Sunday, December 28, 2008

R3: Rise of the Ron

I'm now convinced Ron Artest is Cyberdyne Systems Model 102. I haven't seen any active player today take contact like quite Ron Artest. The man repels opponents, like heroes in martial arts flicks. The enemy moves at him, hits him and yet, his chi somehow delivers the punishment. Lebron James is the best finisher in the game, no doubt. Artest doesn't quite have the balance or athleticism to do what Lebron does around the rim when fouled. But Artest is the hardest case around. He responds the same to contact as no contact. No grimace, no yell, no body crumple... all things Rockets fans have gotten used to. In Ron-Ron, Houston has an indomitable and single-minded machine.

Artest's command performance in last night's 2nd OT was the stuff of saviors, the stuff of folklore. On the tail end of a back-to-back, the Rockets, who'd let the Jazz off the hook in the 4th, were shooting blanks late in the game. Yao Ming, who had found success against Utah's reserve bigs throughout the game, struggled as the "officials" let defenders get away with just about anything when bodying up Yao, a growing trend.

Still, in the final minutes and 1st OT, Adelman kept calling Yao's number, trying to exploit the mismatch but Yao, exhausted, could not finish. He otherwise played a strong game, indicative of his vastly improving stamina and timing, defending the cup with authority and looking quicker to the boards than he was earlier in the season. Yao was certainly more decisive offensively in this game; and despite his misses, he made the right moves down the stretch--given his skill set. Finesse moves to free himself up for open looks but other than a gorgeous left hand sky hook late, he just couldn't finish.

So, Adelman adjusted and went to Artest in the 2nd OT. The difference was distinct. Artest moved powerfully and with more control in the low-post. And as the Rocket's had deferred to Yao for the duration of crunch time, Artest had surprisingly fresh legs and the Jazz had no answer, he was just quicker than his defenders. Utah put Ron-Ron on the line 8 times and he hit all 8 FTs. Rockets win. Yes, the Rockets should have never let the Jazz back into the game, they'll have to continue to work on closing opponents out (particularly the bench for whom it is much their responsibility) but its nice to know that the Rockets have more than one option, and more than just two.

They have Ron.

Fans, however, are gonna have to come up with a better cheer than the less than imaginative "Ron-Ar-test! Ron-Ar-test!"

Friday, December 26, 2008

Rockets a Top 4 Team in the League?

During an epic Lakers-Celtics Christmas special yesterday, former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy put four teams in the category of legitimate contenders... Celtics, Lakers, Cavs and... the Houston Rockets.

Van Gundy, has been a rare broadcasting proponent of Houston and its players since joining the team of Mark Jackson and Mike Breen on ABC--in that, he actually defends them or offers perspective. His experience coaching in Houston offers such perspective or maybe it skews it. That could go either way but the statement wasn't exactly contested on the broadcast. So the question is, why doesn't it seem Rockets fans are as convinced as Van Gundy?

Houston currently stands at 19-10, good for the second-best record in the West (tied with San Antonio) and they've won 8-11 in December. Only three of those teams, however, are plus-.500 and against those teams, Houston is only 1-2. So it might be easy for the more skeptical fan to write off this December stretch as a weak schedule but a deeper look into the numbers may also be revealing.

All the other three teams Van Gundy mentioned are in the Top 10 in the league in scoring, with Los Angeles leading the NBA. Houston stands 15th at 98.3 ppg. Boston and Cleveland are 1 and 2 respectively in opponents PPG. Houston kicks in at a respectable 8th. And while Los Angeles may only be 14th on the list, their 9.4 point differential is good for 3rd in the league... behind Cleveland (12.7) and Boston (10.3). Which should be the most telling figure. These teams are dominating the league. Houston is respectable again at 5th (4.3) in point differential but they have neither put away teams consistently or looked particularly dominant on the court.

Boston, Cleveland and Los Angeles are already playing at a Championship-caliber level and winning each in some record-setting pace. Houston is not. They still haven't quite clicked, they haven't achieved that visible on-court harmony, that spiritual and unspoken rapport of Champions. And yet, they are still 19-10, still carrying an awful lot of talent. So, depending on where we stand on half a glass of water, Van Gundy's inclusion of Houston on his short list of contenders could be an optimistic look at a team finally starting to play well (but that still has yet to reach potential) or the empty raves of a somewhat delusional former coach... who still lives in Houston.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Yao Line: 12.16.08: Big 3 Finally Arrives

32 pts, 13-19 FGs, 6-7 FTs, 7 rebs, 1 ast, 2 blks

Yao's strong offensive numbers were overlooked or overshadowed in the usual highlight shows by McGrady's triple-double... and Nene's dunk on Yao. The dunk was no. 2 on Sportscenter's Top Plays. It was pretty vicious. Still, Yao played on with ego in check and in what appears a lessening commonality in star athletes, he doesn't seem to need the media validation to keep on keeping on. For his part, Yao looked quick, decisive and energetic but still left some dunking to be desired. There were plenty of opportunities for payback in that game.

But Yao can probably live with Nene's 5-14 shooting and 5 fouls. Last night was a solid in-game turnaround from a poor defensive first half to lock-down in the 2nd and with no sacrifice in offense. And the impressive Rockets scoring came against a surprisingly solid Denver D. One that's 15th in points against (98.2)--not bad considering 3rd in points for (103.4)--and 3rd in FG% allowed (.427). Rockets were blazing from the floor and never hit one of those extended droughts, a performance certainly encouraging for Rockets fans to see.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Tale of Two Yaos

Haven't been able to watch any games since the previous post until this last back-to-back but any game (especially any B2B) is a good indication of where Yao is at physically. Looking at the stats alone, it would seem to be a tale of two Yaos but beyond the numbers, it's the same slowly but steadily improving Yao we've seen all season, just two different teams and the first without a closer.

Against the 6-15 Memphis Grizzlies, the Rockets fell behind early but managed to creep back into the game on with Luis Scola putting in work. But when they needed someone to step up and impose their will to get Houston over the top, Yao was unable. Not unwilling but physically unable to step up. Against a superior 12-8 Hawks squad, Houston got out to the early start but let the Hawks back in it. Joe Johnson was unconscious in just shy of folk tale form in the 3rd quarter and it was contagious to the rest of the Hawks. Again, it looked like Yao wasn't going to be able to keep the Rockets above water. He was getting beat to the ball on rebounds and committed costly turnovers. The difference in the second game was Ron Artest. He came in and willed the Rockets to the lead on offense AND defense--Johnson didn't just go cold late in the 4th. He also gave Yao a chance to gather his bearings and put the Hawks away late.

What should be telling about these two games is that Yao still isn't there yet. He's improving but not at the level of dominance he had attained the past two seasons before he was injured. He's solid but not dominant. I can't remember ever seeing a quieter 19 rebounds. But he's out there, just playing at about the level he was in his first 3rd or 4th season. Sometimes tentative, not as quick to the ball and not playing powerfully. He's back to layups instead of dunks.

