Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Yao's Bottom Line 10.30.07

Yao's Bottom Line 10.30.07
from Yao Central

25 pts, 9-16 FGs, 7-8 FTs 12 rebs, 3 asts, 1 stl, 3 blks, 4 TOs, 5 PFs, 40:32 min

Was this the most leisurely 25 pts and 12 rebs Yao's ever seen? Though the Rockets struggled to get Yao into the low-post for much of the game--and it wasn't exactly clear whether it was the play calling or Yao's still growing familiarity with the offense--they did manage to get it to him when it counted, on consecutive possessions that seemed to put away the Lakers in the last 4:00 minutes of the game. Then the little collapse.

But what was promising was Yao's team-leading 40:32 minutes played, and he wasn't exactly lumbering by game's end. Certainly a combination of Yao's improving fitness and Adelman's system, but either way the result was Houston was able to get Yao 1-on-1 looks in the paint late in the game when they needed him on which he scored decisively and quickly in the way someone does when they are not fatigued--something rarely seen last season.

Is this too easy? Should Yao be more assertive in making his presence felt? Maybe not. It seems that Yao may benefit from laying low right now until he fully grasps the system. Players with dynamic perimeter skills like T-Mac are better suited to wing it in the meantime while everyone gets acclimated to the system. And the 19 TOs means there's still plenty of acclimating to do. Adelman's Kings teams were always on the low-end of that particular statistic.

But it's apparent now, the Rockets have more weapons in Mike James and Bonzi Wells (and perhaps Steve Francis by mid-season), so Yao should have plenty of single coverage looks to come and more chances to make it look this easy... at least, on offense. as always with the best courtside pics.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Yao Ming of our Immediate Future

2007-08 Yao Ming Preview

Yao Ming | C | #11
Years Pro: 5
Height: 7-6 / 2,29

Weight: 310 lbs. / 140,6 kg

Age: 27 (Born: 11/12/1980)

Drafted: 2002, #1 overall by HOU
2008 salary: $13,762,775.00

'06-'07 was another season of ifs and maybes, if Yao hadn't gotten injured, then maybe he would have played well enough to win MVP. He definitely received enough hype early in the season. But while his game has certainly been on the rise (not only in the eyes of players and coaches but also in the consciousness of fans worldwide as his popularity as a player--and not just a global icon--has surged, I've even seen Yao jerseys in Washington Heights, NYC); his number of games played has not. Yao was able to make it back in time to finish up the regular season and enter the playoffs with some games under his belt, but he never quite looked comfortable in Van Gundy's offense of attrition.

Yao's been "due" for a breakout season for two years running now. So you can think about that in different ways, but I like to think of it as Yao's been ready for this for two years. His dying to let it out.

This isn't a fantasy basketball type of preview, but going through fantasy basketball projections gives you an idea of how the general public (or anyway, the media that represents the general public) predicts Yao's individual statistical productivity for the coming year. Most sources have Yao at least in the Top 3 of their center position picks. And based on statistics alone, we know John Hollinger has given Yao pre-season demagogue status for his new Cult of PER.

He has his own basis for why that is, but you'll have to read his breakdown and see if it makes sense to you. I for one am a newly converted Hollinger-man. You will be, too, when you check out the Rockets preview on ESPN, he's picked the Rockets to be #1 in the Southwest and #1 in the Western Conference. I didn't even do that. He even says don't be surprised if they win it all. So yea, I like how this guy thinks. But PER is one thing, I've got Yao will solidify his position as the top center of the league this season and much of it will do with the following observations:

The Adelman Way of Assisted Living
Low-post Yao brow-beat style will end up being thought of as a necessary experiment in a few years. Van Gundy's system instilled in him the type of grit and determination it takes to be a dominant player. You learn that best in the trenches. All that work required Yao to be a beast or get beat night in, night out. It also wore him down. So, it's a good time to change it up. Get the lesson without the beating. We already knew he had high post capabilities from the Rudy-T days and the ability to pass. Now, with this new system that switches it up so that defenses can't really get a bead, he'll continue to be one of the most versatile big men in the league.

With Yao operating in and out of the high post we'll see his assists go up (to about 3+ a game) and his turnovers go down. The more mobile he gets the better he will be. The motion-style offense makes everyone around him a threat to score and everyone a threat to find a teammate to score. The assists should add up to easier buckets. More cuts and more passes equals more open looks. But it wouldn't work without the additional weapons Adelman/Morey have added (and kept) on the roster. So, they got that going for them.

