HOUSTON With all due respect to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and vice president of basketball operations Sam Hinkie, the time had come for an actual professional basketball player to offer analysis on the reputed defensive and rebounding skills of center Omer Asik.
With Morey across the pond attending the London Olympics, the task fell to Hinkie on Thursday to gush over Asik, whose talents as a help defender and rim protector weren't obvious to the average fan because Asik averaged only 14.7 minutes per game last season with the Bulls.
However, NBA players are acutely aware of the capabilities of their fraternity members. And while there frequently are surprise stories and unexpected developments Jeremy Lin comes to mind the ability to project what one player can do comes from observing performances via on-court proximity. That vantage point can provide unique perspective.
"He is a tremendous defensive player," Rockets forward Patrick Patterson said. "He has a high basketball IQ. We definitely need help in that area; we did OK (last season) but we want to be a great rebounding team, and with the addition of (Asik) that pushes us in the right direction.
"Defensively he's the perfect specimen: big body, 7-footer, strong. He can play help defense, he can block shots, and he can do everything that you want your big guy to do out there. Even though not too many people got to see his skills ... we're all well aware of what he can do out there."
After inking Asik to a three-year, 25.1 million contract, the Rockets were left convincing skeptics he is worthy of such a substantial raise (Asik earned 3.5 million over two seasons with the Bulls). They talked of projection, trusting their scouting and how Asik will fit in their locker room and in their developmental plan because, in truth, that's all the Rockets have to hang their collective hats on. After sharing a frontcourt with Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson, Asik, 26, didn't play enough minutes or deliver the production that generates excitement.
That the Bulls declined to match the Rockets' offer sheet to Asik only raised more eyebrows. Determining his worth after two seasons of limited minutes is a tricky task, although Asik is anxious to prove that he has the work ethic necessary to validate the Rockets' deep-rooted faith.
"What Houston did for me is a big opportunity for me because I was playing limited minutes because of the really quality guys there," Asik said. "I didn't start much there (two games in 2011-12) but I think I will be working real hard and try to adapt quickly.
"When I decided to come to the NBA my goal was to become a starting center in this league. I'm very happy about it."
That adaptability also caught the Rockets' eye. Asik developed in his native Turkey, playing professionally for Fenerbahce Ulker and Alpella over the course of five seasons while also helping the Turkish national team claim silver in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. The Trail Blazers drafted Asik in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft, but immediately shipped his rights to Chicago as part of a three-team trade.
During his rookie season (2010-11) with the Bulls, Asik averaged 2.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks over 12.1 minutes per game. That he played all 82 games and seamlessly transitioned into the NBA was deemed a positive and it set the stage for an improved second campaign.
"The adjustment for an international player to come to the NBA as a rookie is quite challenging as they make the transition," Hinkie said. "He was outstanding as a rookie and made strides even throughout this year."
What the Rockets saw in Asik were flashes of rebounding and defensive brilliance. His total rebounding rate (20.1 percent) and block percentage (5.0) would have ranked in the top 10 last season had Asik qualified with the minutes threshold, giving rise to the notion that additional playing time would yield even more impressive results.
With his combination of size (7-0, 255 pounds), selflessness and tenacity, the Rockets felt compelled to act when due diligence revealed plaudits for his positive influence in the Bulls' locker room. Asik has shortcomings offensively, something he addressed directly by expressing excitement over working with Rockets coach Kevin McHale. But what the Rockets are paying for at this stage is his defensive presence and rebounding prowess. Those assets are rare and coveted.
"Young centers in our league that are proven that they can impact an NBA game are scarce, really, really scarce," Hinkie said. "So we were delighted to be able to add him to our team and to be able to add him to our locker room and what we're trying to build here."
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