Playing time for an NBA player often boils down to one thing — luck. Occasionally, there is a sure thing such as a LeBron James or a Kevin Durant, where the athlete is so impressive and is put on a lackluster squad that they are immediately given extensive playing time. On the other hand, there are those players such as Darko Milicic, a player who was considered a bust merely due to his lack of playing time. Omer Asik is another player who has had to fight for his playing time. While he has impressed many with his play, he simply has not been given his chance to shine, playing second fiddle to Joakim Noah in Chicago or Dwight Howard in Houston. However, after a trade that sent him to the New Orleans Pelicans for a future draft pick, the Turkish native may finally be able to prove his worth.
When Asik entered the league, he did not receive much playing time. He had flashes of potential as a hard worker in Noah’s absence, particularly on the defensive end. Unfortunately for him, due to his 13 mpg average while on the Bulls, he never was able to show what he was capable of. Being a restricted free agent in the 2012 offseason, the Houston Rockets took a chance on the big man. As a result, Asik proved that he was more than just a bench warmer, with the guidance of Hall of Famer Kevin McHale. In his first season with Houston, he improved leaps and bounds with averages of 10.1 ppg, 11.7 and 1.1 bpg to go along with 54 percent shooting. Asik’s play, along with recently acquired guard James Harden, caused Houston to improve to a 45-37 record.
Unfortunately for Asik, despite his impressive season, Rockets brass elected to go for, arguably, the best center in the league, Dwight Howard, during the 2013-2014 season. Unlike Asik, Howard was a more seasoned veteran with an overall better statistical breakdown on both ends of the court. In turn, Asik knew that his contributions to the team would diminish, despite a failed experiment by McHale that would see Houston start both centers. Instead, like when he was in Chicago, Asik was relegated to the bench. As a result, the Turkish big man demanded a trade. While it looked as if Houston would pull the trigger and ship Asik out midway through the season, they did not get an offer to their liking.
The situation changed for Asik earlier this week when Miami Heat all-star LeBron James elected to opt out of his contract to become a free agent. This immediately resulted in Houston trying to find a way to give themselves financial flexibility to land the four-time MVP, and the first step in doing that was to unload Asik and his almost $15 million contract, along with cash considerations.
Whether Houston will be able to land James is questionable at this point. However, what this trade does do is it allows Asik to start over yet again. New Orleans had a desperate need for a center, as the 9.7 ppg and 5.8 rpg of Jason Smith simply was not cutting it. Additionally, the Pelicans landed at 22nd in rpg and 19th in points allowed last season. By picking up Asik as their new starting center, the Turkish center should improve those numbers significantly. Furthermore, what this trade does is that it gives New Orleans a heavy-handed front court that now has Asik teaming up with the impressive power forward in that of Anthony Davis, who averaged 20.8 ppg, 10 rpg and a league best 2.8 bpg last season. The dynamic duo allow the Pelicans to instantly become a nightmare for other squads around the rim.
More importantly, this trade allows Asik the chance to prove himself. He had a chance in Houston, but due to the attraction to Howard to the squad, his surging career came to a complete halt. This opportunity allows the Turkish big man to join a young team that has been steadily improving over the last three years. He helps round out a very talented starting lineup led by Anthony Davis with other such role players in Eric Gordon (15.4 ppg, 1.2 spg), Tyreke Evans (14.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 4.7 apg), Jrue Holiday (14.3 ppg, 7.9 apg, 4.7 rpg) and sixth man Ryan Anderson (19.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg).
Calling Omer Asik opinionated last season in the wake of him being benched in favor of Dwight Howard is an understatement. He believes that he is more than worthy as a starting center. Now, with a new change of scenery and a solid line of growing players at his side, Asik has another chance to prove that he is as good as he says he is, and if he is unable to make it work this time, he may not get another chance.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey