After finishing the 2013-14 campaign with a 34-48 record, the New Orleans Pelicans are wasting no time trying to turn this roster into a playoff participant. It won't be easy in the Western Conference, but the latest move is certainly a start.
As first reported by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Pelicans are set to acquire center Omer Asik from the Houston Rockets in exchange for a protected future first-round pick, per Zach Lowe of Grantland.
Houston is finalizing a deal to send Omer Asik to New Orleans, league source tells Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 26, 2014
Houston will acquire what will likely be a late lottery pick, perhaps as soon as 2015, from New Orleans, sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 26, 2014
Bleacher Report's Howard Beck confirmed the scenario, which can't become official until July 10.
Source confirms: Rockets are sending Omer Asik to N.O. for 2015 1st-rd pick. Clearing cap room for run at LeBron/Melo.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) June 26, 2014
Should have noted: Asik-to-Pelicans can't become official until July 10, because of cap considerations.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) June 26, 2014
The motivation for the Houston Rockets is obvious enough. They're looking to create cap room that would be used on an additional superstar such as LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony.
New Orleans' ambitions aren't quite so grandiose.
But from the Pelicans' perspective, this is a shrewd move all the same. The organization needed a center to complement increasingly rangy power forward Anthony Davis. Asik can take on the responsibility of banging in the paint with other teams' interior presences. He's a strong 7-footer with well-known defensive pedigree.
For New Orleans, Asik gives them a rim protector and defender to pair with star Anthony Davis.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 26, 2014
Paired with a shot-swatter like Davis, the move would immediately propel the Pelicans defense in a big way.
New Orleans pick and roll defense with Asik and Davis on the floor though. Sheesh!— Nate Jones (@JonesOnTheNBA) June 26, 2014
Asik himself isn't a dominant shot-blocker, but he plays with sound fundamentals. He's the guy who bodies up with the other team's best post-scorer. Davis will be the one flying in from the weak side to tally all the blocked shots.
The 21-year-old Davis averaged an eye-popping 2.8 blocks last season to go along with 20.8 points and 10 rebounds per contest. He's quickly established himself as a dynamic two-way player, capable of defending all over the floor and scoring in kind.
Though not quite a stretch 4, Davis has become a reliable mid-range shooter, making his athleticism and ability to get to the basket all the more dangerous.
Here's a peak at last season's shot chart.
The Pelicans could use an upgrade at the small-forward position, but the other big need has been at center. Since losing 82-game starter Robin Lopez to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2013, the Pelicans have been forced to make do with a cobbled-together lineup in that they split starting minutes between Jason Smith, Alexis Ajinca and Greg Stiemsma.
Asik would represent a significant upgrade from that trio.
To give you some sense of what he can do as a starter, it's best to examine his production in 2012-13—the season before Dwight Howard arrived in Houston.
Asik posted a double-double average that season, tallying an efficient 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. He only averaged 1.1 blocks per contest, but again, Davis will have that part covered, thanks to his length and electric leaping ability. Of those 11.7 rebounds, 3.4 came on the offensive end.
In Asik, the Pelicans would get consistency.
Rockets.com's Jason Friedman notes his "advanced defensive instincts (which have only been enhanced after serving a two-year tutelage under defensive maestro Tom Thibodeau), shot blocking and rebounding."
He writes that, "Asik is agile, strong and ridiculously long (7-2 wingspan and 9-4 standing reach); attributes that have helped him become an absolute menace on the defensive end."
As SB Nation's Drew Garrison put it, "The primary role of any big man is to defend the paint, but Asik doesn't just 'protect' the paint. He rotates around the key like a junkyard dog protecting property."
To the extent New Orleans is upgrading its front line, the big reason is that opposing teams will have a much more difficult time scoring in the paint. With both Asik and Davis, there would be two mobile bigs with which to contend and skilled ones at that.
That kind of duo is a rare commodity in today's NBA.
The Rockets were ultimately unable to make a Howard-Asik tandem work on any consistent basis, namely on account of foiled floor spacing. Whereas Davis will be able to space the floor with his 15- to 17-foot jumper, neither Howard nor Asik had the range to make the pairing work.
Consequently, head coach Kevin McHale only deployed the lineup on occasion—for example, when extra defense was needed against LaMarcus Aldridge in the first round of the playoffs.
This deal would be especially attractive insofar as being the Pelicans reason to be getting a reinvigorated version of Asik.
The reason was simple enough. Asik had no interest in being a backup. At the time, McHale held out hope that the two could coexist, but admitted, per Windhorst that spacing was a consideration: "You do play two bigs. You have to get spacing and you have to make sure your small guys have got to make sure they keep the court spaced."
In theory, the duo might have worked given enough time. In practice, the Howard-Asik arrangement never panned out.
And in any event, Houston's priorities clearly lie elsewhere at the moment.
But the Rockets' loss (and potential benefit down the road) is set to be New Orleans' immediate gain. As a much-desired starter, Asik would be a happy camper. And that can only mean good things for his energy and production.
The even better news is that he won't be defending the paint on an island. In Davis, he'll have plenty of help.
Good as the former No. 1 overall pick has been, he could be getting even better after adding 15 pounds in the offseason. Per Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com, Davis recently said, "I want to get stronger, so that when I post up, it’s a lot easier for me. I think it’s going to translate to the season, just my mentality, knowing that I’m a lot stronger and a lot better. It’s going to make me more aggressive."
That should be scary enough in its own right. But finding the bodies to guard a stronger Davis and Asik won't be easy.
To be sure, Asik won't make a compelling impact on the offensive end, but he will for the added rebounding and hustle points. But the Pelicans don't need Asik to do everything. They just need him to do what he does best.
Davis is increasingly qualified to handle everything else.
And that's just counting contributions from the starting lineup. The forgotten man in all this is stretch 4 Ryan Anderson. Though he was limited by injury to just 22 games last season, Anderson made a notable impact with 19.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in 36.1 minutes per contest.
His playing time probably won't be as substantial this upcoming season, but his role will remain pivotal. Though Anderson isn't a superior defender by any means, he's a smooth perimeter shooter from anywhere on the floor. He made 40.9 percent of his three-point attempts last season and 38.2 percent during 2012-13's larger sample size (81 games).
Anderson is yet another reason Asik won't rediscover the problems that threatened his playing time with the Rockets. His ability to pull defenders away from the paint would make it easier for Asik to do his work inside, whereas Howard's lack of range allowed those defenders to clog the lane—stymying post-up offense and penetration alike.
Between Davis, Asik and Anderson, the Pelicans would arguably have the league's most versatile interior rotation—a weapon for virtually any occasion...perhaps even an occasion like the playoffs.