After the addition of a superstar, the Houston Rockets have plenty of talent at center, but breaking down what to expect from the position may not be as simple as it appears.
Omer Asik returns after a successful 2012-13 campaign, but the headliner of the group is former Los Angeles Laker Dwight Howard. Longtime-pro Marcus Camby also signed with Houston during free agency.
Rockets head coach Kevin McHale faces a good problem as Houston has arguably the best center in the league—Howard—as well as another suitable big man—Asik.
But will Howard's transition to the team be smooth?
Or will Asik be overpowered by the seven-time All-Star?
Howard, the most coveted free agent of the 2013 NBA offseason, chose Houston over the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks. Since his signing, the Rockets are now considered one of the favorites to win the Western Conference.
Howard is expected to continue performing as a defensive stud while being the second option on offense behind James Harden. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is a premier shot-blocker and rebounder who has averaged 17.9 points per game for his career.
He is most comfortable in the post—though definitely not on the free-throw line—and can dominate at the rim, but Howard has very little shooting range and touch.
Although Howard is entering his ninth professional season and is a well-decorated player, former NBA great and Howard's offseason coach Hakeem Olajuwon considers D12 "very raw" according to Jason Friedman of Rockets.com.
As good as he is right now, he’s still very raw. But he has all the tools so I’m like a kid in a candy store. That’s why we give him the fundamentals of these moves. There’s a rhythm. And once he sees it, then it’s easier to emulate and then incorporate with power. He has the power. Now we’re adding finesse to the power.
And since Howard struggles shooting the ball, Olajuwon-taught power moves could be a scary thing to see in D12's arsenal.
Last season, Houston's incumbent center collected the third-most rebounds per game (11.7) in the NBA, so Asik and Howard give the Rockets a spectacular duo crashing the boards.
One of the questions surrounding Houston is what Asik's role will be next season, and Howard may have given a big tip. According to Focus Taiwan (h/t Matt Moore of CBSSports.com), Howard is comfortable playing power forward alongside Asik at center instead of competing for the same spot.
Assuming Houston's front office does not make a last-minute trade involving Asik, head coach Kevin McHale can always have at least one of his two big-time centers in the game.
Plus, Asik has played a full season with the Rockets, so he is very familiar with the team's style of play. He does not always head directly to the rim—instead, as Grantland's Brett Koremenos points out, Asik runs the floor as the trail man.
Versatility, as we will discuss later, may save Asik's offensive contributions from disappearing completely. Otherwise, he may be relegated to fighting for second-chance points, and that's it.
Signed as a short-term insurance policy, Marcus Camby provides the valuable knowledge only an 18-year NBA veteran can possess.
However, Camby also carries plenty of baggage, as he is constantly hampered by injuries. Granted, Camby was clearly not signed to be a superstar, but as the third center, Houston could use some quality minutes from the 39-year-old.
Can Howard and Asik coexist in the post and be productive?
Camby certainly will not receive playing time during every game and will chip in just a few points, rebounds and blocks in limited minutes while on the court. His biggest strength may be that knowledge, and since the Rockets frontcourt is very young overall, Camby is almost like another assistant coach.
Even if Asik serves a role as a specialist on the glass due to Howard's presence, Omer's biggest weakness is his limited offensive prowess. And while a player in the paint is useful on offense, Asik rarely scores outside the paint—and neither does Howard.
Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal does not believe the Howard/Asik tandem will work because the duo is actually redundant, not complimentary.
In other words, it would really help if either Howard or Asik could make a jump shot.
Howard's willingness to operate in Houston's pick-and-roll offense will greatly influence the Rockets' success during his first season. James Harden is undeniably the team's biggest offensive threat, but Howard (or Asik) popping out to screen for Harden will clear space for Asik (or Howard) down low.
But although Asik scores the majority of his points inside the lane, he is not completely inept outside the paint. If Houston utilizes Asik as the trailing forward, he leaves plenty of space for Howard to operate down low. In doing so, the Rockets' offense becomes slightly more versatile.
Ultimately, Howard will see a small spike in his points and rebounds per game, and he should be just as effective on the defensive side of the floor.
Asik's numbers will certainly dip this season, but he and the Houston coaching staff must assess the best way for him to not disrupt Howard's inside game while at the same time not becoming a non-factor himself.
As for Camby, he gets a front-row seat to watch the combination of Howard and Asik develop and may even play a few scattered minutes, too.
Per Game Stat Projections
Dwight Howard: 36.8 minutes, 21.2 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks
Omer Asik: 27.8 minutes, 8.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks
Marcus Camby: (31 games) 8.2 minutes, 1.4 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.6 blocks