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Stretch! Issues with Asik/Howard Lineup Already Emerging

US Presswire

US Presswire

One of the big questions emerging after Dwight Howard signed with the Houston Rockets was what do you do with their current starting center Omer Asik?

Asik, a limited offensive player, is one of the league’s best defensive big men and arguably a piece any NBA team would love to have. But how would the two co-exist? Initially reports were Asik would come off the bench as a backup to Howard but that was quickly changed when it was reported Asik wanted out of Houston.

Then, Rockets GM Daryl Morey on a Reddit AMA addressed the idea of playing Asik and Howard together — Howard at the four, Asik at the five.

Coach McHale plans to experiment with Dwight at PF and Omer as C in training camp. If it works and helps us win, obviously we would look at using it.

On it’s face, the move made sense. Two of the most dynamic defensive big men in the game, in the same lineup: what could go wrong? Howard thought there wasn’t an issue:

There is no need to adjust. I have been playing basketball for my whole life. I started it up playing a point guard. I think it can make our team tougher. We need [me] being as a power forward some games and Asik being a center. We will have a big lineup, and it will be tough for teams to truly score.

You have two guys to play great defense in the paint. So I think it is positive, and it is no conflict.

One issue that immediately comes to mind with this tandem is stretch fours. How are Asik and Howard, both incredible interior defenders, going to handle outside shooters playing PF. If a team inserts a power forward with above-average three-point skills and attempts to move them out of the paint, how will the Asik/Howard lineup handle it?

We got our first taste in yesterday’s Rockets/Bobcats game and it didn’t go well. Worse yet, it was Josh McRoberts who broke it.

Here’s the first one with around 10:35 left in the third. The announcers made note that McRoberts came out of halftime practicing the shot, so it’s obviously something the Bobcats were looking to exploit.

McRoberts missed this shot but the stretch four issue arose quickly. Howard isn’t very interested in stepping out and while he puts his arms up in a feeble attempt, McRoberts had a shot he could’ve easily knocked down. Howard sags off McRoberts initially, opting to go towards the paint, his natural habitat, and never really comes back up on McRoberts.

This one is easily the most galling, occurring a few minutes after the first McRoberts attempt. The Bobcats are on a pseudo-fastbreak and Howard completely loses his man, opting to help on the interior while McRoberts slowly walks up to the three point line and nails a completely uncontested three.

The last attempt on the Asik/Howard lineup was again barely contest by Howard. He clearly made note to watch McRoberts on the perimeter, but even as he received the ball Howard was still hesitant to get up on him opting instead to kind of raise his hands a few feet away. The result: another McRoberts three.

It was during this attempt when the Rockets announcers began to discuss this issue with play-by-play man Bill Worrell saying “Howard’s not going to step out for those is he?” Clyde Drexler responded with a very eloquent: “No.”

It’s still early in the year so you shouldn’t be too worried yet, but it’s still something the Rockets need to be aware of, the Bobcats already exploited it in game one. That they did it with a career 32% three-point shooter should also be a concern. The Rockets will go up against much better stretch fours in the Western Conference and if this issue isn’t addressed quickly, it can ruin the whole Asik/Howard experiment before it gets off the ground.

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  • Yu-Hsing Chen

    It’s an interesting experiment that have many different facde, would certainly be interesting to keep an eye on all year.

    One thing we should generally point out, a lineup’s +/- can be rather subjective, for example, last year the Rocket’s bets lineup all involved Carlos Delfino, so if that’s the case, why didn’t they just start him like 36 min? age / health is obviously one thing, but the fact that they picked their spots to use those lineups probably had an effect too. etc.

    I’d feel that the odds of Josh McRoberts beating you from 3 point land , even if almost completely uncontested, seems minimal at best. that’s the thing isn’t it, Not a lot of stretch 4 actually can hit the 3 at the volume that would seriously take over a game. if your relying on a player who’s likely your 4th-5th best 3 point shooter at best on the team to beat the other team, that doesn’t seem ideal.

    So we’ll see, those lineup are at best a 13-15 min a game lineup and could go down, while the positive trade off is you have at least one of Asik / Howard on the floor all 48, which is huge when you look at the +/- they had last year. the drop off from good defensive center to average backup center can be absurd.

    I feel the odds of Dwight learning how to close a little bit on the perimeter seems easier than you know, teaching Terrence Jones / Greg Smith to be actually good at defending anything.

    The offense was actually the more worrisome aspect last game, though again the sample size is so skewed, especially with the Rockets playing completely uncustomary bad pace (they still played very fast pace with that lineup in the pre-season.) and Harden being hobbled, so who knows.

    A lot of folks will be closely watching this though, always cool to see a good team experiment with stuff, I’m generally of the opinion that when 2 guys out rebound the entire other team, they’ll get away with A LOT of other deficiencies.

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