Efficiency vs. Dominance
It still impresses me that Yao finished '04-'05 shooting .552 percent from the field, and since his rookie year, he's never shot less than .500 from the field. Moving him from the low-post won't hurt that percentage. He'll only get more open looks; and we'll get to see how deadly that jump-shot is, particularly with back-cutting Rockets guards drawing heat to the paint.

Yao's trips to the line have increased every season and his FT% is ridiculous compared to other big men in the league (86% last season). But really, no one doubts his efficiency from the field or even his impact has a team player, meaning his effort, leadership and work ethic. What might be questionable, particularly to some in the national media, is his ability to take over games and carry a team to victory. But Rockets fans who are more than casual observers know he's gotten better at that every season and showed real signs of real dominance last season.

Again, Adelman's system will help. Whether in the low-post or high, Yao will facilitate the offense with T-Mac. They will initiate things, but not necessarily from the same spot. Even if neither of them take the actual shots, their adjustable presence on the floor forces opponents to have to constantly adapt on the fly, making it difficult to lockdown any one player. In this way, Yao can be dominate as a playmaker and finisher. No one will have to try and force it into the low-post with three defenders just waiting for the entry pass.

What will be interesting to see is if he's transfered that dominance to the defensive end of the court. That's a huge part of what Hakeem Olajuwon addressed in their workouts together this summer. Yao's already highly regarded as the best scoring center in the league, Hakeem and Jack Sikma's work with him over the summer should only make him better, but more can be done to improve Yao's D. He'll never be the kind of dominant defender Dream was, but there is certainly room for improvement in efficiently using his size and presence.

Setting the Tempo and the Magic of Mobility
The idea of Yao not being able to keep up with a more uptempo offensive style is overblown. Adelman has always had big men on his rosters that were effectively integrated and sometimes with a lesser skill set. The new offense will actually do much to cover for Yao's less-than-Amare-like footspeed by keeping him moving in the half-court--that sounds counter-intuitive, but perhaps ironically, the more Yao moves (in an offense that has him covering less ground that JVG's old pick and roll setup), his size and versatility--and the inability for defenders to play a sit and wait style of defense--will open things up. Yao will actually appear more mobile, much in the way Vlade Divac and Brad Miller did.

Drop the 'Injury Prone' Stuff
Again, you'll notice very quickly if you read those fantasy previews that no one disputes Yao's statistical productivity. But Amare is consistently given top pick status over Yao because they think he is less injury prone. Yao is "high risk" due to past injuries. It's funny, they never seem to say that about Amare, who's missed 47 more career regular season games than Yao and hadn't played an exhibition game until last night due to arthroscopic knee surgery. Amare has a recurring situation with his knees, Yao doesn't.

Yao was a horse for three seasons until he finally had surgery to fix an old toe injury; and then of course, last season's freak accident. Neither of these is necessarily recurring... but keep an eye on that toe. So think positive, there's no sense in expecting injury. Yao's leg is not Amare's knee and certainly not T-Mac's back.

The Rockets will get out of the first round. With this much talent on the roster, to not reach the conference semis is simply unacceptable, even in the top-heavy Western Conference. I predict them to finish 2nd in the Division and 3rd in the West. There's more at Globetrotter's' Houston Rockets '07-'08 preview.

Bring on the Jazz again in the first round, which is likely. It would be nice to see Yao draw Boozer out to the perimeter the way he so effectively did to him last season; not to mention having a PF like Scola who can track down both AK-47 and Mehmet Okur. Having Bonzi, Mike James and Stevie around will make it awfully hard to double Yao or T-Mac. This far in, they should both be very familiar with the offense. It could be a beautiful thing watching Yao pick apart the defense from the high post.

The second round is another beast entirely. Likely facing San Antonio, Phoenix or Dallas, to advance against any of these three will be an upset to be sure, but I wouldn't it past this team if they hit a groove to reach the Finals. They've had the necessary parts to do it in place for three seasons, now they've just added some premium add-ons and more than just a little chrome.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Yao Ming is Not On My Fantasy Team

Yao Ming is not on my fantasy team
from Yao Central

He is the new PER
truth of ESPN's John Hollinger. And with the prospect of seeing him going through the high post, visions of 3.2 assists per game and no injuries danced through my head. Globetrotter had its Fantasy Basketball league draft last night. I tried to get him, I did, but Yao wasn't around when I picked at 11th (out of 14). Dwyane Wade was. So I took Wade. T-Mac dropped to the 3rd round. Everyone was sleeping on Mac... so I got Mac.The rest of the roster is listed on Globetrotter, but for picking 11th, I think I fared all right.