It's hard to know what it is exactly. Stamina, a subconscious unwillingness to stress the healing leg, longer stretches on the bench, longer stretches on the court. Or maybe he's on to something. Maybe Yao's consciously taking his time. So long as T-Mac and Artest can make it to a few games here and there, they should be able to get into the post-season in the West where it won't matter what seed they are. They'll just have to win. So maybe, just maybe if Yao can save it up until the playoffs, it might be more conducive to Yao making it a season injury-free. But he's too much of a competitor and team-first guy to be so calculating, isn't he? It is certainly a less dominant Yao we are seeing on the court right now. And its still too early to tell if he's incapable of resurrecting the other one but if 24 and 19 is still a quiet game, I think we'll take it.

Originally posted at Yao Central on 2008-12-10 12:43

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

FreeDarko Presents the Macrophenomenal Rockets

My loving girlfriend of what will be four years next week just returned from San Francisco last night with a little surprise. She had brought with her The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac collectively written--a term that may not do the book justice--by the bloggers responsible for It was supposed to be a Christmas stocking stuffer but she couldn't help giving it to me when she came home. It was just then I noticed my brother slinking away to reveal that he, too, had bought me a copy for the holidays. So, now I have two.

I've read Free Darko on and off now for about 3 years--I think that's about how long they've been around. And whether or not you take to their intellectual/philosophical musings or often obscure references to and applied to the game of roundball, this book is worth a look. Sure to become the basketball geek's field guide, the stats are gleefully esoteric and meant to accentuate the centerpiece--detailed, surreal and often very funny psychological profiles of the NBA's stars. And it's all made accessible to even the most visual of learners through beautifully illustrated charts, graphs and a gradually more useful as you go "Periodic Guide to Style."

But what may sway Rockets fans to buy this book is that of the 18 NBA stars worthy of analysis, three of them are current Houston Rockets. Yao Ming, Ron Artest and Tracy McGrady. The FreeDarkans happen to be proponents of T-Mac, in a different kind of way. They have a certain kind of love for every player examined in the book but a special place is reserved for Mac who they subtitle, "Effortless Agony." They aren't apologists for McGrady's failings but rather they don't frame them as failings (they eschew wins and losses as a point of interest). As I've tried to do before in this blog to a lesser extent, they portray McGrady as one of sport's tragic heroes, which is what I've always thought makes him so interesting in a way beyond the typical understanding of the game.

In many respects, Yao and Ron-Ron also need non-traditional viewings from sports fans to really appreciate who they are and what they represent as professional athletes; which is what makes the Rockets so interesting. The Macrophenomenal Almanac gives you a different take on a select few of the NBA's more "interesting" stars (it leaves you wishing for more. And accordingly, perhaps the world's most confounding player, Gilbert Arenas, writes the Foreword.

If this tickles your fancy, you can find several online locations to cop the book at:

Yao & T-Mac drawings above (and all drawings in the book) illustrated by Jacob Weinstein, "Big Baby Belafonte" of the Free Darko collective.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Artest's Leadership Inspires More Than Just Win

Not sure just yet whether Houston's 94-82 win was a result of the Rockets superior play or the Suns atrocious 37.6% shooting. Houston's 45.3% shooting was a significant improvement and their defense was solid as usual but the Suns had their share of good looks. They just didn't put them down. How the Rockets look in the next couple of games will be more telling. One thing's for sure, the player's-only meeting called by Artest made an impact. The motion in Houston's offense looked somewhat better. If you consider Rockets forwards Ron Artest and Luis Scola combined 2-18 from the field and that this game was still a blowout, moreso even than the score would indicate, it would seem it was working quite well. But Artest's poor FG% was also a result of poor shot selection.

Artest often resorted to fade-away jumpers when the offense stagnated. So it may be worthwhile to keep in mind that Tracy McGrady, Rafer Alston, Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming, all who shot 50% or better from the field, are capable of creating their own shots and did so effectively. They did so in the structure the offense but more often in transition.

The offense looked better but it's not there yet. Nevertheless, it was one of the Rockets' more exciting games to watch this season. McGrady caught fire and never cooled, Rockets PGs were huge on offense (a combined 34 pts on 15-25 FGs) and better than that, Yao was solid. It's been a tough road back for Yao so far. Yes, he held his own in the Olympics but he only had to play the U.S. once in Beijing. In the NBA, Yao has to face the world's best athletes night in and night out. Yes, he faced single coverage as Shaq is always up to the challenge but Yao is still one of the few players in the league that no one player can shut down offensively in man.

It's his quickness and timing that have been slow to come this season but single coverage gives you a chance to gather yourself. Doubles force Yao to make quick decisions and he's struggled with that so far. This was a good game for Yao to get his bearings. He didn't dominate, Shaq to his credit went toe-to-toe with him, but he did play with some urgency. He was more active on the boards than he has been all season and much stronger in securing the ball.

As for the scuffle, Barnes gets a fine no question. Cheap shot by a cheap player. Alston probably didn't need to get in his face but who wouldn't have? What Nash was thinking running at Alston, I'll never know. T-Mac regulated Nash and then Shaq regulated everyone. It's only 8 games in, how many altercations is this? Yao sees a bright side. Fellow blogger Jerome Solomon quotes Yao as saying:
"When [a fight] happens, no matter what, you have to protect your teammate," Yao told reporters after the game. "I saw Matt Barnes really lean into Rafer and I thought I had to separate them and don't let Rafer get hurt. That really can help us because we [were] together face-to-face against Phoenix as a team."
Nothing like some shoving to bring out the camaraderie of a team--no matter how misguided that might be. But it's nice to see some fire in Houston. Rockets have to be doing something right to elicit that kind of reaction.

Photo credited to AP Matt York and Jeremy York.

Originally posted at Yao Central on 2008-11-13 06:21:16

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Third Man Finally Deserves the Hype

Are you excited yet? Say what you want about the Rockets past few 1st Rd exits, the brass has done a good job of getting Rockets fans excited before every season. Essentially, that's really GM Daryl Morey's job... to build a team that will compete with the imperative goal of bringing the fans back. Especially after a disappointing finish. Daryl Morey has done his job (as well as Carroll Dawson) by giving Houston fans what they think the Rockets need... that final piece of the puzzle in the T-Mac-Yao era. The Third Man. First came Stromile Swift, then Shane Battier, then Bonzi Wells, then the exciting Rockets rookies and even maybe, somewhere in that hopeful inner child part of our brains, Steve Francis... but no, all of those players were just chewing gum in the cracks. Ron Artest is super glue; he makes all the others pale in comparison. He's highly flammable, of course, especially under the wrong conditions but Houston, with the easy-going nature of Mac, Yao and Adelman, may be just right.

