HOUSTONWednesday evenings game against the Rockets will be a reunion for the Bulls. For the first time since their season-ending loss to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs in May, Omer Asik will be on the same court with his first NBA team.
Asiks final game for the Bulls didnt end so well, as the center missed two free throws against the 76ers, opening the door for swingman Andre Iguodalas coast-to-coast drivethe All-Star, now in Denver, was fouled on the play by Asik and hit two foul shotsto end the game and the Bulls postseason. Still, fans in Chicago mourned when Asik signed with Houston over the summer, after the Bulls declined to match a back-loaded, three-year, nearly 25-million offer sheet from the Rockets.
A backup to Joakim Noah in Chicago, the native of Turkey wasnt a prolific scorer for the Bulls, but drew raves from personnel around the league for his defensive acumen and rebounding ability. As a Rockets starter, Asik is averaging a double-double10 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in 32.3 minutes a nightand is proving that all the fuss over his departure was worth it.
Omer is Omer. He plays to win, he makes the team function well. Theres so many intangibles that he brings to your team, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said prior to the teams practice Tuesday morning at the Toyota Center. When you look at it, what he did throughout his career, two years in Chicago, each year he got significantly better and for him, he was playing behind Jo, so theres not a ton of minutes there, but we felt strongly about how good he was and we knew that. We also understand he has the right characteristics, the right makeup. Seven feet, hes got great drive, great character and great intelligence, so those type of players always improve. So, its not surprising. Hes getting more minutes, so his productions going to be better.
Thibodeau, a former Rockets assistant, flew to meet with Asik at the outset of the NBAs free-agency period in July, but apparently failed to convince him to continue to accept a reserve role, let alone take less money than he garnered on the open market.
Explained Thibodeau: Thats part of the league. We felt good about him, the way he performed for us. Plus, we knew that he liked it there. In the end, hes got to make the decision that he feels is best for him and his family, and he did that and thats part of it, so you move on and you move forward.
Asik formed a remarkably effective defensive tag team with fellow reserve big man Taj Gibsonwho himself recently signed a long-term contract extension, making the conclusion that the Bulls valued him over Asik an obvious one, especially considering the poison pill the Rockets put in the last year of Asiks contract, for 15 million in the 2014-15 seasonbut while observers around the league may consider Asiks numbers (which include 1.2 blocks and only 2.9 fouls a night for the previously foul-prone 26-year-old, as well as an improved 62.5 percent from the charity stripe and on the negative end of things, only 44.9 percent shooting from the field and 3.4 turnovers per game) eye-opening, Gibson and his teammates arent surprised.
The first thing that stands out is hes getting a lot more minutes and hes playing to the best of his ability, and hes a great rebounder. I used to witness him during the game, when Joakim used to be hurt, and he used to get 10 rebounds, easily, a night, so you see him doing that and people recognizing that, and Im happy for him, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. One thing about the NBA, when you get a lot, you get a lot of touches and game experience, which hes doing right now, your confidence builds and I can see him doing a lot more stuff in the post, watching film on him. Hes doing a lot of different things with his back to the basket. Even though I saw him do it in practice with me and Joakim a lot, now hes getting more confidence catching the ball in tough positions, so its good.
I know at times it was tough on him, not being able to play a lot. I just told him to be patient. I just told him, Just keep working on your game, be patient. Dont get out of pocket, just play your game, and he took that and ran with it, and when the summer time came, we really had no clue whether he was going to stay in Chicago or not. Then, he got offered a big deal here and the rest is history. Hes doing a good job.
Concurred Noah: No question. I think everybody who saw our team knew that Omer was a big part of what we did last year. I actually felt like I had the best backup center in the entire NBA, but I understand he wanted a bigger role and hes showing everybody what hes capable of.
Noah, who consistently views games from a team perspective, rather than focusing on the player hell match up with on a given evening, is only worried about the Bulls snapping their two-game losing streak Wednesday.
Were two teams that are desperate for a win right now, Noah said about the contest against the Rockets, losers of three consecutive games. Omer, hes a hell of a competitor. Hes a friend of mine. Im really happy for him. I think that hes playing very well and its important for us to come in for the right mindset, try to get this win.
Added Thibodeau: Its not going to be an individual matchup. Its going to be our team against their team. We know what his strengths and weaknesses are, and youre concerned about how were going to try to make it hard on their team, not the individual matchup. Omers a good player, did a great job for us. Were happy for him, but we know that theres a bigger challenge than any individual matchup.