Houston Rockets center Omer Asik is on the cusp of being an NBA All-Star. With notable improvement to his offensive game this season, Asik is becoming a more well-rounded big man. His surprising play so far this season has elevated him from former Bulls afterthought to a viable piece of Houston's rebuilding project.
After swinging and missing in trying to lure big names like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum to man the paint in H-Town over the summer, the Rockets rolled the dice on the former Chicago backup center. Houston gave Asik a three-year, $25.1 million deal, which was a bit pricey for a big man coming off a lockout-shortened season that saw him average 3.1 points and 5.3 rebounds a game.
Luckily for Houston, Asik has justified that expensive contract in the first few months of the season and has given the Rockets the legitimate center they've been searching for since Yao Ming's retirement. Asik is fourth in the NBA in rebounding, averaging 11.4 boards a game. He also leads all Rockets in blocks with an average of 1.1 a night (stats as of Dec. 20).
The most impressive Asik stat is his scoring. After averaging nearly three points a game during the first two years of his career in Chicago, the Turkish center has more than tripled that average by scoring 10.4 points per contest. He also has 11 double-doubles on the season, which is more than perennial All-Stars such as the Clippers' Blake Griffin and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge.
Asik's success on offense can be attributed to his sneaky athleticism. He moves surprisingly well for a guy who stands 7'0'', 255 pounds. Let's take a look at a couple of Asik highlights that showcase his uncanny quickness.
In this clip from Houston's Nov. 16 showdown with Portland, Asik takes Trail Blazers forward J.J. Hickson to school.
Asik backs into the paint and takes a second or two to debate what he's going to do with the ball. Then, with one swift spin move, he blows by Hickson for the easy dunk.
Hickson had no time to adjust to that sudden turn, and Asik left him in the dust.
This next highlight is from Houston's game against Toronto on Nov. 27, and it is a nice example of Asik's quickness on the defensive side of the ball.
On this play, Asik times the pass just right and uses his instincts to pounce in front of the ball to get the steal. From there, he leads the break down the court and finds Jeremy Lin for the bucket.
These are the kind of plays that are typical of athletic wing players like Miami's LeBron James or Memphis' Rudy Gay. You don't see big men jump in front of passes and run by defenders while leading the break down the court. It is plays like these that separates Asik from other centers and could cause him to rise up the list of the NBA's top big men.
Here we have a video of one of Asik's better games this season. In Houston's Dec. 1 clash with Utah, Asik played well on both sides of the ball. He scored 14 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, registered three blocks and had one steal.
In this highlight reel, you'll see a number of Asik's points come around the basket off of pick-and-rolls. One of the areas Asik will need to develop before moving to the next level of NBA centers is adding some versatility to his offensive game. It would benefit him to add a reliable outside jumper, because defenses are going to eventually catch on to what the Rockets are trying to do with Asik on offense.
Asik still has progress to make before he joins the NBA's elite centers, but this season is proof that he's getting close to becoming a household name. With the ability to average a double-double and his prowess on defense, Asik can put up numbers on both ends of the court.
With more experience and time spent with one of the game's greatest big men in head coach Kevin McHale, Asik will continue to rise up the ranks. For now, he's become a strong contender for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award by utilizing the talents that coaches can't teach.
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