Twin Towers fail in Houston, Jones ready to step in for Asik
The Rockets entered the season with a rare wealth of riches at the center position - there may not be a team that has two centers better than Howard and Asik. In an attempt to take advantage of all the talent on the team's roster, head coach Kevin McHale decided to employ a "twin towers" approach, a la Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon. McHale started both Howard and Asik through the first eight games, but the two simply could not coexist, particularly on the offensive end.
I said before the season that Terrence Jones - the second-year man out of Kentucky - would be a better complement to Howard than Asik would be, and that Asik would eventually be relegated to the bench with Jones taking over the starting power forward job. Even I have to admit that I did not think it would happen this early in the year. In just the ninth game of the season, Jones was inserted into the starting lineup.
Jones is much more versatile than Asik, as he can roam around and stretch the floor on offense, allowing Howard to do what he does best - clean up in the paint. On defense, the Rockets would have faced a lot of trouble against teams that feature stretch power forwards, as either Asik or Howard would be drawn away from the basket and forced to guard quicker players. Jones offers the versatility to guard both traditional back-to-the-basket players, as well as power forwards who like to face up to shoot jumpers and take the ball to the rack.
Over the Rockets' first seven games, Jones struggled to get anything going. He played in just four of those contests, and averaged just 3.9 minutes during the games in which he did make his way off the bench. His role has expanded over the past three games, however, and he has responded in a big way, averaging 7.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks.
Meanwhile, Asik has taken a clear backseat, with his minutes down to 20.7 per game after he averaged 30.0 a season ago. As a result, Asik has reportedly requested a trade. In a matchup with the New York Knicks on Thursday night (after the reported trade request), Asik did not even get in the game "because he didn't feel well" - a peculiar time to fall ill.
You would think that the Rockets would be open to trading Asik, who is making an average annual salary of $10 million during the two remaining years of his contract. Plenty of NBA teams could use a top-notch defender/rebounder such as Asik, and the Rockets could probably bring back a quality piece to elevate their chances of making a run at the NBA Finals. However, the Rockets have told Asik that they do not intend to deal him. We'll see if McHale can figure out a productive way to use his talented backup center, but it seems to me that trading Asik for a similar-caliber player at a different position would be the best move.