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You say you want an evolution?

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by dalman, Dec 23, 2006.

  1. dalman

    dalman Member

    Jul 17, 2006
    Likes Received:
    A nice read from Sean Deveney. I really like his work. Enjoy.


    You say you want an evolution?
    By Sean Deveney - SportingNews

    Sean Deveney

    Just try to keep your lunch here. Last December, at the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, the big toe on Yao Ming's left foot was split open, the fleshy bottom part separated from the top, essentially free to flap in the breeze. It had been sliced open around the side by the Rockets' chief physician, Tom Clanton, who had to open the toe in order to clear out an infection called osteomyelitis.

    The infection had its roots in a hit Yao had taken eight weeks earlier, when the seemingly routine injury caused his toenail to come off. (The injury seemed so minor at first that Yao joked of the nail, "I'm thinking of putting it on eBay.") Back at the doctor's office, the flesh exposed, Clanton proceeded to scrape the infection off the bone before sewing the toe back up. That little piggy went to the butcher.

    No wonder, then, that there was much concern in Houston when Yao faced another problem with the toenail this preseason. No wonder he now wears a specially designed sneaker from Reebok with a reinforced toe area. No wonder, too, that the first thing Yao says after coming out of a postgame shower, barefoot, to chat with the media is, "Watch out for the toe." Uh, yeah.

    The toe cost Yao 21 games last season, part of an outbreak of injuries -- to All-Star forward Tracy McGrady, to starting point guard Rafer Alston, to starting shooting guard David Wesley and to backup guard Bob Sura -- that forced the Rockets to suit up 22 players and crippled the team's season. But it was not just the Rockets' record that was tarnished by the injuries. Something big was going on in Houston last season, but because the team was 34-48 and 10 games out of the Western Conference's playoff picture, few noticed: Yao finally had exceeded the hype that preceded the 2002 draft, when he was the No. 1 overall selection, and had become an NBA elite player. He was, by season's end, the best center in the game (and yes, that does include Shaquille O'Neal).

    Yao's breakthrough, when he averaged 25.7 points and 11.6 rebounds after the All-Star break, was hidden, but his early performance this season has been in broad view. Even with McGrady healthy, Yao has been the team's dominant player; he leads the Rockets in scoring (25.6 points per game) and rebounding (9.8 per game), and McGrady has morphed into a self-described playmaker. In a head-to-head matchup against the 34-year-old O'Neal in November, Yao scored 34 points to O'Neal's 15, the 19 points being the largest margin by which O'Neal has been outscored by an opposing center in his career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

    McGrady believes Yao has surpassed O'Neal and notes, "I know Shaq's still around, but the way Yao is rolling, no one is playing better than him." Houston broadcaster and Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler is a bit more diplomatic: "Yao certainly belongs in the conversation with Shaq." Timberwolves broadcaster and NBA veteran Jim Petersen puts it bluntly: "Yao Ming is the best center right now in the NBA. I don't think there is any doubt about that."

    After watching Yao lay 36 points on his team early in the season, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said, "When we double-teamed him, triple-teamed him or single-covered him, he would still score. He was playing like we were not even out on the floor."

    Because Yao has raised his scoring average 7.3 points in just two seasons, his emergence is portrayed as sudden. Not so. Yao's numbers over his first three years were excellent for an NBA newcomer, especially a big man: 16.4 points and 8.5 rebounds. What changed for Yao over the past two years was far from sudden. It was tedious, in fact, and it occurred off the NBA's courts. Far, far off the NBA's courts.

    In the summers after his first two seasons, Yao was required to return home to China for preparation with the national team, a situation that prevented him from doing any real NBA work. But, beginning in 2005 and again in the summer of 2006, Chinese officials eased up on demands for Yao's time. When he had ankle surgery two summers ago, he was allowed to recuperate in Houston and spend time working with Rockets trainers and coaches. That summer, Chinese officials also allowed assistant coach Tom Thibodeau and trainer David Macha to go to Shanghai to work with Yao around the two-a-day practices that made up national team training.

    "That was very important to me," Yao says. "We were able to do a lot of work that I was not normally able to do on my post moves and my conditioning. It is paying off."

    Yao did not duck out on his duties to the national team -- he takes them very seriously, and, Thibodeau says, "When you watch him practice with the team, you can see how much he enjoys it, how much he likes representing his country and being around those guys." In order to work on his NBA game, though, Yao had to submit to an extraordinary schedule. He and Thibodeau worked for an hour before the Chinese team's two-hour morning practices. Yao then worked on conditioning with Macha after practice. He returned to the court for another one-hour session with Thibodeau before the night practice, then went another two hours with the national team. That's six hours of on-court work, plus weight and conditioning training.

    "Plus, the first year, he was taking English lessons at night," Thibodeau says. "I have no idea how he found time for all of that."