Say what you want about Ron-Ron, the man's a force of nature and no one has ever questioned his heart. Yes, he marches to the beat of a different drummer, hell, he has his own rhythm section. Yes, he is emotional and volatile, yes, he speaks his mind but he's also the first player to come to Houston in the McGrady-Yao era talented enough--good enough--to single-handedly cover for T-Mac or Yao. There's still a lot to figure out, injuries to overcome, but the foundation is solid. For the first time in a long time, it's okay to be excited.

So, NBA League Pass ready to go despite the warnings of domestic anguish from The Basketball Jones' J.E. Skeets long ago... It's pushing it I know. To be fair, my girlfriend has been very understanding. But if she thought Monday Night Football was getting carried away, she's in for one helluva surprise. Wonder if she can be plied with dinner at a 5-star from all my fantasy league winnings.

Originally posted at Yao Ming Mania on 2008-10-28 12:41:59

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Yao's 5 Toughest Matchups: Booze & Memo (No. 1)

Carlos Boozer (UTA)
6-9, 266 lbs | 6 years pro

Mehmet Okur (UTA)
6-11, 263 lbs | 6 years pro

Head-to-head in '07-'08, Record 0-1
CB: 30 pts, .520 FG%, 16 rebs, 5 TOs
MO: 16 pts, .500 FG%, 3 3FGs, 10 rebs
YM: 11 pts, .357 FG%, 7 rebs, 6 TOs

DIAGNOSIS: The amount of sheer hatred that these two Jazzees inspire in Rockets fans is enough to place them in the no. 1 spot. The Jazz are strongest where the Rockets are weak. Point guard and mobility/versatility in the front-court. Boozer may be undersized at 6-9 but unlike Dwight Howard, Booze is bottom heavy and consistently able to force Yao to post up further from the rim than he likes. And his lower center of gravity mixed with excellent footwork, gives Yao fits.

Mehmet Okur is a different look, kind of like how NFL teams like to change it up with their backfield. Don't know if Steve Slaton & Ahman Green qualifies yet but you get the picture. Mehmet is just old school in the low-post. Meaning he's a hack. He even looks a little like Bill Laimbeer.

Okur will push, shove, knee, trip, elbow and hack until the refs call it. He leaves it up to them. If Yao can get square, solid position, Okur has no answer. And for that matter, neither does Boozer, but both do a hell of a job to prevent that.

Then there's defense by offense. Yao just can not stick Boozer. He's too powerful, too agile and too crafty. Spins, hooks, up-and-unders... you name it, Booze does it. And he hits the mid-range jumper off the pick & roll. He's Yao's personal nightmare on defense.

Then there's Okur, who's big but won't take one step inside the 3-pt line with Yao on the court. Okur's range from the arc hurts Yao because he doesn't have the mobility to challenge and get back to the paint to protect. Not many front-court players do. This is how the Jazz have lived in the West with theoretically less talent than other Western Conference powerhouses but the toughest thing for Yao is these guys are as young as he is and don't look like they're going anywhere soon.

PROGNOSIS: Once again, Artest saves the day. We might not all agree as Rockets fans that T-Mac gave everything he could in last season's first round exit at the hands of the Jazz, but we should be able to agree that it wasn't enough to get Houston to advance.

Enter Ron-Ron. If for some freak of odds or grand joke of destiny brings the Jazz back to a first round with Houston, Artest will of course, take defensive pressure off of McGrady and Yao. And even if Boozer and Okur (with Kirilenko and Harpring on double help) manage to keep slow Yao significantly, McGrady won't have to carry as much of the scoring load which should keep him from running out of the gas the way he did at the end of the Utah series.

Ultimately, the Jazz are the benchmark on how to play the Rockets in the playoffs. Make their supporting cast beat you. Double up T-Mac and Yao with physical play and wear them down. The difference of a Ron Artest won't really be felt until then, when teams are singularly focused on winning, which is why Houston needs Ron-Ron to make it there.

There's a formula for the regular season, one that is keyed on teams running their stuff and defining the rotation. Then, there's the playoffs, where you tighten up the reins and do whatever it takes to win. Artest changes the way teams can hunker down on the Rockets offense. If Yao can get consistent one-on-one match-ups against the Jazz, it won't matter who's back there.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Yao's 5 Toughest Matchups: Amare Stoudamire (No.2)

Amare Stoudamire (PHX)
6-10, 249 lbs | 6 years pro

H2H in '07-'08, Record 1-1

AS: 23 ppg, 11 rpg, 5 fpg
YM: 21.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.5 fpg

DIAGNOSIS: No player has more consistently given Yao fits since they both entered the league in '02. Amare certainly has benefited from a creative and effective Suns scheme that included heavy doses of running and Shawn Marion but those days are gone.

Now, Amare has Shaq, which in theory should give the Suns a solid defense against Yao (Shaq was no. 5 after all), but Amare's best defense against Yao is his offense. He's added the 15-footer to his repertoire off the pick & roll, he still attacks the basket as well as any big man in the league and as long as he has Steve Nash looking for him, he'll be almost impossible to stop. Which usually spells foul trouble for Yao.

It's almost as if Phoenix was built to stop Houston. But no, the Suns were thinking about the Lakers and their front-court of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. And now all three of these Western Conference powerhouses, and in some respects the Utah Jazz, are looking awful traditional in the new NBA.

PROGNOSIS: With Scola, Landry, Hayes, Joey Dorsey and surely at some point, Ron Artest, available to fill in at the PF position, Yao won't have to guard Stoudamire. But count on Shaq playing less minutes than Yao and if Stoudamire finds success against the scrappy but undersized Rockets forwards, Yao may have to switch back in spurts and Stoudamire has no fear of guarding Yao even if he never has quite slowed Yao in single-coverage.

And when Nash inevitably goes back to the pick & roll, the Rockets' backside help defense should be that much better with Artest and Battier available to drop down in the paint. The benefits of adding a third dynamic player of Artest's class keeping popping up everywhere.

Originally posted at Yao Ming Mania on 2008-10-17 01:28:00

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yao's 5 Toughest Matchups: Dwight Howard (No. 3)

Dwight Howard (ORL)
6-11, 265 lbs | 4 yrs

Head-to-head '07-'08

DH: 18.5 ppg, .500 FG%, 9.5 rpg
YM: 22.5 ppg, .472 FG%, 13.5 rpg

DIAGNOSIS: You may be wondering why D-12 only comes in at no. 3, especially considering most NBA analysts and bloggers have now solidified Howard as the no. 1 center in the NBA. It's mostly because Orlando is one of the few teams that will let their center try to match-up one-on-one with Yao. And Yao has had some of his best games against Howard. Like most centers in Howard's mold, Yao is just too big for him.

When healthy, Yao really hasn't been contained in the last two years one-on-one by anyone in the league. With the arrival of a rookie center (Greg Oden) with true center size and uncommon explosiveness (and who frighteningly resembles a young Shaquille O'Neal) and the continuing evolution of Andrew Bynum, that might soon change, but for now, if teams want to single up on Yao, it means they're satisfied with letting him get his.