Over at, GM Larry Harris says that on any "one Friday night Houston Rockets game (with China native Yao Ming on center stage)" there are 187 million people watching--that's compared to the average NBA game viewed by 10 million worldwide. That's ridiculous.

He adds that Yi comes from Beijing, home to 15 million people (not quite the 20 mill in Shanghai), in a province of 74 million residents... Milwaukee is the new smaller, less popular Houston... kind of like Yi is the new Yao, only more hip. Have you seen that ad during games of the Chinese cab driver who's singing a Country & Western song in the heart of Shanghai traffic? Somehow the classic Americana quality of the song even fits the demeanor of Yao's big mug at the end. But what band would rep Yi from Milwaukee... Steve Miller Band or the Violent Femmes?

In other important Pre-Season news, Yao's jersey is only the sixth-sellingest jersey in Chinaland. Behind Kobe, AI, T-Mac, D-Wade and Bron, Bron. But that's okay, we know why. Meanwhile, the NBA is loving it over in Asia. But are they visiting the Lebron James museum?

John over at Yao Ming Mania calls the NBA's Read to Achieve program a "ritual." Yea, a marketing ritual... anyway, YMM's got pics of Yao's session, but tell me if John seems kind of tired of the whole thing, not of the athletes reading to kids, but of the NBA (I like how he puts it) "promoting it out the ying-yang."

Francis was there, too, along with most the other Rockets, but he may have missed the objective.

Meanwhile, the Rockets won another Pre-Season game on Monday... T-Mac's ready for the regular season and so are we.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Globetrotter NBA Live Fantasy Draft

The two people organizing this thing (Duke and Train) ended up with picks 1 & 2... random selection my ass. I had the 11th pick (out of 14). Yao was the main objective in mid-to-late 1st round, but he wasn't around by 11. Dwyane Wade was, so I took him.

First time I'd ever been around for the live draft, so I did my scouting. Only mistake might have been the pick of Garbajosa at 10, because Al Thornton was available (and Elton Brand is out until '08). I don't usually like to take chances on rookies until 11+ rounds but Thornton was swooped up right after Garbajosa and I suddenly got buyer's remorse. The roster:

1. Dwyane Wade
2. Chris Bosh (traded for Carlos Boozer)
3. Tracy McGrady
4. Lamar Odom
5. Mo Williams
6. Chris Kaman
7. Anthony Parker
8. Andrea Bargnani
9. Udonis Haslem
10. Jorge Garbajosa
11. Kyle Lowry
12. Dorell Wright
13. Sean Williams

Not bad for picking at 11. T-Mac dropping to the 3rd round was a steal. So was Kyle Lowry at 11.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Yao Comfortable With 'Too Many Choices'

Yao comfortable with 'too many choices'
from Yao Central

Following Houston's standing army's rout of the Dallas JV squad, Yao Ming, speaking to Chron's own Jonathan Feigen, reassured everyone of his smooth transition to the Adelman offense:
"I felt very comfortable where I was getting on the court and shooting the ball from the paint or out to the perimeter; I felt full confidence," Yao said. "It's very simple and very easy for me. Now, they can't just focus on me. I can shoot the ball. I can make a decision. I can pass to the open man. I can set a screen and roll to the basket. I have too many things I can do. I have too many choices."
Love it. Love Yao being a playmaker and making things happen inside and out. It makes it almost impossible to double-team him. A beautiful thing to watch really. And when he starts getting the timing down it should be even better. With his own admitted surge in confidence and comfort in his new role, Yao continues to make his presence more dominating to his opponents:
"It's been a while since I've seen that much meat on anybody on the basketball court," said Mavericks center Darvin Ham, who sat out the last two seasons. "What impresses me the most is he is not passive anymore. He takes it right at you and punishes you. He is bringing the fight to the post. If Houston continues to play through him, they will be a very tough team to beat. I was thoroughly impressed by how much he has improved."
Hate to say anyone is "just" Darvin Ham, but at 6-7 he's almost a foot shorter than Yao at the center spot, and he hasn't played pro ball in two years. Still, the guy's shattered backboards in NCAA tournaments and a compliment is a compliment. Nice, for an Division and Texas rival. In fact, Jason Terry had this to say:
"I'm out there and I see Mike James and Steve Francis ... and I thought, 'Oh my God, is (Hakeem) Olajuwon going to come back, too.' "
Kind of makes you think all these niceties are just covering for an underlying smugness that says we're getting Kobe.

