhofer

LAS VEGAS – The usage of analytics to evaluate NBA players has made incredible strides in recent years, gaining near-universal acceptance, but the data still has a ways to go before it can accurately measure every aspect of the game. Case in point: 7-foot, 255-pound center Omer Asik, who was traded to New Orleans from Houston this summer.

In 103 career starts, all but two with the Rockets, Asik has averaged close to a double-double, 9.8 points and 11.6 rebounds. Yet when former teammates talk about what the native of Turkey brings to a club, they rarely bring up things that can be quantified. For instance, Houston ranked in the top six of the NBA in offensive efficiency in each of Asik’s two seasons in Texas, but the Rockets’ wing starters quickly note what Asik did not do at that end of the floor.

“He doesn’t really ask for the ball,” said James Harden, the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer in 2013-14.

“You don’t have to give him the ball in the post,” said Chandler Parsons, who went from Houston to Dallas in free agency this summer. “He just kind of plays, knows his role and does his job. He’ll definitely help the Pelicans out.”

Asik’s unselfish and low-usage approach at the offensive end should fit in well with New Orleans, which has plenty of firepower at its disposal. In addition to All-Star forward Anthony Davis (20.8 points per game last season), the full-strength Pelicans boast proven scorers Tyreke Evans (19.9 ppg as a starter last season, Ryan Anderson (19.8 ppg last season), Jrue Holiday (17.7 ppg during his final full season with Philadelphia) and Eric Gordon (17.5 ppg career). Despite sustaining as many key injuries as any NBA team last season, New Orleans still finished in the top half of the offensive rankings (13th, 107.2 points per 100 possessions).

The defensive end is where Asik earned the lucrative contract he signed as a Chicago restricted free agent two summers ago. On a Houston team loaded with offensive-minded players, Asik helped serve as a player his teammates could count on to guard the basket and provide help defense.

“First of all, he’s a great teammate. I loved playing with him,” Parsons said, after a USA Basketball practice. “Very, very good defensively. He’s one of those guys that, as (me being) a wing defender, he gives you the confidence to pressure up and take some risks, because you know he’s back there protecting the rim. And he rebounds very well.”

Harden: “He brings a defensive effort. He’s going to do everything right on defense. He’s going to be a leader out there. All he wants to do is win. When you get a guy like that on your team, that’s always great. The Pelicans got a tremendous player in Omer.”

Harden views New Orleans as a potentially dangerous team in 2014-15 if it can remain healthy and put all of its components on the floor together. The crafty and prolific southpaw has played against the Pelicans seven times over the past two seasons, but rarely against their full complement of players.

“You’ve got Jrue Holiday at the 1, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis and Omer now,” Harden listed. “Then you come off the bench with Ryan Anderson. That’s a good team, with so many young guys who are talented and can make plays.”