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[NY Sun] After Three Years of Doubts, Yao Ming Stands Up Straight

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Visagial, Mar 21, 2006.

  1. Visagial

    Visagial Contributing Member

    Nov 16, 2002
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    Really good read.


    After Three Years of Doubts, Yao Ming Stands Up Straight

    March 21, 2006

    Black-owned barbershops are more than just hair salons; they're community centers, and where I get my hair cut, it's not unusual, even during the off-season, to find some impassioned argument about whether you'd start your all-time team with Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. Thus, it was of little surprise when, during the baseball playoffs last season, I walked into the shop and found the NBA leading the discussion.

    "Here's what I want to know," announced a man who was getting his do styled. "What's the matter with Yao Ming?" I asked if the Rockets center had been hurt recently; as far as I knew, there wasn't anything wrong with him.

    "Seven-foot-6, 300 pounds, and a smooth stroke from 15 feet," the commentator continued, sounding just like the Cedric the Entertainer character from the "Barbershop" movie series. "That boy should put up 20 and 10 every night."

    Oh, so that's what's wrong with Yao Ming: He wasn't living up to expectations of a center taken first overall. Big men picked in that position tend toward the extremes. On the one hand, there are future Hall of Famers like Shaquile O'Neal, Hakeem Olujawon, David Robinson, and Patrick Ewing. On the other, there are waste-of-a-draft pick busts like Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi, Ralph Sampson, and Joe Barry Carroll. Ming was clearly closer to the first camp, but for membership, he needs to reach some lofty standards.

    Since returning from injury on January 31, Ming has not only matched those standards, he's exceeded them. In February he averaged 21.7 points on 51% shooting and 11.4 boards. This month, his shooting improved to 53.9% and he's averaged 28.9 points and 11 boards.

    Suddenly, those references to the Ming Dynasty and the Great Wall of China don't seem so snarky.

    Ming was always a little tough to figure because his background was so cloudy. Not only are we largely ignorant about the standard of quality in China, but 7-foot-6-inch, 300-pound players with sweet strokes from 15 feet just don't come along every day.

    What did seem clear from early on was that Ming was better than supertall NBA counterparts like Georghe Muresan, Shawn Bradley, and Manute Bol. Still, that's damning with faint praise. More than half the backup centers in the league were better players than that trio. Ming had the potential to be a legend. In barbershops all over the world, people were wondering what was taking so long.

    The truth is, we don't know what the development curve should be for a player like Yao. He didn't lead his collegiate program to multiple final fours like Ewing and Olujawon, nor did he put up stats that were easily translatable like Robinson and O'Neal.

    Further complicating matters was Yao's obligation to the Chinese national team, which kept him playing ball nearly 12 months a year. This may have accounted for his noticeable lack of stamina early in his NBA career - he averaged fewer than 33 minutes a game in each of his first three seasons. On the court, fatigue was leading to foul trouble, which kept him off the floor for even longer stretches.

    But something has changed this season, and as midseason approached, it was clear that this was a different Yao Ming. His points-per-minute averages had always been strong, but this season he has found away to stay on the floor. He's also learned not to retaliate to gratuitous contact, which has cut down on his fouls, and he's grown comfortable as the first option on the Rockets offense (an especially good thing given Tracy McGrady's injury-plagued season). This month, he's averaging almost 38 minutes per game, and his increased production - 22.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per - game owes a lot to his staying on the floor.

    Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy has also done his part to bolster Yao's stamina, changing the Rockets defensive scheme so that they don't switch pick and rolls as regularly as they once did. In the past, Yao was often left on the perimeter chasing guards, which winded him.

    In a recent game against Indiana, Yao showcased his new maturity against Pacer pivotman Scott Pollard, who was assaulting him on almost every possession. Rather than retaliate and risk drawing an offensive foul, Yao called for the ball on the low post, leaned into Pollard, then spun away for an easy dunk. On the next half-court possession, he did the exact same thing. Pollard began looking for other ways to defend him.

    The rest of the league is now doing the same. After Yao torched Dallas for 27 first half points last week, the Mavericks double- and triple-teamed the him the rest of the game, limiting to just nine second-half points.

    When McGrady returns, that approach won't be as easy, but it also points out another problem Yao faces. The Rockets feature two of the 10 best players in the league, but much of the rest of the roster would have trouble making the end of the bench for most teams. Of the supporting cast, only guards Rafer Alston and Luther Head and forward Stromile Swift have been consistent contributors.

    Yao's next test will be to lead his team deep into the playoffs. But he won't be able to get them past the first round in the Western Conference until GM Carroll Dawson surrounds him with better players. Until then, the guys in the barbershop can grouse about Yao, but their complaints will really be about the Rockets - not their best player.
  2. Chilly_Pete

    Chilly_Pete Contributing Member

    Aug 17, 2001
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    "On the other, there are waste-of-a-draft pick busts like Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi, Ralph Sampson, and Joe Barry Carroll."

    Not a fair comparison for Ralph, injuries ruined his career.
  3. Tree Rollins

    Tree Rollins Member

    Sep 26, 2002
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    "Of the supporting cast, only guards Rafer Alston and Luther Head and forward Stromile Swift have been consistent contributors."