Mike James was the Player of the Game, finishing with 17 pts on 6-9 FGs. Yao Ming Mania has pics of the game.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our Houston Rockets Preview

'06-'07 Record: 52-30
3rd in Southwest Division
4th in Western Conference

Projected Record: 58-24
2nd in Southwest Division
3rd in Western Conference

2007-08 Houston Rockets NBA Season Preview
You know what, I'm not quite ready to give them 60 wins, no matter Duke says some guy at ESPN said. And I'm not ready to give this team more than the most wins in franchise history. The wounds from that exit that shall not be named don't sting anymore, but they're sore and nagging like after knee surgery. Still, there's plenty of reason to be optimistic. The team dressed in black and gray off I-10 that shall not be named has gotten so complacent with their rings, they're giving away Euroleague MVPs. We accept. Steve Francis is back. So is Mike James. Bonzi Wells is in shape. The Rockets have a deep, endless bench and they have plenty of firepower to go around. But...

(G) Mike James, Steve Francis, Aaron Brooks
Yes, we asked for another point guard--and Duke's been begging to get Steve Francis back since the day he was traded--but isn't this a little overboard? While Adelman's system doesn't need a pure point per se (alliteration), combo guards will due, do we really need four (if you don't count JL3) undersized score-firstguards on the roster (Head, James, Francis and Brooks)? We imagine Adelman will quickly thin the herd and stick with two go-to guys at the point that might spend time on the court together in smaller line-ups like Mike Bibby/Bobby Jackson. We also imagine it might be a complete surprise who it is. And with that, how's reduced playing time for the other going to affect team chemistry. We won't be surprised if Morey moves a couple of these guys.
(F/C) Luis Scola, Jackie Butler
You almost couldn't ask for a better NBA rookie to add to this roster. Maybe Greg Oden for some twin towers action, but he ain't exactly playin' this season is he? Scola comes in with savvy and a proven track record, though admittedly, not at the NBA level. Still, the gap between NBA and the highest international ball is noticeably small now. Butler is still a project but has great tools and could become a solid backup for Scola and Yao with a little guidance from Deke.

Juwan Howard, Vassy Spoons, Jeff Van Gundy
Howard is not a starter in this league anymore--even though he did an admirable job picking his game up during Yao's absence--but he is a veteran leader on and off the court, someone everyone loves to play with and a solid choice off the bench. Unfortunately, he's out and Mike James was what received in return. Might seem odd with all the guards, but this deal was made before Francis on the table and the selection of Aaron Brooks... it's hard to imagine Adelman won't find a combination that works with this much talent in the backcourt, but it's a shame to lose Howard for that experiment. Spoons was fun to project, but not too fun to watch. He'll never get another shot if he goes back to Greece. It's too bad. I'll miss all the Greek fans. Van Gundy, I was a fan even if 99% of Houston was not. He did his thing, it's a new era. Good luck to JVG at TNT, we're fans.

PROJECTED STARTERS (with stat projections)
These are projected starters based on who will start for the majority of the games, not just who starts early in the season, plus the projected rotation the Rockets will use going into the playoffs.

(C) Yao Ming: who else? [25.6 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.1 bpg]
(F) Luis Scola: starter by 20 gms. [9.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.3 apg]
(F) Shane Battier: always solid. [6.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg]
(G) Tracy McGrady: ...come on. [21.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 6.2 apg]
(G) Steve Francis: reg. starter by 30 gms. [11.8 ppg, 3.2 apg]
(F) Bonzi Wells: will be biggest contributer off bench [10.1 ppg].
(G) Mike James: fills in for either 1 or 2 spot. [8.6 ppg]
(G) Luther Head: also get some time at 2 spot. [5.3 ppg]
(C) Chuck Hayes: still the energy guy, will still get burn.
(F) Jackie Butler: may get bulk of minutes at backup F/C.
(G) Aaron Brooks: mostly garbage time unless there's an injury.

ESPN says the Rockets are the most upgraded of any NBA team (not Boston?) and it should show right away. Most losses early on will come from slight chemistry issues and mastering the Princeton offense. The most significant upside for this deep roster is that it has enough firepower to weather some minor downtime from either Yao or T-Mac, but the hope, obviously, is that their injury troubles are over.

Yes, our predictions on the site say Championship, but that's because we have to say that, but if I were someone else, someone objective, I'd say the Rockets tie their franchise record in wins this year and finally get out of the first round. How far they get after that almost doesn't matter, because they will surely either face Dallas, San Antonio or Phoenix in the second round and an ability to hold ground or beat of these three will do much to dictate expectations for the next season.

A Championship is a little fanciful with so many established powers in the West, and by no means, is it the only idea of a successful season... but we wouldn't mind.

