HOUSTON Though not quite a laundry list of names, the Rockets have developed enough unrenowned point guards into solid starters that the scouting and analysis skills of their front office personnel are confirmed.
And now for his next trick, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey will attempt to add 7-foot center Omer Asik to the ledger including Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic, point guards acquired and who later starred when past performances offered scant evidence of growth.
When the Bulls declined at the deadline on Tuesday to match the Rockets' three-year, 25 million offer sheet to Asik, the Rockets were left with an unproven 26-year-old whose career averages 2.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.84 blocks over two seasons make projection a necessary tool. Morey is banking on the limited displays of potential Asik flashed backing up Joakim Noah, a risk he has taken previously.
"They've been the best defensive team in the league the past couple of years," Morey said of the Bulls. "They've been at their best defensively with Omer in the middle, better than with their other bigs on the team. Obviously he's going against non-starter players often. That said, when he played against starters he played great, and in those limited minutes, even when you adjust for maybe some of the backups he was going against, he was still elite, elite."
The Rockets will need to be particularly fortunate in order for Asik to validate a salary disproportionate to his production. In limited minutes Asik had limited impact with the Bulls, but extrapolation of his statistics yield some of the faith the Rockets showed by tendering Asik a contract.
Per 36 minutes last season, Asik averaged 13 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. His total rebound percentage (20.1) and block percentage (5.0) would have ranked third and ninth, respectively, had Asik logged starter's minutes with the Bulls. The Rockets are gambling that Noah, and not a lack of talent, prevented Asik from maximizing his abilities.
"We think that's where you can find opportunity in this league," Morey said. "In free agency it's very hard to find players to add and that have a fit in the overall structure of what we're trying to do to get back to being a championship contender. One way to do it is to find a guy who hasn't played much who we really believe in, and then add him to our team.
"We think he's a 10-plus a night rebound guy (and) one of the best defensive bigs in the league. Obviously not many people have seen him play because he did have a limited role there, and time will tell if our scouting that we believe in is right. But we believe in Omer and he believes in himself."
Morey did not disguise the fact that Asik is restricted offensively, both as a post scorer and as an opportunist at the free-throw line, where he shot a woeful 45.6 percent last season. Part of the lure for Asik to sign with the Rockets was the opportunity to study under coach Kevin McHale, whose legacy as a dominant low-block weapon with the Celtics is documented.
"I'm really looking forward to working with Omer," McHale said. "I've admired his physical style of play over the past two seasons as he's made the transition to the NBA. In his limited minutes he has proved himself to be an exceptional defensive post player, and we will be working with him to continue to progress.
"Omer has a great understanding of how to play defense and how to move without the ball, and I know he will fit in very well with our needs in the low post."
In the interim, the Rockets are content for Asik to focus on providing defense and rebounding while their perimeter shooters and wing players shoulder the scoring load. While their unrelenting pursuit of disenchanted Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard is borne primarily of their desire to have a superstar around which to build, the Rockets covet what Howard provides defending the rim and cleaning the glass.
Howard finished second in the NBA in total rebound rate (21.9) and 13th in block percentage (4.4), so any suggestion that Asik could match that production even supplied unlimited minutes is naive at best, disingenuous at worst. But with the Rockets he'll get a chance to start, with an open expanse available to showcase what has been suppressed.
"Anytime you can get a defensive presence like him - 7-footer; long; probably the best paint-rim protector short of one or two players in the league the last couple of years; superior rebounder - that's always a good thing to add no matter what your roster looks like," Morey said.
"We'll see. Obviously we believe as we watch him on video, we watch his game and his attitude and his tenacity and his high motor, we think that will translate into a full-time role. Obviously that's why we have our scouting and we feel that he's going to take a big step forward this year."
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