Should the Minnesota Timberwolves Trade for Omer Asik?
Omer Asik Could Be a Good Fit for the Minnesota Timberwolves
With it being reported last week that Houston Rockets center Omer Asik had officially asked for a trade, the internet was filled with rumors about where Asik might land.
David Thorp suggested on twitter that the Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans and Rockets do a three-way swap: Ryan Anderson going to the Rockets, Nikola Pekovic going to the Pelicans and Asik going to the Wolves. Much has been made about the potential defensive fit issues between Pek and Minnesota's All-Star Kevin Love, and this could be the kind of deal that smooths out the rough edges on the Wolves roster -- or is it getting too cute?
I personally love trades and love trade speculation. I think a deal like this seems pretty even across the three team spectrum, and all teams are benefited and hurt from this. The Pelicans lose some outside shooting but gain the post complement to free up Anthony Davis to do whatever he wants. The Rockets lose one of their few defensive options but might seal the deal on them being the elite of the elite offensively. And the Wolves potentially could turn into an incredibly well-rounded team.
So with the Asik and Iman Shumpert situations developing in Houston and New York respectively, this is turning into an early Christmas for someone like me. It would be a little too greedy to ask the Wolves to get involved with both scenarios, though I love the idea of Shumpert on the Wolves as well. For now I wanted to take the time to look at the pros and cons of a potential deal to move Pekovic for Asik.
Pro: Asik Might Be a Better Fit than Pekovic
On the surface this seems like an absolute no-brainer. The Timberwolves are a team without too many great individual defensive options. Ricky Rubio is an excellent individual defensive player and that is about it. Corey Brewer, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love are all competent options in a team defensive system, but none are known as “stoppers.” Omer Asik is perhaps one of the 3-4 best individual and help side defenders in all of basketball. Asik has a defensive RAPM of over 5.3 (Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol had a 2012-13 RAPM of 5.60 for frame of reference), and he has a career 1.7 blocks per game and 1.1 steals per game while spending the majority of the last few seasons playing on a not-great defensive team in Houston. Pekovic, on the other hand, is pretty much the opposite of Asik. He’s an okay defensive player but he’s certainly nothing special. He had a 2012-13 DefRAPM of 0.26 (0 would be considered a neutral player) and is currently only blocking one percent of all shots taken while he is on the floor, which for a center is considerably low. The jump in individual defensive prowess from Asik to Pek would be quite considerable.
Con: Wolves' Offense is Likely to Suffer Without Pek
In my opinion, I think it’s a little better to be really great at one thing than be okay at everything in professional sports. The Wolves right now rank in the top 8 in almost every offensive category. They are an absolutely fantastic offensive team right now, and Pek is part of that equation. Right now Pek is averaging 14 PPG, with a 52 percent field goal rate on only 18 percent of his team’s possessions. He is an ideal complement to what the Wolves want to do offensively, which is go through Rubio and Love which creates open three looks for Martin and one-on-one situations alone in the post with Pek.
Remember when I said Pekovic is the exact opposite of Asik? Well it runs true on the offensive end as well. Where Pek has strengths, Asik might be somewhat of a hindrance. Asik does shoot for okay percentages, 60 percent at the rim, 55 percent True Shooting, 51 percent from the field, but his ultra-low 12.4 percent usage rate could be a problem. The Wolves don’t need a post guy who will take touches away from Rubio, Love and Martin but they need a guy who can take advantage of one-on-one situations that he is almost always going to get. That is not Asik’s game, and while his defensive prowess is exactly what the Wolves are looking for his offensive inability could hold back what was looking to be a dynamic offense.
Pro: Asik Makes the Wolves Complete
The Wolves would all-of-a-sudden have the makings of a very competent defensive unit. Combined with Ricky Rubio, the Wolves would have the center and point guard positions on lockdown. In my opinion if you can lock down the point guard and center spots you could nearly get away with defensive matadors at the other three positions and still be fine defensively.
The rest of the Wolves squad, I believe is better than they get credit for. Like it or not, Kevin Love is a much better defensive player than you think. They call them “defensive” rebounds for a reason, because they are part of being an effective defensive team. Kevin Love last year sported a 3.43 Defensive RAPM, which is considerably better than I figured he would have. Love is not an amazing individual defensive player and that is partly where his bad rap comes from, but he plays a very important role in his team playing good defense.
What I like about the idea of this deal more than anything is the Wolves would be very complete. With Asik, Brewer and Rubio they have a trio of players who can anchor their defense, while Love, Martin and Budinger anchor their offense.
Another nice aspect of this deal is that Asik's contract is a little more team-friendly than Pek's is. Just this summer Pek signed a four-year $55 million deal that will run past Love's contract. That is a contract that could potentially lock them into the core they have, which is a nice core, but not having the ability to make moves is never a good thing (unless you are a Timberwolves fan and realize that any move made is likely a bad one). Asik is signed through 2015, same as Love's early-termination option. If Love decides to re-sign with the Wolves you would still have flexibility to re-sign Asik or go after someone else, but if he decides to leave you would have as much cap space as you would need to fill out a productive roster.
It is my belief that making this trade could be the type of deal that helps the rest of the defense fall into line. Corey Brewer would be free to jump as many lanes as he wants knowing he has better paint protection waiting in Asik, and Rubio and Martin would be able to close out more completely on shooters considering they don’t have to be as scared of the drive.
Con: Wolves Still Need Post Scoring, Even With Pek
One thing that scares me about this deal for the Wolves is that you could argue, with Pek, they still need a post scorer off the bench. Dante Cunningham, Derrick Williams and Ronny Turiaf are not adequate options, and the offense really stalls when they are on the court. I can’t imagine what it would look like if you took an offensive force like Pekovic out of the equation.
My suggestion is -- since the contracts of the proposed three-way deal don’t work out anyways -- that we expand the deal to include either of the young offensive post options from Houston to help bolster the Wolves bench. The Rockets would have Ryan Anderson, Donatas Montiejunas, Terrence Jones and Greg Smith and already don’t have enough playing time to get all those guys minutes. I would love to add either Jones or Smith to the Wolves and get some offensive production out of this deal.
Wolves: Omer Asik, Greg Smith
Rockets: Ryan Anderson, Derrick Williams, Austin Rivers
Pelicans: Nikola Pekovic
A deal like this would really benefit the Wolves, and it seems reasonably likely that they could squeeze Greg Smith out of the equation. I have to admit I’d have to ask for Montiejunas first, but I’m guessing he is the one you’d hear a “no” from as he’d be the only guy left on the Rockets’ bench who could play center.
It’s also not criminal for something to not fall perfectly for the Rockets. They are getting an incredible coup out of a dicey situation here. The last time Ryan Anderson played with Dwight Howard he looked like a mini-Kevin Love. It’s okay for them to have some players on their roster that eat salary and aren't overly effective in Williams and Rivers (welcome to a normal NBA franchise, Houston).
Overall, if you can get an extra offensive bench option out this I think it might be the kind of deal you take for the Wolves. Asik’s contract is up in 2015, just in time to renegotiate with Love and Rubio and see what the future of the franchise will look like without having over 24 million still owed to Nikola Pekovic. It could give them both the best chance to win in the short-term and set them up nicely in the long run as well.