The Houston Rockets will likely try out a new Texas "Twin Towers" duo this season with a frontcourt pairing of Omer Asik and Dwight Howard. Head coach Kevin McHale mentioned the possibility of playing both big men together shortly after they landed the superstar center, and general manager Daryl Morey confirmed in a Reddit AMA that the team will "experiment" with shifting Howard down to play power forward.
Will it work, though? I'm skeptical. Playing Howard and Asik together will impair the Rockets' offense.
The Los Angeles Lakers tried to play Howard alongside "power center" Pau Gasol last season, and the results were average at best. In the 994 minutes they shared the court, they produced a negative net rating (-.7), averaging 103.5 points per 100 offensive possessions and allowing 104.2 points per 100 defensive possessions.
Asik does not have the experience Gasol does playing with other bigs, nor does he have the versatility that has made the Spaniard an elite frontcourt player. Gasol averaged 4.1 assists per game in 2012-13, often setting up Howard with passes from the elbow or interior. Howard was assisted by Gasol 57 times in 2012-13, and the two played in 46 games together. That's an average of 1.2 assists per game from Gasol to Howard alone. Asik averaged just 0.6 assists per game in total last season.
Gasol also was more equipped to complement Howard because of his ability to stretch the floor. Thirty-eight percent of Gasol's field goal attempts came from the mid-range area. In comparison, only 3 percent of Asik's field goal attempts came from outside the key, and a whopping 87 percent were right at the rim, according to NBA.com. Less than 6 percent of Howard's field goals were from outside the paint.
That ability to stretch the floor helped the Lakers run a coherent offense. Here, Gasol's positioning at the elbow extended allows Howard space in the low post.
The threat of Gasol from mid-range forces his defender to close out. Gasol drives against his off-balance defender and finds Howard for a quick turnaround hook:
If Howard felt crowded in the low-post in Los Angeles -- an area he expects Houston to feature him on offense -- he'll feel even more cramped playing with Asik.
Howard's ideal frontcourt partner was his previous one in Orlando, Ryan Anderson. The Anderson-Howard frontcourt averaged 109.5 points per 100 possessions, which would have led the league if they played all 48 minutes, and had a net rating of +9.5 during the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season. Anderson spread the floor for Howard in the post and shot 40 percent from beyond the arc thanks to the attention Howard commanded. The Rockets do have Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, James Harden and their bench reserves to spread defenses thin, but teams will still be able to use both of their frontcourt defenders to help on Howard at the rim no matter how efficient the players surrounding the "Twin Towers" may be.
The Rockets' offense will have to deal with both frontcourt defenders rotating to help on Howard at the rim when defending the pick-and-roll, an aspect of the offense that Lin and Harden otherwise pair well with Howard. It's difficult to imagine a scheme on offense that will make the Asik-Howard frontcourt a viable option, but part of the problem for Houston is the Rockets don't have many big man options. They traded Patrick Patterson -- a productive partner with Asik -- for Thomas Robinson. Robinson was then traded to create cap space to sign Howard. The only other options are youngsters Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones.
The team will have to find ways to make Howard playing power forward work if only because it doesn't have many other options at the position. Unfortunately, Asik doesn't have the utility that Gasol, Anderson or any other frontcourt players Howard has played with, going back to Rashard Lewis when the Magic made their run to the 2009 NBA Finals.
This is an experiment that shouldn't see the light of day and only exists because the Rockets have thus far been unable to unload Asik this summer. It's ironic that a front office that managed its assets well enough to land two "franchise" players in back-to-back summers is now in a tight position because of player personnel. Trading Asik for a better fit with Howard is the Rockets' best path to frontcourt success.
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