Asik Earns Rotation Spot Over Thomas

Asik Earns Rotation Spot Over Thomas

Thibs luxury of three more than competent centers gave him a pleasantly tough decision and Omer Asik's very strong play has earned him a permanent spot in the Bulls rotation to backup Joakim Noah over Kurt Thomas. Thibs rationalized that Omer's skills, chemistry, and intelligence are anchoring the team defense too well to ice him. In addition, Omer's numbers add to a case that he's one of the better rebounders across the NBA:

omer contesting dwade.jpg

Kurt Thomas started 29 of the 30 games at center while Joakim Noah was
recovering from hand surgery between mid-December and mid-February. But
since Noah's return, Thomas has not played in any games but Noah's first
game back in action. Tom Thibodeau has instead remained with Omer Asik
as the backup center in the Bulls rotation because of his chemistry with
the second unit and stellar play, K.C. Johnson reported Saturday at the
Chicago Tribune
:

"The hardest thing was this: I thought when Jo was out for those 30
games, when you study the stats, Kurt was playing 30 minutes a game with
the starting unit and that was by far our best defensive group
,"
Thibodeau said following Saturday's practice at American Airlines Arena.
"With that being said, the second unit was playing extremely well."

"What I didn't like was when Jo came back, I didn't want to disrupt both
units.
We had to go through the re-adjustment of Jo with the first
unit. Because of the way that group was playing with the second unit, I
wanted to stay with it. You could see that they were getting better and
better and more confident with each other. And they complement each
other well.
"

Omer Asik's per game numbers aren't gaudy because Thibs doesn't use the second center for many minutes. It's typically a short shift to close the final minutes of the first quarter going into the early minutes of the second and another to close the third and open the fourth. Asik has greater athleticism than Thomas, so he fits the "energy off the bench" role better.

There's no question that Omer is the better rebounder than the 38-year-old Thomas. He's longer and quicker, making his aggressiveness more productive. The rookie was a Foul Machine early in the season, but with consistent minutes, he's learned to channel that aggressiveness without hurting the team. In fact, he's been a dominant rebounder and great help defender, raising Thibs' confidence in the Turkish rookie, K.C. added in a follow-up:

"Omer is very bright," Thibodeau said. "He's diligent and he works and
studies. His biggest area of improvement is he's not picking up reckless
fouls. He's learning how to play in the restricted area, which is
critical.

"When he goes to help now, he's jumping straight up and utilizing his
chest and pulling his hands back. He's a hard guy to finish over because
of his length and athleticism."

Thibodeau also spoke of Asik and Taj Gibson complementing each other
with their length and shotblocking ability. Asik, who rarely speaks in
English, just shrugged.

"I get more confident every game," he said. "It's a little different
basketball than in Europe. I'm comfortable playing physical. I don't
look at who I'm playing. I'm just playing to give the team energy.
"

I'd go so far as to call Omer an adept defender. Thibs' help scheme isn't simple. It's very complex and only highly aggressive, athletic, hard-working basketball students like Noah and Kevin Garnett have picked it up and apply it with an acceptable margin of error. Let alone master the technique and decision-making skills of all of the options the anchor is forced to weigh from possession-to-possession. Omer isn't the elite force of Thibs' other successful anchors, but an argument can be made for him as one of the best combinations of skill set and basketball I.Q. in the NBA to be an anchor for Thibs.

Rebounding with the best of them

Because the minutes are limited, so are the opportunities, therefore, Asik doesn't qualify for the metric leaderboards. But all of his rebounding rates are among the NBA leaders, including everyday backups:

asik rbmetrics.JPG

(stats include all games played through 3/5/2011; min. 45 games and 675 minutes)

On the offensive end, Omer's ability to run the floor at a relatively high speed is a great asset that allows him to be aggressive crashing the offensive glass. It's no secret the the Bulls bench can struggle to score, so any mulligan is an asset. The downside to aggressive board crashing is that it inhibits those bigs from resetting in the defense when they don't keep the possession alive. Omer's athleticism and hustle prevents this from being a significant downside at all. In fact, no matter how hard he's crashing the boards, he recovers to his position on the defensive end as well as any big man in the league.

He also displays a high basketball I.Q. that should be very simple: that
big and quick, there's seldom an excuse to not go for the dunk at the
rim:

The two-man game

Omer's also a better fit for the second unit's pick n' roll. Though Thomas has a range that extends to 15-to-18 feet, he isn't the inside finisher you want for the pick n' roll. His size, athleticism, and aggressiveness make him a great pick n' roll partner for C.J. Watson -- if C.J. passed to him more often, that is:

There's actually nothing good about anyone on the Bulls second unit taking long twos besides Kyle Korver coming off screens -- not Taj Gibson, nor Ronnie Brewer, and certainly not C.J. Watson. The two-man game is best utilized by the personnel to get Omer space under the basket when his man helps on the ball handler or open up Korver on the outside if his man hedges on Omer's roll.

That said, Thibs added Thomas' pick n' pop game can have value in playoff situations, K.C. added:

"We're going to need everybody. (In) the playoffs, you need shooting.
Kurt allows us to spread the floor.
He has to stay ready and when he's
called on, get the job done, which has been his strength."

Indeed, Thomas affords Thibodeau the luxury of being put on ice and
still being able to deliver. But if Asik keeps defending and rebounding,
that chance might not come.

Pay up, son!

Watching the Bulls, you can tell Omer's teammates like him, though his English isn't very well right now. Noah's a bit jealous that Omer isn't getting hazed as he did, though:

"It's unbelievable," Noah said, shaking his head, now smiling. "He
doesn't pay up on bets. He has no rookie duties. My rookie year, they
used to give me so much (crap). But for Omer, it's OK for some reason.
At least he's playing well."

I empathize with those who clamored for the Bulls to take Houston's offer of Courtney Lee for Omer Asik, but I'd like those proponents to put what Omer does in perspective -- with the understanding that Thomas is likely not back next season. Eddy Curry was bought out and immediately drew interest from a division-leading Heat team with a .694 winning percentage. Competent seven-footers -- let alone those who play as well as Omer -- are a scarce, yet vital, resource in the NBA.

Advanced Stats via Basketball-Reference.

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  • Very happy we did the smart thing an not trade him for Courtney Lee!

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