For Howard, that's proven to be a humbling experience for the most part but D-12 is a humble guy and has a great deal of respect for Yao. Almost too much, if you're a Magic fan. Howard doesn't seem to take enough advantage of his considerable mobility on defense and seems to try to beat Yao in the low-post with his strength. As strong as Howard clearly is, a 45 lb weight advantage just wears you down. But credit Howard for never playing dirty and taking his lumps with pride. And in that, he may not only be (arguably) the best new center in the league but like Yao, also one of the best sportsmen.

PROGNOSIS: Orlando will let Howard single-up on Yao again this season and will double when needed. With the Rockets new line-up, the Magic can't be too satisfied with just letting Yao get his numbers because they won't be able to double T-Mac as much with Ron-Ron around. Then again, they'll only play each other twice anyway so the implications of the match-ups has less to do with standings or the playoffs than with the "best center in the league" hype. Both match-ups last season were just too entertaining to leave this one off the list.

Originally posted at Yao Central on 2008-10-15 09:21:10

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Yao's 5 Toughest Matchups: Al Harrington (No. 4)

4.) Al Harrington | 6-9, 250 lbs | 10 yrs

Head-to-head ‘07-’08*
AH: 16.5 ppg, .439 FG%, .409 3FG%, 8.3 rpg

YM: 20.7 ppg, .487 FG%, 11.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg

*Harrington played one more game than Yao but's Game Logs is not working at the moment so stats have been taken from Game Splits.

DIAGNOSIS: When you look at the numbers, they're not too shabby, 20 and 10, can't ask for more, but when you consider Yao's considerable size advantage up and down the roster, the fact that Yao doesn't always completely dominate the Warriors is why Harrington makes the list.

Richard Justice has a nice story on Joey Dorsey and how he "has given Yao Ming fits in practice." As Justice observes, Yao dominates true bigs, it's the smaller, more athletic post players who have sometimes done better against him. Al Harrington falls into that category but not so much with Dorsey's Ben Wallace-like physique and athleticism but with his versatility. Harrington is strong enough to make Yao work to get position on the low-block and fast enough to beat him down court in transition.

The Warriors ran a defensive scheme somewhat like the Phoenix Suns used to in that no matter who guards Yao in the low-post, everyone in the vicinity is going to harass him and go at him hard once he touches the ball. And when they get it, they run. Harrington will almost always beat Yao down the court; and in half-court sets, he uses his 3-pt range to pull Yao out of the paint. The Warriors come at you so fast that it's often make or break with a player like Yao.

In the days of true big men, a center could get a few touches, get it going, get his timing but with the speed of some teams now, a big man like Yao has to be on his game from the tip off. He has to be quick, decisive and dominant. And he was in some games and not in others. The point is, increasing the speed of the game against Yao and throwing double and triple teams at him diminishes his ability to settle into a game. The scheme worked well for the Warriors.

PROGNOSIS: With Rocket-killer Baron Davis gone it's difficult to tell how effective the run & gun style of the Warriors will be this season. As much criticism as Davis may have gotten in the past as a leader, he was the perfect kind of explosive, do-it-all guard to lead the Warriors' offense. Monta Ellis could develop into this kind of guard but he's still unproven as a leader. The lack of offense should translate into a slower pace, which will benefit Yao.

With the Rockets more versatile line-up this season, they can go with Yao when he is on his game and sub for him when he's not. I'll take Ron Artest on Al Harrington any day. Count on the Warriors to go at Yao hard again with a swarm and force him to make quick decisions from the low-post but again, with the Warriors' offense likely not as potent as it used to be, Yao should get plenty of looks if the Rockets dictate the pace. Then again, you never know what Nellie is going to come up with. He has a knack of keeping the unlikeliest of teams competitive.

Originally posted at Yao Central 2008-10-09 09:41:55

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Yao's 5 Toughest Matchups: Shaq O'Neal (No. 5)

In an era that claims with increasing validity the true center is dead in the NBA, Yao Ming is a throwback. But being old school means having to resist an overwhelming trend of NBA teams going smaller, faster and more athletic at the center position; essentially, playing power forwards at center. It's been no easy feat for Yao to keep up, as 3 seasons of missing 25+ games may attest, but then again, that size advantage or disadvantage, however full you see your cup, cuts both ways.

When healthy, Yao is the the best offensive center in the league (yes, this is arguable with Amare Stoudamire thrown in the mix but he's officially a PF again this season) but the list isn't restricted to centers but to those players assigned to guard him. This is a breakdown of the match-ups that should not only be the most entertaining to watch, but also the ones that may be the toughest on Yao.

Really, none of these players has proven they can defend Yao man-to-man and contain him--there's few teams in the league that won't double him right away (Hornets, Spurs, Detroit, Boston?)--but in defending Yao, offense is the often best defense. So this list takes into account the best combination of a player's ability to contain Yao and make him work on defense.

5.) Shaquille O'Neal
Ht: 7-1 | Wt: 325 lbs | 16 yrs

Head-to-head '07-'08, Record: 0-1
SO: 26 pts, 14 rebs, 3 blks, 4 fouls
YM: 20 pts, 7 rebs, 1 TO, 6 fouls

DIAGNOSIS: You can call last season's little one-shot "Shaq's Revenge." After losing his "best center in the league" title as far back as '06, the Big Aristotle had to be more than a little pleased to gain some relevance again last season only to have it fizzle as as trade claptrap. But he still makes the list. Shaq is still very big and very powerful (if not quite as much as his prime) and even his offense has trickled down the drain, he's really the only true center that's proven he can still give Yao trouble establishing the low block.

PROGNOSIS: When the Rockets roll into Phoenix, November 12th, Shaq might be there. By March 6th's match-up maybe not, but come April, he'll probably be back. Whatever the case may be, Shaq's role with the Suns is to be big, rebound and pick up garbage points. Which certainly makes it possible that with his focus directed entirely on the defensive end--especially against the Rockets--that he'll put all his energy into giving Yao hell. Yao may be more nimble now than the aging Shaq but don't underestimate the will of a former MVP trying to make a point.

It would behoove the Rockets then to move Yao out of the paint and work from the high post, which if Adelman's game-plan is indeed gaining in its implementation, should be no problem. But we'll have to wait and see, the high post was one of the best selling points of the new offense last season but Yao didn't get to work from that spot as much as a lot of fans, at least now, will prefer.

More to come...

Originally posted at Yao Central 2008-10-08 09:38:57

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

It's Rockets Time Again

Yesterday was Houston Rockets media day; which means its time (at least for bloggers, early birds and now Astros fans) to refocus our energy on the upcoming NBA season. So my heretofore all-consuming fantasy football team to which hours a week had been dedicated to ensure a repeat Championship will be put in the sidecar as we burn on into Rockets '08-'09 season.

