Houston Rockets Ditching Dwight Howard-Omer Asik Pairing Is the Right Move

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Houston Rockets Ditching Dwight Howard-Omer Asik Pairing Is the Right Move
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Twin towers.

The name alone draws feelings of reverence in hoops circles, particularly in a city that once housed one of the best pairings to ever wear that title: Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.

That image of interior dominance was the same one Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale had in mind when visions of Dwight Howard and Omer Asik sharing the floor danced in his head.

But that image has changed. Rather than resting easy with a pair of rim protectors, McHale has been tossing and turning with thoughts of overcrowded lanes and dreadful floor spacing keeping him up at night.

This hasn't been Olajuwon and Sampsonit's not even the same league anymore.

As McHale considers scrapping the Howard-Asik idea, only one thought enters my mind—it's about time.

 

50/50

In a perfect world, that would describe an even split of defensive responsibilities for Asik and Howard. The supercharged, 6'11" Howard would wall off one side of the lane, while the bruising, 7'0", 255-pound Asik would seal off the other.

In reality, it's actually McHale's assessment of the lasting power for this frontcourt duo:

Even that might be figure might be a tad generous:

Like a scorned lover refusing to accept fate, though, McHale told Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle that it's tough to let go of the idea:

It takes time, and the chemistry has to get better. Every time I think I am done with it, they do something that makes me want to keep trying it...We haven't had a chance to do a lot with the big lineup, and that is still an experiment in itself. I wanted to give it enough games to take a look at it, but there are a lot of things going on right now, and there are more to try.

I can appreciate the effort, but the stat sheet says McHale is making this far more difficult than it needs to be:

How many teams can afford a net loss of nearly 16 points per 100 possessions for nearly 12 minutes a night?

I'll go out on a limb and say none. But if there happens to be one, it certainly isn't the Rockets. The on-paper contenders have dropped three of their first eight games, including two to the fellow Western Conference power Los Angeles Clippers.

If not for Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan doing Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan things (51 total points on 62 combined field-goal attempts) in a double-overtime loss to Houston, the Rockets would be holding a .500 record.

If McHale wants a sign that things might not be working, this one has bells, whistles and all the clarity of the LED board that circles the team's remodeled locker room.

Does any of this come as a surprise? Did we really think an oversized, space-killing frontcourt could survive in today's downsizing NBA?

Harry How/Getty Images

Asik certainly didn't. He was ready to bolt before the ink finished drying on Howard's contract.

Howard admitted to Dial Creech that the sudden position change has been rough:

I have to do whatever it takes. I have been playing the 'five' (position) for nine years, so to switch back to play at the 'four' and play some at 'four' (and) some at 'five' is a little different.

Like Howard really needs more to think about at this point. Isn't he fighting enough mental demons at the free-throw line?

And that championship picture that Howard painted in his head when deciding to take his talents to H-Town this summer? Let's just say this twin-tower idea puts the picture closer to the bottom of a trash can than enshrinement inside Houston's Museum of Fine Arts.

 

No Clearance for Liftoff

When Howard chose Houston this offseason, the Rockets launched into championship orbit and avid gamers found a new favorite NBA 2K14 team.

You know how much that had to do with an Asik-Howard pairing? Nothing at all.

When assessing this team's title chances, analysts oozed over Houston's potential to recreate the system Howard had thrived under during his time with the Orlando Magic. Surround Superman with shooters, give him acres of real estate under the basket and throw in James Harden's slashing game as an added bonus.

When that plan has been put into action, the results have looked every bit as brilliant as they had in our heads.

But that only adds to the frustration of this frontcourt.

Houston has the weapons to give Howard his best chance at a ring.

Despite those self-inflicted wounds from McHale's twin terror, the Rockets still have the league's sixth-most efficient offense (104.2 points per 100 possessions). Three different snipers are hitting at least 36 percent from beyond the arc, none of which are named Harden (27.6 percent, 36.6 percent for his career), Patrick Beverley (26.1, 35.3) or Chandler Parsons (22.6, 36.3).

Playing Asik and Howard together is like McHale tying restraints on his own offense.

Potential driving lanes for Harden are congested. Howard's limitations on the low block are exposed when he's dealing with extra defensive attention. Neither Howard nor Asik is a gifted passer, so a potentially potent inside-out attack becomes a sputtering inside-only mess.

What's worse is that McHale has witnessed all of this:

This isn't a call for Asik to be traded, although dealing him for Pelicans sharpshooter Ryan Anderson makes too much sense for it not to happen at some point.

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But it's absolutely a plea to get Asik out of the starting five and keep him as far away from Howard as possible.

Nostalgia has its place in the NBA. The league wouldn't be where it is now without the pioneers of the past paving the way.

But nostalgia shouldn't play a role in today's rotations. This NBA is smaller, faster. Spreading the floor on offense is more important than shrinking at it the other endprovided a team can't do both which these Rockets clearly cannot.

For McHale, catching up with the times could be the difference between an early postseason exit and an appearance on the championship podium. I'm glad to hear he's finally coming around, even if I can't believe it's taken this long for him to see something the rest of us saw months ago.

Better now then never, though, I suppose.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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