    Stromile has been a consistent contributor?
  4. durvasa

    durvasa Contributing Member

    Feb 11, 2006
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    Strange he'd call Rafer, Luther, and Stromile the "consistent" role players. I don't think any of our role players have been consistent on the offensive end.
  5. oldgunrules

    oldgunrules Member

    Jul 1, 2002
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    Shall we give Yao another toe surgery?

    Saw this joke on ESPN board. Can't resist :D
  6. AstroRocket

    AstroRocket Member

    May 28, 1999
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    Here's another article on Yao from ESPN Insider.

    "Why has Yao Ming been so dominant lately? The Mavs' Del Harris shares his insight with Chris Sheridan. "

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Del Harris considers Yao Ming his "friend for life," and the Dallas Mavericks' assistant coach has some unique insight into why the Houston Rockets' center has been so dominant over the past month.

    It all goes back to the tale of the bloody sock.

    Harris was coach of the Chinese National Team in 2004, and he remembered watching Yao take his sneaker off after the first national team practice he coached.

    "It was all red down by his toes, and when he took the sock off and you saw the toes --well, let's just say it was one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen," Harris recalled Sunday. "If you were even the slightest bit squeamish, that thing would have made you vomit."

    After letting his toe fester for years, Yao finally underwent surgery in December after an infection spread to the bone. Harris said he has seen a huge difference in the way Yao is now able to run the court pain-free, and he said Yao's hiring of a personal trainer has also helped the big man get into the best shape he's ever been in.

    "He's down to 6 percent body fat, and you rarely see that in guys that size."

    I asked Harris if he saw any kind of a newfound mean streak in Yao's game, and he said a mean streak is something Yao is not capable of. But he said Yao had learned to show his emotions, something common among Americans but frowned upon in China as too individualistic. Yao himself took quite a bit of heat from his countrymen when he demonstrably criticized some of his teammates during the Olympics, the Chinese media questioning whether he had been "Americanized" to a fault and the national federation chastising him for his behavior.

    "Being an American, I can see where it's been a good thing for him to be able to release his emotions. To me, it's healthy. We're all humans, I don't care where you're from, and we do better when we're able to be really, honestly passionate about things. When you're emotional and passionate about whatever it is you're doing, that releases everything within you to get yourself through that. If your brain is telling you 'Hold back, hold back,' your body is going to listen to your brain," Harris said.

    Harris is considered somewhat of a hero in China for leading the national team to its best finish ever in an international competition when they finished eighth in Athens, making the quarterfinals with a stunning upset of defending world champion Serbia-Montenegro. Harris declined an opportunity to coach China again, and those duties are now being handled by Lithuanian Jonas Kaslauskas, who was Harris' top assistant in 2004.

    Harris said he is confident China will make it out of its preliminary round at this summer's World Championship, though he wouldn't go any further with his prediction. With 24 teams competing (twice as many as there were in Athens) as with Europe much more strongly represented, it'll be exceedingly difficult for China to medal -- even though they have the world's best center.

    Part of the problem with the Chinese national program, Harris once told me, was the way teenagers are selected for the national program. In a nutshell, their mistake was steering too many tall players into the basketball program at a young age while sending shorter players into other sports. The long-term result has been a system overloaded with big men and short on talented guards. The Chinese also rely too heavily on calisthenics and long practices under a military-type setting without devoting enough attention to agility drills and weight training.

    There will, however, be a Chinese guard in the NBA someday soon, and Harris believes it may be 17-year-old Sun Yue, who plays for Beijing Aoshen -- a California-based team in the minor league ABA. Sun, a 6-foot-8 point guard who needs to improve his outside shooting, will likely start for the Chinese national team this summer along with Yi Jianlian, who is expected to be draft eligible this summer despite questions about his true age (in the summer of 2004, there were some saying he was only 16.) Yi, a 7-footer whose parents played in China's national team handball program, will be known as the Chinese Andrei Kirilenko if he lives up to his potential.

    I'd suggest to Chad Ford that he move him up from No. 99 in the next Top 100 draft prospects list. In my opinion, seconded Sunday by Harris and Nets president Rod Thorn, he'll be taken before the end of the first round.
  7. wnes

    wnes Contributing Member

    Feb 19, 2003
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    I don't know about you guys, but Mr. Martin Johnson seems to have a hard time figuring out Yao Ming's surname. He called the big fella "Ming" in much of the first half of the article, but later on he used "Yao" exclusively. I mean come on this is Yao Ming's 4th season, as a sportswriter he should've known better.

    As a side note, I also find it curious why a few regular posters on this board would habitually shun Yao Ming's family name in their posts. I am pretty sure while it's not their intention to sound "mean," they don't necessarily mean to be endearing either.
  8. noize

    noize Contributing Member

    Feb 15, 2004
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    All of this Yao praise is getting out of hand to a point where I'm afraid it will make him overrated considering that his team is losing. But so far, it hasn't come to that yet and I hope people will understand that he's not the reason why the Rockets are losing.
  9. KeepKenny

    KeepKenny Contributing Member

    May 31, 2000
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    Very interesting article about the toe. Confirms that Yao has been playing on a bad wheel for years. I guess it helps explain why his 3rd year stats did not make much of a jump.
  10. MONON

    MONON Member

    May 20, 2002
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    Not to mention that when the Rockets drafted Dream the next year, Ralph voluntarily switched from C (which he had played all his life) to PF. He was just learning to be a very good 4 when the fall in Boston took out his knees.

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