Let's start off with some links...

Obviously, expectations are high with the arrival of Ron-Ron and the general consensus is the Artest deal is the epitome of high-risk, high-reward. Morey is no Gus Hansen but anyone with enough pressure to win can be pushed to take uncharacteristic risks; not that this is that. No one in Houston is second-guessing the trade... yet.

Lakers blog, Forum Blue and Gold, has one of the best objective (or close to it) assessments of the new Rockets in their new series, "Know Your Enemy," a team by team breakdown of the Lakers biggest threats. And from looking through the comments, Lakers fans at least, are concerned about the match-up. Which should be encouraging I guess but as with every other analysis of the Rockets this pre-pre-season, the one caveat is health. And as if on cue, McGrady has announced his slower than originally projected recovery from knee and shoulder surgery. Yao, however, attests to 100% health.

And accordingly, Tom Ziller from AOL Fanhouse has Yao ranked #10 in his NBA's Top 50 players for the upcoming season. He has an interesting take that we may all need to consider. Yes, the pressure of the Beijing Olympics is off and his commitments to China should lessen for at least through this season but perhaps fans shouldn't expect this to be a particularly dominant statistical year. It's more important for Adelman has to find a way to limit Yao's minutes and still win. As a result, this may be the season that Dwight Howard overtakes Yao in the stat boards offensively but if Yao makes it through the entire season and enters the post-season healthy, I'll take it. And so will the Rockets.

Originally posted at Yao Central 2008-09-30 09:25:25

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Yao Huge vs. Angola

It wasn't quite as easy as the score made it look, especially with the recent collapse vs. Spain stinging the mind, but Yao was dominant against the much smaller Team Angola. The ever resilient Angolans, down 35-21 in the 2nd quarter made an impressive run to get within the half. Yao, however, was just too much (30 pts, 10-11 FGs, 7 rebs, 4 blks) and he finally looked to be getting into game shape, which couldn't have come any later than this if China is going to make the medal round.

Yao Ming Mania has some nice action pics, none more indicative of Yao's complete size advantage than this one.

Yi Jianlian was somewhat more effective as well facing smaller opponents, finishing with 10 pts and 11 rebs but according to Team China coach, Jonas Kazlauskas, Yi is still struggling to find chemistry with Yao. Which again, I find a little disconcerting, considering it isn't as if they've never played together before. It appears that Yi would be more effective if were simply more active; not waiting for offense to come to him but attacking it by making sharp cuts to the basket off the ball and getting after the offensive boards.

Overall, an encouraging game for Team China, Yao and Rockets fans, too. Chinese Nats have a legitimate chance of pulling into the 3rd position with Greece also standing at 1-2. But that's really thinking too far ahead, every game at this point is a must-win until situations prove otherwise. Next up is Germany, a win there will all but guarantee their advancement to the medal round. A loss is pretty much an elimination.

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 14 10:45 AM.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Team China Might Have Missed Their Only Chance

Nobody expected China to compete with Spain; not even the Spaniards. Which is why Yao and Team China carried a 14-pt, 61-47 lead, into the 4th quarter. Spain, however, locked it down in the 4th, scored virtually at will and forced the game into OT. After Yao fouled out in the extra period, China couldn't recover and Spain, walked away smiling, shaking their heads and looking very relieved.

For what it's worth, for three quarters, China looked like a real contender and its a shame Yao is nowhere near 100%, which would have made a significant difference. Especially facing Pau Gasol, who was completely dominant--and China again, got very little from NBA forward Yi Jianlian, who again, seems to only garner more critics with his play on the world stage. I can understand Yi struggling to find a niche on the team as one of the younger players but it would have been nice if Yi could have picked up Gasol to preserve Yao for the latter stages of the game. They could have used him in a less fatigued state of mind to reign in his floundering teammates.

Veteran Chinese guard, Wang Shipeng, even admitted that they were "too nervous by the end of the game." Which may be true but is not what you really want to hear if you're a team trying make a run to the medal round. The actual Olympics isn't the best place to build that confidence. This team has been together long enough to have the team comfortability (not sure if that makes sense) but the comfort and confidence in your teammates to know you can pull out games you should win. And that wasn't there. China gave away what might have been their only opportunity to secure the 4th spot to advance.

Now Angola and Germany are must wins and if they can't upset Greece, they'll have to hope both the aforementioned teams perform miserably. And you can't help thinking they missed out on another golden opportunity, a little on-court rebuttal to this controversial pic (that I haven't personally found terribly offensive but rather have relegated to Spain's "way" which may be construed in itself as being somewhat offensive) that's been circulating on the internet.

Pics courtesy of The Guardian

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 12 09:27 AM.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yao vs. Team USA at the Nike "Commitment" Gallery

I had the pleasure of watching what may go down in history as the most-watched game in basketball history at the Nike Team USA "Commitment" Gallery in Harlem, NY. 94x50 project manager, Matt Donahue, invited me to the screening and asked me to organize local Chinese American youth groups and basketball teams (mostly from NY/NJ based AAU program the USAB Warriors) to complement his own group of predominantly African American youth. It was a trip. And fantastically catered.

Most of the kids, Chinese or African American were cheering Team USA from the beginning much to the confusion of some of the latter; but a strong contingent of Chinese youth, myself and most of the parents were pretty raucously cheering on both teams. I just love an underdog. It was a friendly but very loud rivalry even just inside the gallery. Pics are courtesy of Jenny Chan of the NY Sabres women's basketball club--why I didn't bring my camera, I can't figure.

Come late 2nd quarter, however, Team USA exerted their will, put on a suffocating trapping press and China, who had to play almost perfectly before that just to keep pace, fell to a 12-pt deficit going into halftime. By the 2nd half, everyone was cheering for Team USA. Or rather cheering the slam dunk contest that replaced the 2nd half. China continued with dignity, however, on their home court, playing hard and honoring their fans. They, or at least Yao, never once gave up. Team USA just showed how explosive they can be if they can get out in transition. They are as Lebron said, very fast. Good thing the court is only 94'. So, rest of the Olympic field, you have your game-plan: don't crash the boards, don't turnover the ball and don't miss.

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 11 10:42 AM.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Counter-Analogy for Yao Ming

Watching Yao lead China's greatest athletes around the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium last night just gave me this deep sense of pride--as much as seeing the U.S.--as a man of Chinese descent, as a Rockets fan and as someone who can appreciate damn good pageantry.

And it suddenly reminded me of a post I read earlier today on ESPN's True Hoop titled, "
Yao Ming is No Kobe Bryant." It was submitted by a reader, Mac Lotze, an American living in Shanghai. I had decided earlier to let it slide until just then. Here's the general idea of Lotze's post:
Style and scoring ability.

This is why Kobe Bryant is the greatest sports icon in China; not Yao Ming, not Yi Jianlian, not even groundbreaking hurdle-champion Liu Xiang.

