Assuming LaMarcus Aldridge stays, the Trail Blazers won't have much roster flexibility this summer. If Portland guts most of its bench, Arron Afflalo opts out, and they renounce one of the Matthews-Lopez pair they could free up about $10-$11 million in cap space. That doesn't leave much potential for upgrading the roster but there are a few possibilities at center. Last week, I evaluated Greg Monroe and Brook Lopez, two offensively minded centers. This week, we consider the inverse scenario -- the "Defense, Defense, and Only Defense" pair of Roy Hibbert and Omer Asik.
Sometimes a player receives a reputation that doesn't quite fit. A guy is thought of in a certain way because of a role instead of his actual skill set. Omer Asik is not one of those guys.
Asik's reputation as an offensive disaster is understated if anything. Omer shot the ball 412 times during the regular season. A whole 20 of them came outside the restricted area and he made two of them. That would be ok if he were a beast near the rim but Asik shot 53.8% in the restricted area. That rate is below average for a point guard. We're not talking about a center that lives in the paint. We're talking about a center that lives a foot from the rim and still struggles to finish.
As you might expect, his shooting woes make him flounder in almost every situation. Asik only posted up 22 times during the season and he scored 0.64 points per possession (PPP) on those plays. He almost never got the ball on the block and for good reason. He's close to average in the pick and roll but no team is scared of Asik coming down the lane. The Warriors forced him off the floor in the postseason by ignoring him and shifting their attention to Anthony Davis. I shudder to think how much more attention Aldridge would receive with Asik as his running mate.
He also shot 58.2% from the free throw line, making hack-a-Asik a real and painful possibility for anyone watching his games.
Hibbert's reputation is a bit more complicated. He's not very efficient (true shooting percentage of 50.1%) but he's a surprisingly large part of the Pacers' offense. His large role can be attributed to Indiana's lack of offensive talent but he has some bankable offensive skills. Hibbert may have the best hook shot in the game and he nailed 60% of them this past season. He prefers the right block, making him a good post up partner with Aldridge. While he scored at an average rate, his volume on the block shows that his post game could be a weapon. Indiana used him like a LaMarcus or an Al Jefferson. He wasn't up to the task but he might be able to improve his effectiveness if he could pick his spots more judiciously.
He has a surprisingly good jump shot with his feet set. He shot 44.2% on catch and shoot jumpers last year. That's good enough to keep defenses from doubling Aldridge and would be a substantial improvement over Robin. Hibbert's size would force teams to guard him with their center. That would allow Aldridge to manhandle smaller power forwards with fewer double teams. In terms of maximizing the team's post-up threats, Hibbert is close to an ideal fit.
The problem is the rest of the offense. Hibbert can shoot if his are feet set but struggles on the move. Roy managed to outdo Asik making just 51.6% of his attempts in restricted area. This makes him a borderline liability in the pick and roll. He was in the 18th percentile as the roll man scoring 0.81 PPP. Watching the plodding big man attack the rim is an adventure. He lacks the coordination to do anything on the fly. If he practiced a shot 10,000 times he could make it consistently, but force him to adjust or lean and all bets are off. Layup after layup rolled off the rim with no evidence of touch or feel. Aldridge's post-ups might have a bit more space but the rest of the offense would suffer.
That's what we expected with these two players. The question is if their elite defense can outweigh their offensive limitations. Asik is a fairly rare player on the defensive end. He's one of the few seven footers that can hedge pick and rolls and his lateral mobility is impressive. He uses this mobility to expertly track ball handlers and has always ranked near the top of the league in defending the pick and roll. Last season was no exception as he allowed a paltry 0.69 PPP. This is one of Portland's weaknesses, making him an intriguing fit.
He does everything else at a similar level to Robin, although he's a much better defensive rebounder. His numbers on the block and protecting the rim are about the same. I'm not convinced the defense would improve drastically but it would become more flexible. For example, Asik could have met Beno Udrih higher up the floor and contested his mid-range jumper. He can also trap ball handlers like Curry and defend power forwards when necessary.
These skills would be intriguing if his offense wasn't a raging dumpster fire. Versatility is important. The Blazers need more of it on the defensive end. But it doesn't make sense to add versatility around the edges if the move simultaneously undermines the core.
Hibbert's skill set would double down on the Blazers' current style. He's similar to Robin in many ways. He always drops in the pick and roll and is even less mobile than Robin. However, he's more measured. His steps are precise with almost no wasted motion. This turns out to be a wash and their numbers defending the pick and roll are about the same.
Hibbert still edges Robin protecting the rim. He saved 1.84 points per game, according to Nylon Calculus. This stat combines the number of shots the player contests and how well they do so to estimate how many fewer points the opponent scored. That's the third best mark in the league behind Andrew Bogut and Rudy Gobert. Hibbert also dropped opponents' field goal percentage at the rim an astounding 12%. In other words, if a player usually shoots 55% within six feet of the hoop we would expect him to shoot 43% with Hibbert defending. For reference, Robin causes a drop of 5.1%. Lopez is good but he doesn't own the paint quite like Hibbert.
It's easy to see why when breaking down his game film. He's not very fast but his positioning is impeccable. He almost always squares up attacking players and they hit him square in the chest. He jumps straight up, and sometimes even backward, expertly avoiding fouls. With that kind of discipline, his length becomes devastating and opponents put up hopeless floater after floater.
Hibbert has a reputation as a poor rebounder but that concern subsides when you watch film. He boxes out diligently and his defensive rebounding percentage was a healthy 21.9% last year (Robin's was 13.1%). Portland would lose some offensive rebounds for sure but they might make up for it on the defensive end. The players are similar enough that rebounding shouldn't be a critical factor in choosing between them.
The Blazers went after Hibbert the last time he was a free agent and it's easy to understand why. In the best case scenario, he plays a much more limited role on offense, staying within his strengths and becoming more efficient. He keeps the defense honest by hitting set jumpers and exploits mismatches in the post. His presence in the paint improves Portland's defense, inching them towards elite.
Of course, there is also a worst case scenario. The defense improves only slightly and his offensive skills duplicate Aldridge's. As a result, he doesn't get many shots in his comfort zone and is forced to work out of the pick and roll. Attitude problems and desires for a larger role in the offense compound the problem and he wrecks Portland's invaluable chemistry.
Which way that breaks is anyone's guess. Neil Olshey would certainly have at least one conversation to see what Hibbert was expecting and what role he wanted to play. Even if those conversations went well, I don't think Hibbert puts the team over the top. He might be an upgrade over Lopez in a vacuum but it wouldn't make sense to lose so much depth for a marginal improvement. A number of trade scenarios would be intriguing but the free agency route still favors keeping Robin.
Next week we'll tackle "The Dunkers" -- Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan.
*All stats are from NBA.com unless otherwise stated