Omer Asik: NBA’s Most Surprising Player?
As the Houston Rockets blew up a team that was never quite good enough to make the NBA playoffs, they created the youngest and least experienced team in the league. One of their biggest gambles was on the Chicago Bulls’ seldom-used restricted free agent center Omer Asik, whom they stole with a three-year, $25 million offer sheet.
Asik, a second-round pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2008, went to Chicago in a three-team deal after the draft. The seven-foot Turkish center from Fenerbahce was known for his excellent defense, but on a deep Bulls team, he only averaged 13.3 minutes per game over his first two NBA seasons. There should be no question that it was difficult to assess his full potential from his averages of 2.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.8 blocks. However, the Rockets believed in him and have been reaping the rewards this season.
“He is the guy we rely on to get the ball out, rebound it, play the other team’s top offensive threat in the post or top offensive guy, anchor our defense coming down and protect the rim,” Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said. “All the stuff we have asked him to do, he has done very well.
“Omer is a great rebounder, a great role guy. A guy who has really helped us a great deal in a lot of different areas and just having that big body in there who can rebound and bang people really helps us a great deal. Omer has been fantastic.”
Perhaps the Rockets were relying on Asik’s per 36 minute numbers in Chicago, which suggested he could be contributing eight points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 0.9 steals if given a chance. Asik certainly had the confidence in his own ability to produce.
“I believed in myself before coming here,” Asik said. “My role has never changed. Just play hard, rebound and play defense and just finish things off whenever I get the ball. I was like this with the Bulls too.”
However, even the Rockets have to be at least slightly surprised by how well Asik has played. The big man is averaging a double-double with 10.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 0.8 steals in 31 minutes. Pretty impressive for a player who had never seen starter’s minutes for more than one NBA game in a row before now. Asik has scored in double figures 13 times already. He had a career high 21 points against the Spurs a week ago and a personal best 19 rebounds in his second game with the Rockets in Atlanta.
“We will see about [the offense], but I don’t care that much about that side,” Asik said. “For me, if you want to be in the game, you have to defend first and offense will come. We have enough offensive players who can score. If they need me I’m here, but I don’t see them needing me [to score] now.”
On a team that features James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the rapidly developing Chandler Parsons, offense hasn’t been a problem and the Rockets are one of the league’s top scoring teams. However, with all that scoring punch at the guard and wing positions there has been a tendency to go small, but this isn’t something that concerns Asik.
“When we go small, the other teams always go small too,” Asik said. “It is not a big difference for me. I just try to stop whoever comes inside. I think basketball is changing. Everyone is getting small players. I don’t care that much. It doesn’t matter for me.”
Even with all the changes in Houston, the Rockets have been a .500 team this season. The players are still getting to know one another and the overall talent level is obviously better than before. All of this suggests a bright future for Asik and his teammates.
“It’s such a young group and everybody just got together this year,” Asik said. “We had a trade, [acquiring Harden] before the start of the season. We are just trying to get better every game. Learn how to play with each other. I believe that as the season moves along, we will get better each and every day.”
At just 26 years old, Asik is the third-oldest player on the Rockets’ roster and has become the stabilizing influence under the rim for a very young and inexperienced team. Perhaps the most surprising free agent signing of the summer has become one of the most surprising breakout players of the season and a strong early candidate for the Most Improved Player award.