This was the prevailing sentiment amongst those polled in the sold-out Qizhong Arena in Shanghai that was painted with 24s and 8s.

I came to Shanghai with the erroneous perception that basketball has become popular in China because of Yao Ming, but it appears that he is a small piece of the puzzle. The main reasons I see that Yao Ming is not as much of a national hero as he used to be and that common sense would dictate are:
  • He has yet to win a playoff series.
  • His size makes him very hard to relate to for 99% of the population. Chinese fans want to idolize a player that they can imitate or relate to from a size standpoint. This is one of the main reasons hurdler Liu Xiang is much hotter and more popular than Yao Ming these days. The Chinese respect and admire people that were not given as many god-given talents, but work their tails off to become great. They can relate to that, even dream about that. That's tougher in the case of Yao Ming.
  • Yao Ming is boring compared to a lot of players. I have played quite a few pickup games in China and from the 5'4 point guards to the 7-footers are all they are all showcasing their And One skills. (Yes, there are quite a few tall Chinese players all around Shanghai. With the economic prosperity that China is enjoying currently, they are privy to the type of diet that was impossible before. Not to mention the one child policy allows parents to feed their children with food that was previously divided between many kids.) They are all about the flash, excitement, dribbling through the legs, behind the back passes. Yao Ming, while being one of the best centers in the NBA, just doesn't have that. That's why even if Houston were to win a title (and I think they can now with Artest) I suspect that in the U.S. and China alike you will find it boosting T-Mac's popularity more than Yao's.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Chinese crowd will be divided on Sunday, the question is simply by how much. It is clear that if China had a better chance (maybe if Yao Ming was 100%) that the vast majority would be cheering unequivocally for China.
While none of this is wholly untrue--except for the part about Kobe surpassing Yao and Liu Xiang as the greatest sports icon in China which is utterly ridiculous--seeing Yao in the opening ceremony and the huge reception he and his fellow Chinese athletes received, it seems to me that Lotze (and Abbott, if he happens to agree) is missing the point. The assessment fairly superficial. For China, Kobe is just a fad. Another day, another hero, they'll come and go. Yao is a national icon. He'll be on money someday, bet. He's the most famous Chinese athlete in the world.

is popular in China because of Yao Ming. Kobe is popular because of Yao Ming. Iverson, T-Mac, Lebron, all because of Yao Ming. He opened the door. Without Yao's entry into the NBA, and with such fanfare, how many more years do you think it would have taken for Nike to come knocking? Or China to answer?

To use an analogy as Lotze aptly did, Yao is to China what dad is to you and me. There are other dads who might seem nicer, smarter or funnier. Kobe is cool dad. He drives the fancy cars, gets the hot girlfriends and buys us all kinds of stuff when we all go to Six Flags. Every kid looks at cool dad and wants to be son for a day. But we don't have to live with him.

We don't know the realness of cool dad and we don't want to know. Yao is just dad and he's a good dad. He's not flashy, he's not hip, but he's been there for you. Damn it, he's loyal and never taken you for granted. That's what Yao is to the Chinese, dad. There might be hundreds of other athletes that get their jerseys bought in China in the near future but Yao is still home. You don't need to buy dad's jersey, you don't even need to say you love him. He knows. It's understood.

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 9 01:02 AM.

The Master of all Ceremonies

This might be the only time I ever quote Bob Costas, "as far as Olympic opening ceremonies go, you can retire the trophy." I've never watched the Olympics opening ceremony from beginning to end. I'm 30 so I've had only 6 real chances but that streak ended last night. That was one of the most mesmerizing, elaborate and masterfully executed events I've ever seen. And I used to be a big Air Show fan.

Big ups to Zhang Yimou (the internationally acclaimed Chinese director of the movie Hero and many other canonized Chinese films) that was brought in to "direct" the ceremony. His name may not immediately resonate to most non-Chinese viewers but having experienced Yimou's previous forays into live performances I knew to expect something remarkable. It was damn near magical.

When they finally cut to Yao standing just outside the tunnel, holding the Chinese flag, towering above everyone around him and everyone in the stadium, I have to admit, I got choked up. I'm of Chinese descent but I'm no Chinese patriot, I actually identify as Taiwanese American, but the power and dignity of the image shook right through me. And the story of the young boy walking beside Yao who survived the Sichuan earthquake by digging himself out of rubble and then going back to rescue two more of his fellow students; it was almost too much to take. Even Yao admitted to nearly crying in the midst of it all.

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 8 11:09 PM.

Friday, August 01, 2008

How to Watch Yao in Beijing

It's been no small quandary trying figuring out just how I'm going to watch Team China's basketball games during the Beijing Olympics. Given the Chinese Nats' draw in Group B--one that includes perhaps the world's top 3 teams in Greece, Spain and our very own U.S. of A. and rounded out with Germany and Angola--those like me who want to see Yao play on the Olympic stage should probably maximize our viewing. And hope for a miracle. That means catching ALL the preliminary round games. How do we do this?

There are some options but as of now, they are somewhat limited. According to a press release on CCTV's website, "the International Olympic Committee's strict restrictions on the telecast of Olympic events, China Central Television's telecast rights are only allowed on the Chinese Mainland." That means that even if you have any of CCTV's international stations (CCTV-4, CCTV-9, CCTV-F, CCTV-E) on your cable box or via Internet; they will not broadcast any Olympic events.

CCTV-5, however, announced as CCTV's official Olympic channel in 2007 will be broadcasting in Mandarin, if you can get access. Streaming video options are available online at a variety of hosting sites (a Google search of "CCTV-5" will give you plenty of options), including Freetube (which worked for me). I'm not sure on the legality of these sites so be forewarned and results will vary based on internet connection.

Then there's NBC, bravely going where no network has gone before, slating 3600 hours of Olympic coverage, "the most ambitious single media project in history," according to their website. A giant leap considering their TripleCast pay-per-view debacle back in '92. Part of this 3600 hours, however, is a brilliant idea, a 24-hr Olympic basketball channel that will televise every basketball match-up at the Games. You can view the schedule on

Only one hitch, as of now, only Cox and Comcast cable providers have agreed to terms. According to MultiChannel News, "representatives from Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and the NCTC could not be reached for comment" as of July 3rd. Which means Cablevision subscribers like me will have to stay tuned.

If anyone has any other leads, by all means spill your beans.

Originally posted at Yao Central on August 1 09:36 AM.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ron-Ron Boards the Rocketship

First, I apologize for not posting in well over a week. I've been in San Diego covering the 39th annual Comic-Con for It was going to take something major to get a post up--and Yao's 21 pts. in a Olympic warm-up win vs. Angola wasn't it (nor was Team China's subsequent loss to Australia).

Ron-Ron is asking permission to board the Rocketship and the brass have open arms. Suddenly, the Rockets are a Championship contender and it costs them only Bobby Jackson, Donte Greene and a 1st rounder next year (oh, and 1 mil out of Les Alexander's pocket). Has Morey done it again?

