Why Anthony Davis and Omer Asik Make an Intriguing Duo
In what could end up as one of the more undervalued acquisitions of the off-season, the Pelicans swung a three-team trade to acquire Omer Asik from the Rockets. The Rockets, apparently disillusioned by the possibility of signing Carmelo Anthony, were looking to shed salary cap space, and Asik’s contract was first on the docket. New Orleans only had to give up a protected first-round pick and Alonzo Gee to bring back Asik, in what might go down as one of the bigger steals of the off-season.
Asik already has four years of NBA service behind him, however in three of the four seasons, he was sparsely used as a backup. He backed up Joakim Noah in Chicago from 2010-2012, and after starting for a season in Houston, he backed up Dwight Howard this past season. But even though he's been a bench player for the majority of his career, Asik is one of the stronger defensive centers in the NBA today, and very capable of starting and logging big minutes alongside Anthony Davis.
The story of Asik’s defense can't be told by just looking at the one year he spent starting for the Rockets in 2012-2013. Houston was - and still is - a bad defensive team, and in 2012-2013, Asik posted career lows in Defensive Rating (estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) as well as block percentage (estimate of field goals blocked while the player is on the floor).
If you look at the time he spent in Chicago though, Asik’s defensive numbers are eye popping. In the 2011-2012 lockout shortened season, Asik finished the year fourth in the league in Defensive Rating (DRtg) at 92, and inside the top 25 in block percentage (BLK%). If you take Asik’s Per 36 numbers from that season, (he only averaged about 14 minutes per game) he could have gotten close to blocking 200 shots with starter’s minutes if the season had gone a full 82 games.
Now that he's heading to New Orleans, Asik should have an immediate impact on one of the league’s poorer defensive teams. As a team the Pelicans were ranked 27th last season in DRtg. Even though the Pelicans couldn’t play defense as a team last year, with Davis alongside of Asik, the Pelicans may have created the league’s most imposing defensive frontcourt. Last season Davis led the league in blocked shots, and more importantly, finished tied for first among qualified players in BLK% with Serge Ibaka.
Putting these two guys together in New Orleans may be one of the best things for the Pelicans’ future, and Davis’ progression as a superstar. There are countless examples in NBA history of offensive-oriented power forwards thriving next to defensive-minded centers. Think about how Karl Malone thrived early in his career with Mark Eaton swatting shots left and right in the late 1980s.
Davis is already a budding young star on both ends of the floor after his second season, and if he and Asik’s ceilings are still far away, we could be talking about the best defensive big-man tandem since Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace were dominating with the Pistons in the early 2000s. In the 2003-2004 season, the two big men from Detroit blocked a total of 348 shots together, and were both inside the top 50 players that year in BLK%. Ben Wallace also led the league in Defensive Win Shares (DWS) that season, with Rasheed finishing inside the top 50 in DWS.
However, the greatest big-man duo of all time was in San Antonio with David Robinson and Tim Duncan. When Duncan came into the league, Robinson was already an established force on both ends of the floor. Even though Robinson was on the downside of his career at that time, playing alongside Duncan immediately had a huge impact for the Spurs defensively. The two blocked almost 400 shots together in Duncan’s rookie season, and they were ranked number one and two in DWS that season as well. The two big men were also third and fourth in total Win Shares (estimate of wins contributed by a player) behind only Michael Jordan and Karl Malone that year.
Super Swat Brothers
While it likely won’t happen overnight, with some more progression on the defensive end of the floor, Asik and Davis could become the next big man duo that basketball fans talk about as some of the greats defensively. Asik isn’t going to turn into The Admiral on offense at any point of his career, but given both he and Davis’ size and athleticism, these two could easily be the best defensive big man tandem the league has seen since the Wallace’s in Detroit.
If you take Asik’s PER rankings from 2012-2013, they would rank above the PER from Lance Stephenson and Bradley Beal from last season. That was on a bad defensive team in Houston, too. If Monty Williams can channel his inner-Tom Thibodeau and put Davis and Asik in the right schemes to protect New Orleans’ rim, these two have defensive upside for days.
If you’re looking for some extra ‘swat potential’ in your fantasy drafts or lineups this upcoming fall, look no further than the twin towers down in New Orleans. Both big men have wingspans well over seven feet (Davis’ wingspan is 7’5”), and both have the potential to block around 200 shots in a season when healthy.
The issue with that has been their health. Asik played in all 82 games in 2012-2013, only to be limited to 48 games last year due to a knee injury, while Davis has missed at least 15 games per season in his young career. In Asik’s case, last season was the first time he missed a significant number games in a season, and one could argue that Davis wouldn’t have missed so many games over the last two years if the Pelicans were actually playing for something late in the season. Either way, while they may not turn into the next Duncan and Robinson duo for the Pelicans, they have the upside to turn in that level of defensive presence for the Pelicans.