The Houston Rockets are facing an interesting dilemma.
The team’s frontline, while not "elite" last season, was greatly improved. This was mainly due to the production of center Omer Asik, a third-year player that averaged a double-double by the end of 2013. While not a top-flight center (he was 31st amongst centers in PER), Asik showed progress in his first year as a starter in the league.
After Houston signed All-Star center Dwight Howard in the offseason, there were obvious concerns about playing time. Asik avoided commenting when asked about his current situation, but reports this summer indicated he wasn't thrilled to find out he would be displaced by Howard.
However there may be another option: Play both Howard and Asik side-by-side in the always interesting "Twin Towers" approach.
Patrick Harrel of The Dream Shake, a companion blog here on SB Nation, looked at the feasibility of this idea.
His conclusions weren’t encouraging.
Harrel’s main argument against a large frontcourt of Howard and Asik is focused on the inherent difficulty of spacing. He points out that with "ball-dominant guards" like Jeremy Lin and James Harden, having shooters and other floor spacers is paramount to the team’s offensive efficiency. In this system, the center can gain opportunities through mismatches on the inside. But, in the words of Harrel, "with Asik [alongside Howard] in the lineup, that spacing gets absolutely destroyed."
This Dream Shake piece is directed toward the idea of Asik and Howard playing simultaneously. At a grander level, though, it speaks to the concept of sticking two players with common skillsets on the court with each other.
Albeit not at center, the Portland Trail Blazers face the similar quandary of being forced to play two similarly-skilled guys at the same time.
Damian Lillard, 2013 lottery pick CJ McCollum and free agent signing Mo Williams are all ball-dominant guards that love to fill it up. With the roster’s current composition, it’s inevitable that a combination of these players (and perhaps all three) will be playing together.
Can that work?
Roles on the court are generally predetermined. There are a few players that violate the rule—LeBron James is probably the best current example—but there’s a reason the five-position roster has existed for decades.
That said, roster success is often predetermined by how well players mold into these roles. It is why having the classic center is so effective (teams rarely have an answer for it on their own team); it’s not crazy to wonder why teams like Indiana, Chicago, Memphis or San Antonio, who were all contenders in the last two years, work well together.
In the cited Dream Shake article, Harrel alludes to this point: playing two centers breaks up the feng shui of the five-position unit on the floor. Beyond this is the simple truth that, outside of having a generational talent like James, teams must work to fit the classic scheme.
Which brings Portland back into the discussion.
Playing a two point guard system (specifically off the bench) is innately difficult. What can change that, though, is if these players can actively mold themselves to fit a new role on the floor.
There have been a number of successful examples of multiple lead guards working together in the same lineup. Just from last season, the Lillard, Williams and McCollum group are ironically similar to the aforementioned Harden and Lin in their offensive tendencies.
The Blazers also trend toward the 2012-13 Warriors, another team that was committed to simply outscoring their opponents with guard depth (Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack in particular). But, as with all things, the Blazers face a unique challenge with their specific personnel.
While concerns linger about the Blazers’ ability to challenge teams defensively, there is hope that the team can succeed with common offensive threats. Really, the guard position should allow for more flexibility than the center position does, especially when the team wants to run up the score like Houston or Golden State.
So, it is definitely possible for the Blazers (or any team with this problem) to work out positional kinks. However it seems more likely for two similar guards to work together in tandem than two centers.
In the end, it comes down to the flexibility of the players to fill the role needed on the floor. If a team can be successful in that endeavor, playing two at the same position shouldn’t be an issue.