HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — How much does Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau miss having Omer Asik at his disposal now that the rebounding machine is plying his trade in Houston?
Apparently a whole lot.
What else would lead Thibodeau to compare Asik to Yao Ming, the Rockets former All-Star center whose career was cut short by injury.
Now before you go snatching your own hair out over this one, here’s a little context from Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
“In a lot of ways,” Thibodeau said, “he is like Yao Ming.”
In a lot of ways, he is quite different. Yao, who worked extensively with Thibodeau with the Rockets and in the offseasons in China, was blessed with an uncanny shooting touch and well-honed offensive moves. Asik is the backbone of the Rockets’ defense, largely on the strength of quick feet for a 7-footer, but has a relative lack of offensive skills.
Yet a day before Asik was set to face the Bulls for the first time [Today] at Toyota Center, Thibodeau, who spent four seasons as a Rockets assistant, saw what Asik and Yao had in common.
“Very, very bright,” Thibodeau said of his former big men. “(Asik) has size, intelligence, great feet, drive and a willingness play for the team. He reacts quickly, anticipates, and he’s relentless. He’s a multiple effort guy. He’s a 7-footer, smart, driven. He will get better.”
… “O’s the best defensive center I’ve been around since I’ve been in the NBA,” Rockets acting head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “When Andrew Bogut was healthy, he was special, too, but I would put Big O in his class, and that’s a big compliment to Big O because I thought Bogut was a great defensive center.”
Sometimes it’s hard for us to see the resemblance. But the compliment from Thibodeau to his former big man is one that shouldn’t be dismissed as silly.
Asik has a legion of admirers in the coaching community and front offices around the league. He has embraced parts of the job that many of his big men brethren abandoned a long time ago in favor of expanding their shooting range to beyond the 3-point line. He’s a throwback in the way that the true purists of the game love above all else.
Asik has a skill — rebounding — that is just as critical to a team’s dynamic as scoring or facilitating. His role for the Rockets is as clear-cut as James Harden‘s. Asik averages 12.3 rebounds, third best in the league behind Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph and Cavaliers big man Anderson Varejao. The only one of the three who is just as accomplished offensively, as Yao was during his playing days, is Randolph.
To his credit, Asik is averaging a double-double this season (10.8 points to go along with those rebounds). So he is still very much a work in progress. Yao finished his career with averages of 19.1 points and 9.2 rebounds, with highs of 26.6 points and 10.7 rebounds. Asik might never be that kind of scorer, but he’s already a more proficient technician on the glass.
And who knows, maybe some day those comparisons to Yao won’t seem quite as far-fetched as they do (without the full context) right now?