News And Notes: Asik Returns
Omer Asik returns to practice as Rockets' starters look to continue torrid preseason start
HOUSTON - For the first time since suffering a calf strain on the Rockets’ second day of training camp, center Omer Asik was able to fully take part in practice Thursday afternoon. Durability has never been an issue for the 27-year-old center who’s yet to miss a regular season game over the course of his three-year NBA career. Asik is coming off a career-best campaign during which he averaged a double-double by racking up more than 10 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game, so it goes without saying that his presence was welcomed with open arms during Houston’s spirited workout on the Toyota Center practice court.
“It’s good to have him back,” said Chandler Parsons following the club’s practice session. “The year he had last year, he’s going to build off that. Having Dwight [Howard] here now, working with him every day is only going to make him better. That’s a nagging injury – I went through that same calf injury last year and it’s nothing to mess around with, so it’s definitely good to have him back in practice and get him ready for the regular season.
“He’s a top-5, top-10 center easily in the league. To have him either coming off the bench or starting at the four, it's a valuable option that we can have and it gives us a versatile look where we can go big with both of them and just have that insurance where he can come in if Dwight ever gets in foul trouble.”
Not only does a healthy Asik give Houston yet another weapon to throw at opponents, but it also promises to give birth to some potentially epic practice battles between the Turkish behemoth and Howard – something that should only serve to make both players better in the long run.
“They’re both going to get so much more prepared just going at each other every single day and in every single drill,” Parsons said. “Those are two of the top centers in the league so they have a huge advantage being able to practice and work out against each other every single day. It’s almost easy when the game comes.”
Asik’s return likely means fans will probably get a glimpse of yet another new starting lineup at some point in the very near future. Head Coach Kevin McHale has used Houston’s preseason schedule to experiment with various lineups and he’s made no secret of his desire to see what a frontcourt featuring Howard and Asik might look like.
That said, it’s been awfully difficult to quibble with any of the results the Rockets’ starters have produced thus far. Despite using four different starting fives in each of the team’s four preseason games to date, Houston has received significant productivity from the starting units its used in every contest. To wit: The average plus/minus produced by a Rockets starter stands at a robust +8.65 as of this writing. The two constants in the club’s starting lineup, James Harden and Howard, sport an average plus/minus of +9 and +6.25, respectively, through four games.
Other notables: Patrick Beverley leads the team with a plus/minus average of +10.5 per game and Houston's preseason’s breakout star to date, Omri Casspi, has a healthy average of +7.25. In three games so far, Chandler Parsons’ plus/minus stands at +8.3 and Jeremy Lin comes in at +4 (Lin, by the way, missed Thursday’s practice due to the same flu-like symptoms that prevented him from playing in Wednesday night’s contest against Orlando).
To be sure, all the usual caveats – super small sample size, random preseason noise, the contextual limitations of plus/minus, etc. -- apply. But at the very least, those numbers help to hammer home the production the Rockets have been getting from their best players at this early juncture.
Lastly, Rockets players took time out after practice to address some of the bugaboos they fell victim to against Orlando the night before. One of those issues was the bevy of botched post-entry passes Houston struggled with in the early going. Some of that was certainly due to the understandable sluggishness the team was still feeling in the wake of its eight-day trip to Asia, but much of it is just a matter of familiarity and feel – that learning curve all teams traverse in the early stages of incorporating new players. In particular, Howard addressed the success Orlando had when fronting him Wednesday night, voicing his strong belief that, in due time, he and his teammates will be able to make opponents pay for utilizing that defensive strategy.
“The more we see it, the better we’ll get,” he said. “We’ll keep talking about it in practice. But we’re going to be fine. These guys are listening and we’re learning fast. We’re always talking and watching film.
“The teams that keep fronting, that’s going to be to our benefit. With the shooters we’ve got and the guys who can slash and score in the paint, the double teams and the fronts are going to be deadly. For me, I have to fight around, but also sometimes accept the front and allow the guys to come up, throw it over the top and get easy buckets.”
On the defensive end, meanwhile, the Rockets suffered some regression – especially during an occasionally ragged first half – in their mandate to guard against those oh-so-valuable corner 3s. The Magic drained five corner triples Wednesday night – a number greater than the total (4) Houston had conceded through its first three games combined. The Rockets’ coaching staff made defending corner 3s a priority from day one of training camp, with Howard’s paint patrolling presence in the middle serving as the fulcrum of that strategy since that should theoretically allow the team’s perimeter defenders more comfort and freedom when it comes to sticking to those shooters lurking just beyond the arc.
“It starts with maintaining the ball and being able to guard your man one-on-one in the slot and up top so that the corner defender doesn’t have to help off him and leave him,” explained Parsons. “Adding Dwight now, the corner guy, regardless, isn’t going to leave the shooter in the corner because Dwight is going to step up and try to block shots.”
Again, the leftover lethargy from the Asia trip looms as a likely culprit for some of the mental miscues that took place in that area Wednesday night. With ample time for rest and recovery – and a much-needed four consecutive days of practice now underway – it’s fair to expect a much sharper club when the Rockets resume preseason play next week beginning with a home date versus Dallas.