How Omer Asik's versatility makes him one of the NBA's best defensive centers

USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets might have a problem with the logjam created by having both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, but that's a good problem to have for general manager Daryl Morey. We take a look at Asik's defensive versatility.

The Houston Rockets landed one of the best defensive centers in the NBA two summers ago when they signed Omer Asik away from the Chicago Bulls. One year later, the franchise emerged victorious in the Dwight Howard Battle Royale, creating a logjam at the position that has led to Kevin McHale committing to the experiment of playing Howard and Asik together.

The story goes that Asik was unhappy about having his clear role as the Rockets' starting center taken away from him and had even requested a trade. The Rockets held onto him, though, and the team didn't cave and sell Asik for pennies on the dollar. That's the right thing to do, even if it creates a temporary problem.

Maybe the Howard and Asik pairing on offense isn't ideal. Maybe they desperately need to fill out power forward depth. There are still plenty of questions for a team featuring a superstar duo in James Harden and Howard, but that's fine. The team is locked in with their two superstars for years to come. The Rockets weren't built overnight, and one of the final drips of water general manager Daryl Morey can turn into wine is Asik, an elite defensive center.

The primary role of any big man is to defend the paint, but Asik doesn't just "protect" the paint. He rotates around the key like a junkyard dog protecting property. Here, Tony Parker is trapped in the corner and Danny Green moves toward him for the escape pass. Tim Duncan sets an off-ball screen while this happens and Asik slides out of the paint and below the free throw line to help:

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Green has nowhere to drive with Asik in position, so he passes to DeJuan Blair. Asik rotates back to the low post to help Patrick Patterson:

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Blair passes out to Duncan below the opposite elbow. Jeremy Lin reacts by standing between Duncan and Parker -- this is known as "stunting" -- and is able to get away with it because Asik quickly recovers to Duncan after helping on Blair in the post.

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Lin switches back to Parker and Asik is back in front of Duncan in time to challenge the shot and force a miss:

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Video of the play:


It's not just Asik's ability to be the man in the middle, though. He can defend from the rim to the three-point line and is fantastic at rotating after helping on defense. Here's two minutes of Asik moving all over the court, proving he's more than just a rim protector in the paint:


You don't trade that type of defensive presence for the free prize in a Cracker Jack box. Asik mattered last year, and even if he plays behind or with Howard this year, he will matter again. There's a reason the Rockets were seven points better per 100 possessions with him in the game than on the sidelines, according to NBA.com, and it's not because he's putting numbers on the board.

He mattered because he can cover over the top of pick-and-rolls and rotate back to his man. Here, he cuts off the drive for James Harden, then pops back out to the perimeter to challenge LaMarcus Aldridge:

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Aldridge tries to take him off the dribble, but Asik slides his feet with him and successfully forces the miss:

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Video of the play:


He mattered because the Rockets' perimeter defense was less than stellar and they needed an active, agile player to rotate in front of the rim once their assignment blew past them. Here, O.J. Mayo drives past Harden. Asik sees this and helps off Elton Brand:

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Mayo is trapped baseline with the towering body of Asik over him, but he manages to squeeze a pass out to Darren Collison:

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Nevertheless, Asik rotates back to the strong side and positions himself to help Lin over the top. Once Collison picks his dribble up, Asik switches back to Brand, who gets the baseline jumper off, but misses after a successful close out from Asik:

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Video of the play:

He mattered because he could switch on the pick-and-roll because of the aforementioned poor perimeter defense. Here, Lin struggles to fight around the screen and Chris Paul drives straight into Asik. Asik keeps his balance as he masterfully steps back to prevent Paul's dribble penetration. Paul must pull back to reset the offense:

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Paul takes a three, but misses over the outstretched arm of Asik:

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Video of the play:

He mattered because when Houston needed crucial defensive stops, he made an impact. Here, the Spurs are down 1 with 4.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter. They run an inbounds play for Duncan, Asik's man. Parker sets a screen in the paint to create space as he pops out to receive the pass on the perimeter:

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Asik fights around the screen and sticks on Duncan. Duncan has to catch the pass from nearly the three-point line because he couldn't shake Asik:

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All Duncan can do is try to take Asik off the dribble with time winding down. The shot misses, the Rockets win:

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Video of the play:

There's plenty of reason to wonder how the Rockets can work around having to play Asik and Howard together, but there's no question that Asik is a valuable NBA player. He may not finish the season in a Rockets jersey, but it won't be because he isn't useful. It will be because another team needed his defensive skill set and Morey was able to find the proper package for a valuable asset.

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