HOUSTON -- Omer Asik may be wearing a new jersey and making a lot more money this season, but he hasn't lost his sense of humor.
Having gone from playing between 12 to 15 minutes last season with the Chicago Bulls to 40 with the Rockets, the affable big man admits that it's a little more challenging these days in Houston.
"It's a little bit tiring," Asik said with a laugh before Wednesday night's game against his former team. "But it feels good to stay on the court more and get more minutes. When I get more minutes I feel like I'm getting much better every game."
That has certainly been the case this season. Asik came into Wednesday's game averaging 10 points and 12 rebounds a game.
"I don't think there is a really big difference because I am coming from a really good organization to another one," he said. "I was happy there (in Chicago), I am happy here (in Houston), too. The only change is I'm getting a little bit more minutes, I'm starting here, maybe that's the only big difference."
It's a difference that has made an impact on both teams. The Rockets are benefiting from Asik's defense and improving offensive skills, while the Bulls' second unit has taken a step back without Asik's presence in the middle. Asik doesn't want to take responsibility for the Bulls' recent struggles, though. He correctly pointed out that the entire Bench Mob from the past two seasons, aside from Taj Gibson, is gone.
"Not just without me," he said. "All the (other players) Kyle (Korver), Ronnie (Brewer), C.J. (Watson), John Lucas, everybody has left. I'm not saying (the struggles are) just because of me because everybody is gone."
Asik's blossoming numbers haven't surprised anyone within the Bulls' team. They wanted to keep the 26 year old in the fold and were caught off guard when the Rockets made such a large offer to him over the summer. His progression has been steady in Houston up to this point.
"I think he averaged 14 minutes a game prior to coming here, (so) there's always a bit of a mystery factor," Rockets interim head coach Kelvin Sampson said. "What would he do if he had 30 minutes or 35 minutes? He's one of a handful, 10 guys maybe, in the NBA that's averaging a double double. I think Omer has to never forget who he is, though."
While Sampson has been happy with Asik's progress, he knows the Turkish center is still learning.
"Sometimes there's a double-edged sword with working with guys on their offense," Sampson continued. "They want to go to games and start experimenting. I'd rather you experiment in practice, hoss. Omer is more of a facilitator for us offensively than he is a scorer. I think that's part of his growth as he gets older and more experienced, he's going to get more comfortable with catching the ball and scoring. He's trying, but we don't want him trying at the expense of us getting other guys shots. Omer needs to run the floor, needs to set good screens. We always talk about setting good screens like it's some kind of phrase, but that has to be meant in a literal and figurative sense. We need to set better screens. the better screens we set, the more open we are on our roles, then we can play to either corner."
For his part, Asik seems to be enjoying the ride. He says he still talks to his old teammates when he can and greeted Bulls' personnel before the game. While he may have liked to stay in Chicago, he wasn't surprised by the offer he received even if many around the NBA were.
"I actually had no idea," he said while discussing the possibility of staying in Chicago. "I didn't know what was going to happen, I didn't guess anything. I was just waiting (and thinking) whatever happens (happens)."
Asik is just thankful for his experience in Chicago and is hoping he will continue to put up solid numbers with the Rockets.
"Coach Thibs, I'm really thankful to," he said. "I learned a lot from him, especially on the defensive side. His defensive system was the best in the league. I learned a lot from him."
Thibodeau's schemes may be among the best in the league, but there's no denying his defense hasn't looked the same since Asik left.