Asik, Howard Starting Together — What To Look For

Dwight Howard and Omer Asik

Omer Asik was set to make his preseason debut on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks, but it got a whole lot more interesting on Sunday when coach Kevin McHale announced that he will try starting Asik and Dwight Howard together that night.

This will be the fourth power forward starter that McHale has tried in five preseason games for the Rockets as Asik joins Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and Omri Casspi.

So now the science experiment gets really interesting as we get our first real look at two top 5 defensive centers playing together. I’ve been a big believer that this is not a sustainable lineup, that Asik and Howard on the floor at the same time is best suited for specific matchups or short bursts when the Rockets need elite paint protection.

It’s no secret that Asik has not been happy since the Rockets acquired Howard. He was a huge positive last year, yet he lost his starting spot after a tremendous season and is likely to see less playing time. Starting Asik could go a long way towards finding a lot of court time for him.

If it’s going to work, here are some of the questions we hope Monday night can help answer:

How does it impact the spacing?

So much of the Rockets’ offensive success depends on spacing, and that’s what makes the addition of Dwight so lethal. Unlike Asik last year, Dwight commands a double team in the post, which creates all kinds of possibilities. You can spread the floor with shooters around the arc from baseline to baseline and fire away, and that spacing creates lanes for guys who attack the basket like James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Parsons.

By starting two players with limited to no range, you invite the defensive frontcourt to stay low. Theoretically, that makes everything in Houston’s offense more difficult, with the chief concern being how it impacts Harden’s ability to penetrate. This isn’t a completely foreign concept as the Rockets did play Asik and Greg Smith together at times last year, but this is the primary thing to observe Monday night.

Is Asik going to guard Dirk Nowitzki?

Samuel Dalembert should be a light snack for whichever Rocket center guards him, but it’s more complicated when you’re talking about an elite defensive center moving out to guard a four in today’s NBA, and Dallas would seem to be one of the worst possible matchups as Dirk Nowitzki can stretch the floor like no other. Now Chandler Parsons has guarded Dirk before, but that would leave a small forward like a Shawn Marion or Jae Crowder for the second center.

So will Mavs coach Rick Carlisle quickly adjust, combating Houston’s pivots by going small, and how effective will a “Smallball” lineup be against Houston’s big interior?

Do the Rockets dominate the boards?

We’re talking about the #1 (Howard) and #3 (Asik) rebounders per game last year joining forces. Now it’s a different story when they’re on the same team sharing the same rebounds, but theoretically the Rockets could own the glass, limiting opponents to one shot per possession and possibly creating more shots for the Rockets with offensive boards. If Houston can get out and run, this rebounding edge may be where the advantage is created by starting the two together.

Former Rockets coach Bill Fitch, who knows a thing or two about starting two top centers together, told us last week in the podcast that he thinks Asik-Howard together can be successful for stretches.

“I haven’t run them baseline to baseline together,” said Fitch. “But if they can get up and down the floor… I look for it to be a 10-20 minute success in any ballgame.”

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