There is some similarity in this trade to the Battier move two seasons ago in that the Rockets are giving away a young, athletic player with huge upside--but questions about motivation--for a defensive-minded small forward. Far less will complain about this one, however, and the reasons boil down to Artest's toughness, his ability to create for himself and his team and everyone loves a bad boy. But for that you risk Ron-Ron unpredictability--something you never had to worry about with Battier.

There's no doubt Artest can be a huge difference-maker on this team, there's also no disputing that he has been a distraction on every team he's ever played on. Still, he likes Adelman, who was a major factor in his desire to come to Houston, and maybe this is the year he gets it right. Maybe. If not, the Rockets can cut him loose in '09. He's the quintessential high risk, high reward paradigm but Morey's put in work diminishing that risk, if just a little. Yes, it's only two first-rounders and Bobby Jackson but if Artest flips, it's another year gone for the Rockets vets. But enough of the critical eye, it's time to let the fan flag out. I'm all for Ron-Ron getting his **** together and my boy, Duke, has been begging for him all year. Even if I don't believe they're a real contender yet, it should make for an interesting run.

Originally posted at Yao Central on July 30 07:50 AM.
Picture courtesy of

Monday, July 07, 2008

Yao Links: Olympic Raffle and Kobe Cussing

1.) John over at Yao Ming Mania has some great pics of Olympic posters in Beijing posted by Raymond.

He also has info on a raffle Yao is holding to help raise money for his Yao Ming Foundation. The winner receives a trip to the Beijing Olympcs and prize package that includes: round-trip airfare from any U.S. city to Beijing, a 7-day hotel stay, 2 tickets to the China-USA game, a $1500.00 cash stipend and guided tour of the Great Wall of China. The prize even pays the tax for you. Enter the raffle at:

2.) CCTV reports that Yi Jianlian has led the Chinese men's basketball team to their 9th consecutive warm-up win leading up to the Olympics. Apparently, their longest since coach Jonas Kazlauskas took the helm. Jianlian and former NBA forward, Wang Zhizhi combined for 41 pts in an 89-73 win over Australia. Video link included.

3.)'s Bill Ingram sees James Posey as a good fit in Houston. Who doesn't Posey as a good fit anywhere? Apparently, Posey is considering returning to Houston.

4.) The Las Vegas Sun's Rob Miech has a great story/editorial on why Kobe might want to learn to cuss Yao out in Chinese.

Originally posted at Yao Central on July 07 08:52 AM

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Donte Greene's Gunnin' for the No. 1 Spot

Last night, my girlfriend and I went to see the opening night screening of the high school basketball doc, Gunnin for that No. 1 Spot directed by Adam Yauch (better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys). Unfortunately, its not playing in Houston yet and there's no real schedule to get it out there (its due in Dallas July 11). That's one of the perks of being in New York City, I guess, we get the little movies first, hopefully the box office catches up with the film's critical acclaim and Houston becomes a destination. Yauch was even there for a little Q&A after the screening, a pleasant surprise we didn't know about beforehand.

Anyway, Houston Rockets rookie Donte Greene is one of the eight featured players in the film shot in '06 that covers New York's Elite 24 game held annually for the Top 24 prep players (of any grade level) at Harlem's famed Rucker Park. If you're a basketball fan then Rucker is definitely a place worth visiting. The mystique is palpable. I actually got the chance to run some games there with Gunnin' expert and Elite 24 announcer Bobbito Garcia at the Rucker on Tuesday as they filmed a spot for local television. Just being there was an experience. Little crowds popped up just for a random midday game.

But back to Greene, if you liked him already, you'll like him even more after seeing this movie, which is the genius to Yauch's approach. He didn't just want to record a basketball game, he wanted to get to know his players. You'll see Greene, a Baltimore native, just trying to lift his family out of a bad situation. Like a lot of the players, he's singularly focused, just trying to get to the next step. You'll see how he's been compared to Carmelo Anthony (also from B-More) his entire high school career and how he's followed in his footsteps. You'll meet his grandparents, who've taken care of him since his mother died, his little brother, his family, and you'll genuinely like the guy. Its funny how knowing just a little more about someone can alter and re-inform your perception.

For one, I can see why Michael Beasley gets a bad rap for his attitude. It has nothing to do with being a bad person. The guy is just a cut-up. He can't help himself. He's an irrepressible force, a walking hurricane of personality with a sense of humor beyond his age. Any authoritarian would think he had an attitude problem, any teammate would think he was the funniest dude they ever met. He teases, he prods, he taunts, but its all in good fun. And sure enough, he dominates the movie like he dominates the court. Beasley is the kind of person that will be around the NBA for a long time... whether you like it or not.

All the featured players were very likable. From Kevin Love, Jerryd Bayless and Kyle Singler (my girlfriend's favorite because he reminds her of Ron from the Harry Potter movies) to still prep stars, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings and Lance Stephenson. You'll wish nothing but the best for their careers when the lights come up just as now, more than ever, I hope for nothing but great things for Donte Green as a Houston Rocket. Find a way to watch the movie. Petition the site, petition your local theater, its worth it.

Originally posted at Yao Central on June 28 09:21 AM

Friday, June 27, 2008

In Coveting the Rudy Incarnation

Well, Houston fans, you finally got your Rudy Gay. Or at least, you got his not yet ready for prime-time prototype, Nicolas Batum. Tall, talented, lanky, very athletic and at least three years away from really resembling what was the very NBA-ready Gay on draft day two summers ago, then he got traded. But in return, you got equally not ready for prime-time Gay prototype, but much bigger Syracuse SF Donte Green. Oh, and Memphis PF/C Joey Dorsey, too.

Morey's done it again,
the Carl Landry deal, but better and with more upside. He's taken a talented yet unproven international late first-rounder and dealt him for an arguably more talented slightly later first-rounder and a serviceable big man drafted early in the second round. Rather than settling for addressing only one position in their draft position, Morey managed two. And apparently, it was all according to plan.

I guess anyone who had Chris Douglas-Roberts on the Rockets board never actually talked to Morey. CDR might be proven on the big college stage and ready to contribute right away, but he doesn't seem to have the upside that Morey wanted--Green does. Then again, you never know until they play. Green is a project no doubt and not too unlike the other Green (Gerald) the Rockets just released last season.

Listed at anywhere between 6-9 to 6-11, this Green also isn't a great ball-handler yet, but he's offensively crafty in the half-court. And he's athletic (slightly less than Gerald) and a better shooter (than Gerald or CDR). Even if his college 3-pt numbers don't blow you away, it shows in his mechanics. Picking up Dorsey is just icing on the cake. Even though Darrell Arthur (who the Rockets initially had before trading him for Green) is a more offensively skilled big, his potential health problems are just another headache the Rockets don't need and he's not particularly strong.