Fists of Fury: Orlando beats China's Oyedeji

The Orlando Magic is just another NBA team conquering Asia. They spanked the "Chinese All-Stars" today, an All-Star team with no Yao or Yi Jianlian so... we're not sweatin' it.

Team China's top scorer? None other than Olumide Oyedeji with 25 points... I guess they scaled back the "Chinese" criteria for this one. That's Major Wingate guarding Dwight Howard there in that picture with a couple of anonymous Chinese All-Stars. Wang Zhi Zhi put up 16 pts in the effort.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Yao's Left Hook and an 'Official' Endorsement

Yao's left hook and an 'official' endorsement
from Yao Central

Look how nice everyone's getting along. All 20 or so estimated in that huddle... who's that leading the ring-around-the-rosie? The Big Red One-One looked good against Panathinaikos last night. Saw a little bit of everything on offense including a nice lefty hook. Left and right? That's gonna be tough to stop. You can check out his highlights here.

HoopsWorld has a nice interview with Yao (Up Close with Yao Ming). In it he talks, albeit briefly, about his excitement to be reunited with (eschewing discussion about the other roster moves except for Scola) and how Jack Sikma has been working with him on specific high-post skills. releases selections of Steve Nash and Dwayne Wade as 2007's Most Caring Athletes. How does Yao not make this list?

News Groper--a satirical news site (like the Onion but not as good)--has a story by Chinese president Hu Jintao; an objective look at the upcoming NBA season in which he picks Yao Ming to win MVP and Yi Jianlian to take Rookie of the Year honors. He also picks Rockets in 6 over the Bucks in the Finals. Racist? Even funny? You decide. I'll count the pick as legit.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Yao is the New Way

Yao is the new way
from Yao Central

ESPN's John Hollinger is starting a cult, the cult of Player Efficiency Rankings... and the divine one this season is none other than Yao Ming. Click here for Hollinger's pre-season player projections; for the full description of why Yao is on top of the list, you'll have to have the dreaded Insider membership.

In Rockets camp news, Jonathan Feigen reports that new coach Rick Adelman has nothing but praise for Yao and his integration to the new system. He also promises that Yao will still get plenty of looks in the low-post--even if he's never had a player like him before.

A story from tells roughly the same story except it has this picture of Yao and T-Mac laughing at fans trying to dunk during the open-to-the-public scrimmage on Monday. Yao Ming Mania links your boxscore for last night's preseason game, but oddly enough has no pics. Yao looked good out there, though, or sounded good... had to listen to the game on radio.

Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barret has declared October 7th "Yi Jianlian Day." Whadafuss? We don't even have an Hakeem Olajuwon day... or do we? We do have a Yao Ming Day on Dec. 11th, which is just as ridiculous. There should be some guidline: no official "days" for current players with no Championships... or in Yi's case no actual minute on a NBA floor. So what do Milwaukeens do for Yi Jianlian Day?
Yi's fans held a reception at Bradley Center yesterday, attended by more than 500 fans and VIPs including Senator Herb Kohl, who owns Yi's new team the Milwaukee Bucks, Mayor Tom Barret and Huang Ping, the Consul General of China in Chicago.
I'm guessing there were fireworks and at least one lion dance... and mooncake.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Yao Kicks off Special Olympics Without Rain Suppression

Yao Kicks off Special Olympics Without Rain Suppression
from Yao Central

Well worth missing Media Day in Houston, Yao Ming helped kick off "the biggest ever" Special Olympics World Summer Games on Tuesday "for a record 7,300 mentally [sic] disabled athletes." I think the AFP meant "physically-disabled," but I guess the "mentally-disabled" shouldn't be excluded either. Whatever the case, the event was huge, presided over by none other than Chinese president Hu Jintao. In fact, our very own president... of movie catchphrases (and Governor of California), Arnold Schwarzenegger, was also there to help kick things off. It was a pretty big deal. Yao Ming Mania has tons of links and pics. There was, however, there was this one little passage in the AFP story that seemed a little odd, maybe its just cultural ignorance:
Shanghai is prone to rain in early October, and the city's "rain suppression squad", a unit of the city's Meteorological Bureau, was preparing for any downpour that might hit the venue.

Thirteen launch sites for rain-suppression rockets had been established in the surrounding provinces, according to Xinhua.
What the fuck is a rain suppression rocket?

• • •

On Monday, the Chinese Nats lost 83-77 to CSKA Moscow, who's a good team in their own right, but still no National team. Yao Ming Mania has your pics.