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Sporting News: Yao's road to greatness has a few potholes

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Rockets34Legend, Apr 26, 2004.

  1. Rockets34Legend

    Rockets34Legend Contributing Member

    Jun 12, 2002
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    It's hardly Yao Ming's fault. He's a 7-5 center, a two-time All-Star, and his success is vital to the success of his team, the Rockets. It's a respectable team, and its presence in the playoffs is welcome after a five-year absence. But, despite the hyping of Houston's first-round series against the Lakers as a Yao-vs.-Shaquille O'Neal battle of marquee centers, the matchup settled into Lakers vs. Rockets, and the Lakers are the better team. There's not much Yao can do about that now.

    Sometimes, it's tough to remember Yao is 23 and just finishing his second season. Yao's stats are good and his team has improved, but we seem to want more out of him, a dominance he has shown only in flashes. That's not realistic. He still should be discussed in terms of potential, because he will improve.

    Still, the series against the Lakers offered a look at where Yao is now and where the Rockets are in terms of using him. Armed with a VCR, a remote control and a calculator, I chose a game -- Game 2, in Los Angeles -- to break down. It was the ideal game because O'Neal was in foul trouble, so Yao faced a variety of defenders. At certain key moments, both Yao and his teammates revealed they still have a long way to go.

    First quarter, 10:26 left. Yao forces himself into a good, deep position against O'Neal on the right low block, then takes a pass from Jim Jackson and spins for a 6-foot jump hook. He makes it.

    Yao prefers the left block, but his jump hook is deadly from either side. It utilizes his size, and he almost always can get it off. He has adjusted to the physical play in the NBA and has more confidence in his shot. The problem is that Yao needs a better countermove, something hard, fast and aggressive that gets him to the rim. Even the best hook shots are lower-percentage shots than layups.

    Second quarter, 3:20. Yao and Steve Francis run a high screen-and-roll, with Yao dropping to the left block after Francis uses the screen. Francis dishes to Yao, who, in one motion, catches and pushes the ball across the lane to a wide-open Clarence Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon finishes with a dunk.

    The high screen-and-roll is a staple of the Rockets' offense. When you have a guy as big as Yao who can shoot and pass, the high screen-and-roll takes advantage of those skills. Here's the problem, though: The Rockets rarely give the ball back to Yao, reducing the play, effectively, to a high screen and a shot. Houston had 81 possessions in Game 2 and ran 18 high screen-and-rolls. Only three times did the ball go back to Yao -- he had an assist, a made jumper and a blown layup. When you have a player of his size and talent, you could justify running high screen-and-rolls, with the ball going back to Yao, on every play. The Rockets did it 3.7 percent of the time.

    One obvious problem with this is that Yao, as the screen-setter, is standing 18 feet from the basket. That's not an optimal place for rebounding, even if you're 7-5. Yao is slow and simply can't get under the rim in time for a rebound. His rebounding overall is not bad -- he was sixth among centers with 9.0 rebounds per game this season -- but his offensive rebounding is. He averaged just 2.4 offensive rebounds, 13th among centers.

    Third quarter, 9:12. O'Neal picks up his fourth foul, which looks like a big boost for the Rockets. It forces Lakers coach Phil Jackson to take O'Neal off Yao at times and have Karl Malone guard him. Yao has 8 inches on Malone.

    But what happens is mind-boggling. In the Rockets' next 31 possessions, Yao touches the ball just nine times. He misses all three shots he takes in this span -- a 15-foot jumper over Malone, a 4-foot jumper after backing down Malone in the lane and a 6-foot hook shot. Houston's offense is on the perimeter, and it's little wonder that a 1-point Rockets lead becomes a 17-point deficit in this span.

    Fourth quarter, 5:11. Cuttino Mobley drives and misses a layup. On the play, Yao is so effectively boxed out by O'Neal that Yao is standing out of bounds when the shot goes up. Yao has strong, thick legs, but he is too easy to push around under the basket. Even Malone had little trouble moving Yao when guarding him. Yao must use his strength better.

    Yao also is dead tired at this point. Coach Jeff Van Gundy has been careful with Yao's minutes this season -- he averaged 32.8 -- but for Yao to be the franchise player, that will have to get up to 38 minutes or so. He must improve his stamina, but when? Because of his commitment to the Chinese national team, Yao will play almost as much basketball in the offseason as during the season.

    Game 2 was only one game, but it showed Yao is in a tough spot. He played better in Game 3 -- a Rockets win -- as his teammates made more shots and fed him more on screen-and-rolls. Yao's talent is obvious, his potential enormous, but he and the Rockets have flaws that must be corrected before he can be the elite player he is capable of being.
  2. Bailey

    Bailey Veteran Member

    Oct 7, 1999
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    Seems harsh of this guy to pick the one game in the series that wasn't close to analyse Yao and the team.
  3. daoshi

    daoshi Contributing Member

    Jul 6, 2002
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    Actually, it pretty much summarizes the Rockets' season in general. We are getting better, but we have a long way to go, for Yao and the team.
  4. beyao

    beyao Contributing Member

    Dec 2, 2002
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    i think this was a great analysis, although nothing really new to anyone that watches the Rox regularly. Yao has improved his aggression a great deal, but he still has a long way to go...he needs to better understand how to take advantage of his size and power. And his teammates need to become less selfish and give up the rock more often, especially in P&R situations. I still feel this will only come about with new teammates.

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