Ways To Address Two Western Conference Contenders’ Deficiencies

May 3, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Omer Asik (3) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game six of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the Toyota Center. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets center Omer Asik

May 3, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Omer Asik (3) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game six of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the Toyota Center. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This era’s CBA has leveled the playing field but in doing so has limited how teams address their existing deficiencies. The Bulls, for example, are in dire need of a young backup big but are already in the tax penalty. There aren’t any free agents on the market who would suit their requirements, but even if there were, their purchasing power would be fairly limited.

That means that every team—yes, even Miami—will go into the coming season with glaring holes in their roster makeup. Owners would rather see their box scores hemorrhage on the wrong end than their bank accounts. It makes for good basketball but bad times for team coaches as they try to figure out how to plug the holes.

Though projected to be atop the Western Conference heap, the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder are alike in two ways. 1) they both have had James Harden on their roster at some point. And, 2) though stacked, both have major areas of concern that might keep them from winning the West. But how exactly do you make a repair when the fix might cost you millions of dollars, without making a trade?

Houston Rockets

1. Demote Asik To The Bench – Under many scenarios, Omer Asik can be a franchise’s answer at center. Just not when you have a healthy Dwight Howard on the multiple choice column. Rumors say that the defensive stalwart isn’t amused by the idea of being relegated to the bench but what other options do the Rockets have? Oh yeah, play Dwight at power forward.

McHale has said that Houston will at least experiment with Dwight at the 4 and Asik at the 5.  But it’ll be a bigger waste of time than Howard’s year in L.A.

Let’s just look at their shot charts. We’ve used those from Vorped.com instead NBA.com because they better illustrate how crowded it’s going to get if Asik and Howard play in tandem.

Dwight Howard’s 2012-13 Shot Chart:

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Omer Asik’s 2012-13 Shot Chart:

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With Asik hugging either corner, it’s going to be easy for teams to cheat off him and double-team Howard with their biggest players. And as people know, Howard is often bothered by opposing size. The experiment might pay off some during the regular season but will be easily crippled during the playoffs.

 2. Dwight Gets Lessons From Kareem And Not The Dream – As potent as Olajuwon was, another HOF center’s offensive game might be a better fit for Dwight, if McHale decides to ride out the Howard-Asik experiment for the season. Though D12 might have burned the bridge between them by ditching the Lakers, he might be better off learning Abdul-Jabbar’s patented skyhook.

About 87% of his shots came from inside of the restricted area last year. With a tested skyhook sporting a nice range, Dwight could score from about 10-12 feet out from either side of the basket. This would be easier than developing his jump shot and might help him and Asik coexist on the court…somewhat. Not all spacing issues would be taken care of but it would do some good.

3. Play Chandler Parsons At The 4 Until A Sure Deal Power Forward Arrives - At 6’9″ and 227 pounds, Parsons is clearly undersized at the four. But numbers show that he does quite well at the position. The Rockets become offensive juggernauts when Parsons plugs into the power forward spot. At the January mark in 2013, when Parsons played the 4, Houston was a combined +54 against opposing lineups. Having Carlos Delfino certainly helped in that regard, but the Rockets can still run something similar with Sergio Garcia at the 3. Howard won’t enjoy the run-and-gun small-ball that this would foster but it could be a good bandage measure to help with scoring issues if Howard and Asik start together.

Oklahoma City Thunder

1. When Shooting Lags, Play KD At Power Forward – OKC shot the three-ball fourth-best last season, at 37.3%. Accounting for their past jump shooting reliance, which helped sink them in the 2012 Finals, they tried to shoot less from afar despite the respectable percentage. But with Kevin Martin gone, they will have to make up at least some of the outside shooting in other ways. The games of Russell Westbook, Kevin Durant, and Reggie Jackson depend on it.

Data shows that the Thunder don’t suffer much on the defensive end when Durant plays power forward. So if he’s at the 4, you can go with intermittent lineups that include Thabo Sefolosha, Jeremy Lamb, and Russell Westbrook on the perimeter to help cope with spacing issues. Even with Perkins on the floor, at least three of those players can create their own shot while facilitating open looks shots for the other three shooters. If handled right, OKC can remain as offensively capable as ever.

2. For Maximum Effect, Copy The Heat – Now take the above and remove Kendrick Perkins from the picture. Replace him with Nick Collison. What do you get? The LeBron “Headband” game lineup.

Durant is James, Collison is Chris Andersen, Sefolosha is Ray Allen, Lamb is Mike Miller, and Westbrook is Mario Chalmers. In all regards, that’s a poor man’s version of the “LeBron and three shooters, plus Andersen” lineup that decimated the Spurs whenever on the floor. But it can help alleviate some of the scoring slippage the Thunder will face with Martin’s departure. Having a semi-reliable Lamb and Reggie Jackson will not hurt, but OKC just won’t be the offensive machine it has been in the past three seasons. And so, they’ll be forced to make up the difference in other ways. Like mimicking their rival’s game plan.

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Bogar Alonso is a dedicated student of the hardwood, soccer pitch, boxing ring, and tennis court. He is a regular NBA contributor to XN Sports. His work, involving more than just sports, has appeared on The Creators Project, A&E Networks, XXL Magazine, and others. Follow Bogar on Twitter @blacktiles