HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets welcomed their latest acquisition with far less fanfare than the guy who arrived last week.
Omer Asik may turn out to be just as vital to the team as Jeremy Lin.
The Rockets introduced the 7-foot Asik at the Toyota Center on Thursday, a week after much more crowded news conference for the point guard Lin. Both players signed three-year, $25 million offer sheets and came to Houston when their teams — the Bulls and Knicks — declined to match.
While Lin brings some star power to the roster, Asik fills a more critical position for the Rockets, who've missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. Houston has needed a big man since Yao Ming's career was derailed by injuries.
The Rockets ranked 18th in scoring defense (97.9 points per game), 23rd in opponents' field-goal percentage (45.6 percent) and 20th in blocked shots (4.8 per game), all areas they feel Asik can improve. Asik averaged only 1.03 blocks last season, but played only 14.7 minutes per game.
"Seven-footers like Omer are in short supply," said Sam Hinkie, the Rockets executive vice president of basketball operations. "He's an outstanding help defender, he's a rim protector, he rebounds at both ends of the floor and he's proven this throughout his career."
Asik averaged 2.9 points and 4.4 rebounds in two full seasons with Chicago. He was originally drafted by Portland in 2008, then immediately dealt to the Bulls, who signed him in July 2010. He acknowledges that his offensive game needs a lot of work, and he's eager to work with Houston coach Kevin McHale, the power forward on the Boston Celtics' championship teams of the 1980s.
"I'm very happy that I'm going to be working with Kevin McHale, a legendary post player," Asik said. "I know the offense is the missing part of my game, but I believe in myself that I can improve that by working hard every day. I'm sure, if I can get more minutes, I can improve that."
The 26-year-old Asik has not missed a regular-season NBA game, though he broke his left fibula in Game 3 of the 2011 Eastern Conference finals against Miami. He'll move into a starting role in Houston, and says he's prepared to take on a heavier load. In Chicago, he backed up Joakim Noah and averaged only 13.2 minutes in two seasons there.
"It will be a little different for me, I didn't start much there," Asik said. "But I think I will be working very hard and try to adapt."
Asik helped Turkey win the silver medal at the 2010 FIBA world championship, averaging 8.9 points and 6.9 rebounds during the tournament. Hinkie says international players generally make slow transitions to the NBA game, but Asik has adjusted faster than most.
"He was outstanding as a rookie, and he took big strides even throughout this year," Hinkie said. "He's a natural help defender, that when penetrators get to the rim, he's there waiting on them. That's a big, big deal and not so many guys around the league can do it at the level that he's done."
After a flurry of offseason moves, the Rockets feel like they have two cornerstones for the future in Lin and Asik. The Rockets announced Thursday that all three of their first-round picks have signed contracts — Connecticut guard Jeremy Lamb, Iowa State forward Royce White and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones.
Houston forward Patrick Patterson stopped by Asik's news conference and is encouraged by what he's seen.
"The things that are going on right now in the Houston Rockets' organization are definitely positive, positive moves in the right direction," Patterson said. "It's crazy. It's pretty much like a movie right now, just all the guys leaving, all the guys coming in and joining our team. The more guys we can get, it can definitely help this program and push us in the right direction."