Dorsey is a machine. Listed at 6-9, 265 lbs, Dorsey is Boozer-like in size. You hear me, Houston fans? Carlos Boozer-like in size. Morey is also quick to point out he was the best defensive player on the best defense in college. He's also a strong finisher at the rim, something of which Houston definitely needs more. Dorsey should fit in well. Meanwhile, second-round pick Maarty Leunen will start his career off overseas... where he'll probably make more money than Dorsey.

Here's a funny bit from HoopsWorld, under their
Biggest Draft Night Losers post:
Houston Rockets. It was surprising that they didn't draft a guard, but even more surprising they passed on Donte Green and chose Nicolas Batum instead. It seems as though Green is just a much better version of their second-round selection, Maarty Leunen, a small forward that is a perimeter scorer. If they were looking to add interior toughness, defense and rebounding, drafting Batum won't be the answer they need - he needs to be more aggressive underneath and learn to use his body more effectively.
Guess they went to publish a little early. I wonder what they'd say now that Houston pulled Green and Joey Dorsey out of the deal. Here's a link to the best Dorsey highlight reel to get you hyped about his acquisition.

The guy is a serious athlete--you'd say he was a tank except I've never seen a tank move like this. I can't remember the last big man I saw get out in the open court like this. He could play tight end for the Giants. Visions of not-blown transition baskets dance in my head. Here's a little clip of Green. Shades of a younger T-Mac, I'm loving the soundtrack. Silky...

Originally posted at Yao Central on June 27 07:44 AM

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's Draft Time Already? has the Rockets taking Marreese Speights (C, 6-10, 245 lbs) out of Florida. But NBA-TV,, and all have Houston taking Chris Douglas-Roberts (SF, 6-6, 195 lbs). The fan consensus seems to think the Rockets need Georgetown center Roy Hibbert (C, 7-2, 275 lbs).

For the first time in a long time, I'm not too concerned with who the Rockets take. Morey imbues confidence already with a solid track record. And according to Feigen's report, Morey has options and likes them. He's not expecting Speights or Hibbert to be around at 25. Hibbert might have been a possibility earlier in the off-season as international bigs (Alexis Ajinca, Ante Tomic, etc.) started getting more hype but scouts seem to have come to their senses after workouts. Speights looks better anyway.

Hibbert is big and ready to contribute. He should transition fairly easily into the Rockets system but he's always looked a little stiff to me. Speights is more agile and athletic, potentially a Tyson Chandler kind of player. A strong finisher around the rim, something the Rockets need. But alas, on almost every other board, he's out of reach. The consensus seems to be Chris Douglas-Roberts who gained national attention after his performance in the NCAA Tournament.

He's not the big man Rockets fans want but he's a natural scorer that can bring some spice in off the bench. If you saw him play you know he has an awkward yet innovative game, the kind you can't read, a big part of what makes Manu Ginobili--and Jeff Hornacek before him--so good offensively. But what really lifted these players into elite NBA guards was their tenacity on both sides of the court. Douglas-Roberts has that. He hates to lose--in fact, he claims he's never lost a pick-up game in his life.

At best, Douglas-Roberts can be a less athletic (but not by much) Shawn Marion, another awkward baller. He's a lengthy player that gets after it on defense and just finds a way to get the ball in the rim around the paint. He won't be the rebounder Marion is, but he could be a better one-on-one defender. As far as most scouts are concerned, he's already NBA ready--limited upside but tools to contribute right away. His strength is questionable but as Tony Parker can tell you (or show you) its not how strong you look, its how strong you play.

Douglas-Roberts just looks like a good fit in Houston in that he doesn't fit the description of anyone else on the roster. Of course, this is assuming the Rockets don't want to go big or for a project to considered later down the line. Morey is open to these options but if last season is any indication, he'll take the best talent on the board.

Here's some more of that athleticism...

Yes, that's Kevin Love. See, not by much.

Originally posted at Yao Central on June 26 08:32 AM

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Yao's in Threes and Detroit Trade Speculation

Michael Rosenberg at (or the Detroit Free Press to the print contingent) has officially kicked off Detroit's trade speculation season. With Joe Dumars publicly stating his intentions to "shake up his Pistons core," Detroit is suddenly rife with possibilities. What, you ask, does this have to do with Houston? Among his three plausible options is a trade with the Rockets: McGrady for Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince. How many Rocket fans would turn that down?

• • •

Meanwhile, the prognosis for Houston's other star is looking good. Yao's doctors are optimistic but still haven't cleared him to play. Nevertheless, pryuen over at YMM has a translated article from Titan Sports about Yao playing in controlled 3-on-3 games "with Mike Harris and Kenny, an assistant physical trainer," facing Loren Woods, Aaron Brooks "and a Rice University alumnus of Mike Harris."

• • •

Oh, and just one short series of observations... how about them Celtics? I didn't think a Kobe Bryant-led team could ever get blown out by 30+ in any game. The Celtics were mine and everyone not from or currently in California's favorites to win it but if they looked unbeatable last night and not terribly remorseful. Did anyone else notice the fans booing David Stern before he presented the Larry O'Brien Trophy? All Stern could do was smile like a child getting heckled on stage but for whom the show must go on. Isn't image everything to Stern's modern NBA? That was not a pretty image.

Originally posted at Yao Central on June 18 10:15 AM

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Yao Campaign

As promised, John at YMM is hosting the pics I took in Shanghai of Yao's Olympic-themed marketing campaigns. To give them some context, its not that Yao is saturating the market but that Shanghai loves its billboards. There was an equal amount of ads (or more) for other Chinese athletic stars such as Liu Xiang and the Chinese women's volleyball team.

Yao's shadowman, the indomitable pryuen, also has some great info posted on the YMM message board regarding Yao's pre-Olympic tourney schedule.

Originally posted at Yao Central on June 16, 2008 10:29 AM

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yao Looks Ahead to the Olympics

Yes, it's taken this long to get over the Rockets first round elimination in Utah. Pardon the dead cyber-space... there probably shouldn't have been high expectations for going it without Yao but for some reason the elimination hurt just the same.

Anyway, there's still plenty going on with the upcoming Olympics in China and the off-season. I'd put up an FA wishlist like Feigen, but you can't really put it any better than he did. I'd take Maggette or Pietrus, too. Maybe the Rockets should never have let Azubuike go. Here's some Yao Links for now:

Yao Links

- reports that Yao Ming has donated 500,000 yuan to victims of the earthquake that hit Southwest China yesterday. The Red Cross Society of China has opened a website and several hotlines to receive donations for the victims. For anyone who is interested in donating, information is available at the

- Yao just wants the Top 8 in Beijing this summer. That's very sensible of him if not exactly inspiring for Chinese fans. He's more interested in staying on the court. Yao Ming Mania has pics of a recent press conference and lots of interview clips.

Originally posted at Yao Central on May 13, 2008 11:08 AM