Breaking Down Why Dwight Howard-Omer Asik Tandem Won't Work for Houston Rockets

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 19, 2013

Can you imagine Dwight Howard and Omer Asik in the same starting frontcourt?

You might not have to stretch your imagination too much, because the Houston Rockets are seriously considering making that hypothetical into a reality. 

First we had general manager Daryl Morey sharing his thoughts on Reddit: "Coach McHale plans to experiment with Dwight at PF and Omer as C in training camp. If it works and helps us win, obviously we would look at using it."

And after that, Howard himself got into the action, relaying the following quote to Jeffrey Wu of the Focus Taiwan News Channel when asked about the possibility of playing the 4: 

There is no need to adjust. I have been playing basketball for my whole life. I started it up playing a point guard.

I think it can make our team tougher. We need [me] being as a power forward some games and Asik being a center. We will have a big lineup, and it will be tough for teams to truly score.

You have two guys to play great defense in the paint. So I think it is positive, and it is no conflict.

While D12's answer was a great one—he needs to get off on good footing now that he's playing with his third team in three years—it still doesn't make much sense. Howard and Asik simply can't work together on either end of the court without doing more harm than good.  


Offensive Spacing

Offensively, Howard and Asik are both almost completely limited to the paint. While they may occasionally step out of the colored portion of the court in order to set a screen for a guard, they always roll right back into it. 

The spacing would just be absolutely awful if the two spent any time on the court together. 

Look at it this way: Howard made 10 shots from outside the paint during the 2012-13 season with the Los Angles Lakers. And that includes a fluky three-pointer from the corner. This was actually a step up from the 2011-12 campaign, when he helped out the Orlando Magic with three made shots from outside the paint. 

Asik made nine shots that weren't right around the basket, and two of those were hovering oh so close to the painted area. 

Take a gander at these two heat maps, courtesy of Basketball-Reference (left is for Howard, right is for Asik): 

Both of them should be confined to that small area near the rim, but how does that work when they're playing alongside one another? Those heat maps don't exactly complement one another. 

Sure, Howard could go to work on the blocks while Asik positions himself for a potential offensive rebound, but that means that the Turkish big man's defender could easily slide over for a double-team at a moment's notice. It's just too crowded. 

The other key is that the presence of Howard and Asik would hinder the entire Houston offense, causing it to stagnate and lose the fast tempo which served the Rockets so well in 2012-13.

Most of Kevin McHale's system is based around James Harden's ability to drive the ball into the teeth of the defense. Once there he can either finish the play himself, draw contact and go to the charity stripe or kick the ball out for an easy three-pointer. 

However, what happens when you crowd the lanes with extra offensive players and the defenders that would automatically come with them? 

Below you can see the beginning of an Asik-Harden pick-and-roll set: 

The key here is just how much open space exists in the middle of the court. Because the Rockets have stretched the court with plenty of shooters, there's room for Harden to operate as soon as he gets around Serge Ibaka. 

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin have to stay close to their assignments or else risk a kick-out three-pointer and an even bigger cut into the Oklahoma City Thunder lead: 

Fast forward a little bit, and the defenders still can't afford to completely step over in front of Harden. He still has open space, and the result is a pretty easy driving layup for two points. 

But what happens if Howard is on the court as well? There are two possible options.

First, he could remain in the paint, operating in his best area. But by doing so, there would be two extra bodies for Harden to navigate around: his and his defender's. So that's not exactly a great option, at least compared to the actual result of the play. 

Secondly, Howard could split out to the three-point line and open up space. Even then, defenders have no reason whatsoever to respect D12's shot, so they can still collapse off him and make life more difficult for Harden. 

It's just not a win-win situation. The presence of both big men would only complicate the bread and butter of Houston's offensive sets.  


Defensive Redundancy

Both Asik and Howard are fantastic defensive players, but once more, they don't complement each other. Instead, they're just rather redundant. 

Each of the two big men are fantastic pick-and-roll defenders who can hang with most big men, provided they remain limited to the paint. Asik's numbers were a little down last season, but that's only because he was constantly tasked with making sure that Houston's porous perimeter defense didn't become too problematic. 

Harden and Jeremy Lin both did great imitations of matadors throughout the 2012-13 season. While wearing red, they essentially ushered ball-handlers into the paint, where Asik was waiting to clean up their mistakes. It resulted in lower individual numbers for the center, but it's telling how much better the Houston defense was with Asik playing. 

According to Basketball-Reference, the Rockets allowed 110 points per 100 possessions with Asik on the bench and just 104.2 with him playing. That 5.8-point difference is the same gap that exists between the league-leading Indiana Pacers and the Philadelphia 76ers' No. 16 defense.

In other words, it's a big one.

Howard is a similarly impactful defender, but that's irrelevant because one of the two would inevitably be put into a weaker role.

Would it be D12, thereby mitigating his fantastic post defense? According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), only seven players allowed fewer than Howard's 0.58 points per possession in the post during the 2012-13 campaign. 

While he's great at defending spot-up shooters, he's a terrible isolation defender, lacking the foot speed to stay with the more versatile players. He'd also be caught up in more switches that way. 

Letting Howard guard a power forward just doesn't make sense, but neither does letting Asik.

While the Turkish big man ranked 89th in isolation among all qualified players and displays surprisingly quick feet, he wasn't very good against spot-up shooters. In fact, they scored on 35.7 percent of possessions against him, and that was while he was primarily guarding centers. 

Stretch 4's would absolutely tear either center apart. 

Houston doesn't have much of a decision to make here. Although allowing Asik and Howard to play at the same time maximizes the amount of talent on the court, it doesn't make a lick of sense from a strategic standpoint. 

This isn't another version of the Twin Towers. It's a redundant pairing of two limited big men. And while Howard is the league's best center when healthy, he's still limited by his lack of a jumper and his struggles guarding the perimeter. 

They'd make the offense worse and create more opportunities for their opponents to score. 

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?


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