Last season, Omer Asik led a surprising Houston Rockets team to the playoffs as their anchor at center who took care of most of the defensive responsibilities and rim protection on a team more focused on scoring than defending.
Asik came out of nowhere, having never started in the NBA before and only getting spot minutes behind one of the league's best centers in Joakim Noah.
You could write the same two sentences about the Phoenix Suns center Miles Plumlee, simply by replacing "Last" with "this", "Joakim Noah" with "Roy Hibbert" and switching the applicable team and player names.
Both players hit their jackpot in their mid-20s (Asik was 26, Plumlee is 25).
Six of one...
A look at each player's stats in their breakout year is uncannily similar:
You can see that Asik is the better rebounder and gets to the line more often, but Plumlee blocks more shots and commits fewer turnovers.
A look at their advanced stats shows how those discrepancies level out over the course of the game:
In the end, both have nearly the same Win Shares per 48 minutes - basically a calculation that shows how effective the player is, across all trackable statistics.
Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic get all the headlines in Phoenix, just like James Harden and Chandler Parsons did in Houston last year. But in the end, neither the Rockets last year nor the Suns this year would be smelling the playoffs without these guys anchoring the middle.
Why am I showing this?
For one, it's interesting how similar these guy's stories are.
For another, Omer Asik has been on the trading block all season after being supplanted by big free agent signee Dwight Howard.
Certainly, if you're being asked which player you prefer, you'd answer BOTH. Why not have both players sharing all 48 minutes at the center position?
In fact, the Suns need more rebounding in a big way. They are being outrebounded by nearly 5 rebounds per game in January over 12 contests.
But Omer Asik, who could likely be had for the Indiana pick (projected 30th in June), is not a good target for the Suns. He counts $8 million against the cap this year and next year. That cap hit is $7 million more than Plumlee, and $4 million more than rookie Alex Len. In fact, Asik by himself would take up more cap room than the two players (and Slava) put together.
And that's not even considering the extra $7 million any owner has to pay Asik next season as the culmination of that poison-pill contract he got from Houston. So far, Houston has had to pay less than $10 million in cash for Asik's (roughly) $13 million in cap charge to date. All that comes to a head next season when Asik pockets $15 million from someone and takes up $8 in cap space.
If you're going to spend your cap space upgrading the roster, is Omer Asik notably better than the current rotation of Plumlee and Len?
No thanks to Omer Asik. Better to spend the money somewhere else.
So where to get the rebounds?
How about in-house.
A long time Suns fan might say that a rebounding disadvantage is par for the course, and certainly a team missing their second-best player, Eric Bledsoe, can't be too terribly disappointed with a 5-7 record this month.
But Eric Bledsoe doesn't rebound the ball (much), and just a month a ago the Suns spent an entire month outrebounding their opponents on a regular basis. In fact, the Suns outrebounded their 13 December opponents 46-45.
So, what happened?
Here's a rundown of the Suns' regular rebounders:
- PF/C Channing Frye is down 0.4 rebounds per game, despite playing 7 more minutes a night (5.7 in 26 min in Dec, 5.3 in 33 min in January)
- PF/C Markieff Morris is down 2.5 rebounds per game (7.0 to 4.5) from Dec to January, despite losing only 2 minutes per game (25 to 23)
- C Miles Plumlee is down 2.6 rebounds per game (9.9 to 7.3) from December to January, despite playing 2.5 more minutes a night (26 to 28.5)
Just last week, neither Frye nor Morris, despite each averaging 18 points per game for the 3 games, cracked 4.0 rebounds.
Overall, that's 8 more minutes per game for those three players in January, but a net loss of 5.5 rebounds between them.
The other complimentary players in the post - Marcus Morris and P.J. Tucker - are rebounding consistently month to month.
Moderate offsetting of the rebounding loss is Alex Len. He's pulling down 2.5 rebounds in just 6 minutes of play in 10 January games after missing December (mostly).
The Suns can do better on the boards, and in turn win more games, just by refocusing their own efforts. Markieff, Channing and Miles need to dial in again and pull down those boards like they did in December.