Omer Asik an ideal frontcourt partner for Anthony Davis

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

In a Western Conference filled with talent at the power forward position, 21-year-old Anthony Davis is already recognized as one of the NBA’s best. He earned an All-Star appearance in just his second pro season, joining power forwards Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki on a loaded West roster.

Unfortunately for Davis, although he’s quickly ascended to star status as a “four,” he hasn’t always been given the opportunity to play his most ideal position. According to the statistical website Basketball-Reference.com, Davis spent a considerable chunk of his minutes in 2013-14 at center, instead of the position for which he’s known. With New Orleans starting center Jason Smith sidelined due to a season-ending injury in January, Davis spent 42 percent of his time on the floor in the middle (the other 58 percent was at power forward).

One solution? Tuesday’s trade acquisition of a true center, 7-foot, 255-pound Omer Asik.

While splitting the last four seasons between Chicago and Houston, the 28-year-old has played 100 percent of his minutes at center, again via Basketball-Reference.com. He’s the epitome of an old-school pivot, most comfortable playing in the paint on both ends of the floor, an ideal complement to Davis’ inside-outside, multi-dimensional game.

Asik, an elite pick-and-roll defender, has averaged nearly a block per game in his career, despite a modest average of just 19.4 minutes. His relatively restricted playing time is a direct result of backing up either Joakim Noah or Dwight Howard in three of his four NBA seasons. In 2012-13, when Asik started all 82 games for Houston prior to Howard’s arrival, he averaged a double-double of 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds.

Although Davis continues to add muscle and weight to his 6-foot-10, 238-pound frame, his body type is better suited to match up against quicker, athletic power forwards, instead of the many bulky, lumbering NBA centers. In some instances last season, Davis – the NBA’s leading shot-blocker in 2013-14 – effectively challenged an opponent’s shot, only to see the Pelicans allow an offensive rebound on the weakside of the play.

“I think Omer is going to be able to take some pressure off AD as far as guarding other bigs,” Pelicans four-year head coach Monty Williams said. “AD can go challenge shots and not worry about the backside of the defense, as much as we have in the past. Both of those guys are great rebounders. They both can challenge shots and they can play off of each other, as far as getting rebounds and not allowing offensive rebounds, especially late in the shot clock, which is something we struggled with last season. We’d play great defense for 18 seconds, but then give up an offensive rebound and a score. I think it’s going to cut down on that, having Omer, AD and Ryan (Anderson) in that (frontcourt) rotation.”

Pelicans assistant coach Dave Hanners, who scouted the Houston Rockets and Asik extensively over the past two seasons, believes Asik will make a noticeable impact for Davis on both ends of the court.

“I think it’s going to help Anthony tremendously, because in the past he’s had to defend guys that we wish maybe someone else could’ve guarded,” Hanners said. “On the offensive end, the other team’s best (frontcourt) defender was always on AD. I think Omer’s good enough offensively that you can’t do that. He’s big, strong and has a decent touch around the basket. If you leave him alone, he can really hurt you, especially if you have a four trying to box him out. That will take some pressure off of AD, to (not) have to be the guy on both ends of the floor. It’s going to make it a little freer for AD.”