    You may notice Yao has added muscle while losing weight -- the Rockets determined his best playing weight is between 308 and 310 pounds after first trying to get Yao to bulk up to 325. You may see Yao is playing 35.4 minutes per game, the highest average of his career, and does not appear to get winded as quickly as he did early in his NBA life. And you may see him shooting a turnaround baseline jumper or consistently knocking down an impossible to guard jump hook. The confidence and skill with which Yao is deploying those weapons was developed over the past two summers.

    "You have to remember, he had no time off for his first couple of years," says Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson. "One of the big differences is that he has had normal NBA summers the last two years. He has had time to work on his game, and you won't find a harder worker in the league. That comes, I think, from having a billion and a half people with their eyes on you."

    The pressure of being a standard-bearer for a nation certainly does not make Yao's working summers back home any easier. At 7-6, he can't easily hide from a crowd, and Dawson says traveling in China with Yao "is like traveling with Elvis. Only Yao does not have any bodyguards or anything." But, at 26, Yao is getting much more comfortable with his role -- in the NBA, in China and in the world. It is estimated that 20 percent of the hits on NBA.com come from China. Yao has become the face of the 2008 Summer Olympics, to be held in Beijing. He has been a spokesman for HIV/AIDS awareness, a taboo subject in China. He even has spoken out against shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy that has endangered dozens of shark species.

    "These are things that are important to me," Yao says. "I don't see why I should not speak about it."

    Among his Rockets teammates, where his English is nearly as polished as his game, Yao is speaking up, too. He is more aggressive on the court, and his sense of humor helps keep things loose off it. "Oh, he is funny," says forward Shane Battier. "He says things out of left field that make everyone crack up." After a win over Memphis last month, Yao recalled a failed attempt by McGrady to set up an alley-oop pass. Yao smiled and held up his thumb and forefinger, a couple of inches apart.

    "I have to remind Tracy that this is how high I jump," he said. Maybe Yao's vertical needs some work. But he has made leaps almost everywhere else.

    They've got next
    The two people in the NBA who probably are least caught up in comparing Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming are Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming. But the pair has been compared since Yao entered the league, at a time when it looked as though the heyday of the modern center was fading. Yao says there is no comparison: "He is still the best, no question." Shaq says he has other things to worry about: "It does not motivate me."

    No matter. Shaq is 34 and hurting, which means it won't be long before Yao is battling a new generation of big men for the mantle of NBA's best center.
    1. Dwight Howard, Magic.
    Howard will turn 21 on Friday, a frightening prospect for the rest of the league. Howard already is averaging 17.2 points and 13.7 rebounds. He needs to hone his post moves but has a developed body and is fast becoming a dominant force.
    2. Greg Oden, Ohio State.
    He's the surefire No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. Heck, he would have been the No. 1 pick in the past two drafts if it weren't against the rules. He's a tremendous athlete who can block shots, rebound and run the floor. League personnel people figure his potential ranges from perennial All-Star to Hall of Famer.
    3. Andris Biedrins, Warriors.
    Unchained from the Golden State bench at 20 years old, Biedrins is a 7-footer who rebounds and finishes around the rim with raw power. He is averaging 11.4 points and 9.9 rebounds and is shooting 65.1 percent from the field. That's mostly because he relies on the dunk as his chief weapon. When he learns to make hook shots and gains some semblance of a jumper, he will be an All-Star.
    4. Andrew Bynum, Lakers.
    Bynum's progress has come only in flashes -- 20 points and 14 rebounds against the Timberwolves; 12 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks against the Bulls -- but those flashes have Lakers fans salivating. At 19, it may be three years or more before Bynum approaches Yao's level, but the physical tools are there.
    -- Sean Deveney

  2. SLrocket

    SLrocket Contributing Member

    Oct 9, 2006
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    bynum will never approach yaos level, maybe semi-duncan. and biedrins allstar? hell no. dwight howard is the only major threat.
  3. AXG

    AXG Member

    Aug 4, 2006
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    Yeah, I read this article in the Sporting News magazine last week. Yao's getting his props as the best center in the league. He's come a long way since his rookie season and he's playing some of the best ball in the NBA right now.
  4. devin23

    devin23 Member

    Nov 13, 2006
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    I guess the writer still consider Amare a PF. Either way, even Amare's best year at 04-05 isn't as as good as yao this year. I think Dwight Howard isn't the type of player who can create he's own shots, at least not in a double team situation. The only threat I see is Greg Oden, who's guarenteed to be at least very good, and has the potential to be an allstar to hall of famer. I'd love to see some rivalry between Oden and Yao
  5. Astockmarketgod

    Mar 28, 2006
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    Yao has never had problems

    with the big guys... like Shaq... he has held his own... with all the bigs... even smaller more athletic Amare... Yao has had his number....

    its the 6"7 to 6"8 little guys he has the problems with...

    the big guys have never been able to move Yao... or shoot over him.... on a consistent basis....

    you can mark this.... Yao... will be the most dominant Center until he retires...
  6. Dr of Dunk

    Dr of Dunk Clutch Crew

    Aug 27, 1999
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