Chairman Of The Boards
HOUSTON - It should come as no surprise to see Omer Asik’s name right near the top of the NBA leaderboard keeping track of the league’s best rebounders. Asik came to Houston with a well-earned reputation for being a world-class defender and rebounder – all he’d been missing during his first two years in the league with Chicago was a chance to play enough minutes night in and night out to prove it on a per game basis. The Rockets gave him that chance when they signed him as a free agent this summer and the 26-year-old center has done nothing but bolster his credentials as a top shelf glass cleaner of the highest order ever since.
What has been somewhat shocking to see, however, is Asik’s ability to take his game to an even higher level over the course of the past week. During the Rockets’ last three contests, Asik’s rebounding prowess has transformed from sensational to superhuman. His numbers throughout that stretch are downright absurd. He’s averaging 17.7 rebounds per game, all while playing less than 31 minutes a night. That’s just the beginning, however. What’s downright otherworldly is the fact Asik has grabbed nearly 47 percent of his opponent’s misses over the course of the past three games. For some perspective on that stat, bear in mind that Brooklyn’s Reggie Evans leads the league in that area by collecting 35.6 percent of the shots missed by Nets opponents. Asik, then, has spent the past week besting the NBA’s top mark by more than 30 percent. Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind that Asik’s inflated production during this stretch isn’t the result of a cream puff schedule filled with teams who put up little more than feeble resistance on the glass; Houston’s last three opponents – Brooklyn, Utah and Denver – each rank among the NBA’s top-10 in offensive rebound rate.
So sure, it’s hardly startling that Asik has spent much of the season to date doubling as a one-man wrecking crew on the boards. What he’s done lately, however, is the stuff of legend and it’s turbocharged Houston’s offense, defense and transition attack.
“It’s huge,” says Jeremy Lin of Asik’s relentless rebounding efforts. “You look at his plus-minus and things like that; he affects the floor (in so many ways) getting defensive rebounds and all that stuff – when he’s not in the game we’re definitely hurting on the glass. He’s big time.”
Indeed, Houston’s Turkish Delight is No. 2 on the team in plus-minus, trailing only Carlos Delfino who’s been the club’s instant offense catalyst off the bench all season. It’s not hard to figure out why Asik makes such a profound impact. He is, quite simply, the life preserver that keeps the Rockets’ defense and rebounding afloat. When he’s on the floor, Houston hits the defensive glass at a rate that would rank them No. 1 in the league. When he sits, they fall perilously close to bottom-10 territory. The same story unfolds when examining the Rockets’ overall defense as well. Put Asik in the game and Houston resembles a top-10 outfit. Hand him a seat on the bench, however, and the Rockets’ D becomes cellar dweller bad.
On the offensive end, of course, he remains very much a work in progress. Yet even there, Asik has managed to make himself a useful player. It begins with – what else? – his ability to give his team extra possessions with his work on the offensive glass. The screens he sets with his massive frame play a pivotal role in the Rockets’ lethal pick-and-roll game. And though he still turns the ball over too much and converts too few of his looks at the basket, it’s worth pointing out that Asik’s turnover rate is at a career low while his free throw shooting and conversion rate at the rim currently represent career highs. And given his age and the significant growth he has already shown following a summer of tireless work, it’s by no means unrealistic to expect continued improvement in his game going forward.
Still, even if Asik were never to improve one iota on the offensive end from this point forward, the Rockets know full well they are getting far more than their money’s worth from their new starting center. His defense and board work make him downright indispensible. And his selflessness, devotion and dedication to doing whatever it takes to win serve as a daily reminder of the mindset the Rockets hope to instill within their young team.
“I’ll give you a great story about him; something that gives you a composite of who he is” recalls Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson when asked about Asik’s approach to the game. “He came up to me one day and said, ‘Coach Kel, I’m a great example of why, if you just play hard and care about winning, good things will happen. I come from a team where I averaged three points and five rebounds and only played 14 minutes per game. But I got a good contract because we were winning.’
“Omer is so team-oriented at all times. He just wants to help his team win games and he knew for him that was defense and defensive rebounding. There are some guys who are stat hounds that are all tied to selfish reasons. But defensive rebounding is such a team-builder. There’s nobody on our team that has an individual strength as good as Omer except for maybe James Harden at getting to the free throw line.
“Bad rebounders are never where the ball is. Omer is always where the ball is. He’s got tremendous instincts. He can do two things at once. Some guys can only block out. Omer has a great sense of watching the ball, checking his man with his hand and his forearm, hitting him and making sure that his man doesn’t get the offensive rebound, and then he goes and chases that defensive board.”
That’s precisely what Asik has done all season. In fact, it’s what he’s done throughout the entirety of his three-year NBA career. Little wonder, then, that his presence on the court seems to coincide with winning basketball. When Omer Asik is on the floor, his teams succeed. The stats proclaim that message loud and clear. More importantly, so too do the standings.
Chandler Parsons was named to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge Wednesday afternoon, providing him with a chance to represent the Rockets in Houston during All-Star weekend. The honor was well deserved to say the least (and at least partially makes up for the fact the 24-year-old was snubbed for the same event a year ago), as Parsons has blossomed in his second-year, averaging career-highs in scoring, assist rate, true shooting and three-point percentage.
“I’m excited,” he said following Friday’s practice. “It’s a huge honor to be selected to that game. Just knowing that the assistant coaches in the league respected me and think that highly of me is a real honor to me, especially playing in Houston and being able to play in front of the home crowd representing the Rockets will be a fun time.
“All-Star weekend is a big deal. I got to be a little bit apart of it last year and it’s just a great experience being there after watching it my whole life as a kid. It’s kind of weird now to be in the game but it’s a big stepping-stone for my career.
“I’m lucky. I’m very lucky and blessed. It’s been fun. I’m just real thankful for the organization and the opportunity and freedom they give me. I look at it as an honor and obviously it’s an accomplishment but honestly I’m more worried about us as a team and making the playoffs and making some noise rather than my individual accomplishments.”
Lastly, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey announced Friday that the team has re-assigned forward Terrence Jones to Houston’s single-affiliation NBA D-League partner Rio Grande Valley.
Jones (6-9, 252, Kentucky) has averaged 19.1 points and 9.8 rebounds in 12 starts with Rio Grande Valley this season. At the time of his last recall, Jones stood fourth in the D-League in rebounds per game (9.8) and tied for seventh in the league in scoring average (19.1). In his rookie campaign with the Rockets, Jones has averaged 3.1 points and 1.6 rebounds in 11 games with Houston in 2012-13.