The addition of Omer Asik up front passes the eye test pretty easily, but it’s when you look at the numbers that you really start to see the difference it’s made for New Orleans.
On offense, having him at the 5-spot has allowed Anthony Davis to play more minutes at power forward, and because of his length, gives him an advantage while playing a more natural position.
Through the first 10 games, Davis is averaging 25.5 points per game which is nearly five more than last season.
“It frees (Davis) up so he can play the weak side,” coach Monty Williams said. “Omer is a great rebounder and you can’t leave him, so it helps AD a lot and gives him more space.”
In 2012-13, when Asik started for the Houston Rockets, he posted 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. His production in that role for New Orleans has almost mirrored that so far, putting up nine points and 10 rebounds a night.
New Orleans currently leads the league in points in the paint with 49.8, which is another step up from last year’s 45.5.
Asik also has helped forward Ryan Anderson, who has been able to develop a rhythm coming off the bench too. Last year he averaged over 36 minutes per game even though he was still, technically, the Pelicans’ sixth man. This season, he’s playing nine less minutes per night, coming in fresh, and stretching the floor like does without having to worry about securing the rebound.
But the biggest difference for New Orleans is what it has meant defensively to have Asik and Davis in at the same time.
Many of the elite defensive teams in the Western Conference have that combination of size with production up front. The San Antonio Spurs have Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. The Los Angeles Clippers have Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The Memphis Grizzlies have Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
“Obviously it gives us a guy that can defend most of the centers in the league, and we value that,” Williams said. “When we don’t have him on the floor, we’ve got to help more. When he’s on the floor we don’t have to help as much.”
With the Pelicans boasting two towers of their own now, the backcourt can defend more confidently.
“(The guards) can play defense knowing that they have protection in the back,” Davis said. “We tell them that, ‘If y’all do y’alls job, if you get beat, we’ll do our job. No need to foul. Let them come to the big guys and we’ll take care of them.’”
Asik has been out the last two games with a sore lower back, and as a result, the Pelicans have struggled at times without him.
For three straight games, New Orleans has lost the battle on the glass. The Kings were able to outrebound the Pelicans 52-32 on Tuesday, which was the widest margin this season. The Pelicans won despite that differential thanks to an efficient offense that turned the ball over just six times.
“Right now Omer is hurt, and I’m playing more, and we’re still getting a win so that’s pretty good,” said Alexis Ajinca after Tuesday’s win. “Now we just have to keep doing it that way (until he returns).”