But gone are the days when you had to defend Yao's selection. He was far above any other center in the West... after generously moving Duncan back to the forward position. You can see just how he stacks up to the West's other leading contenders:
Yao Ming (HOU: 24-19, 9th in West)
37.2 mpg | 22.1 ppg | .501 FG% | .853 FT% | 10.7 rpg | 2.4 apg | 2.3 bpg
Amare Stoudamire (PHO: 31-13, 2nd)
32.0 mpg | 22.7 ppg | .590 FG% | .768 FT% | 9.1 rpg | 1.2 apg | 2.2 bpg
Marcus Camby (DEN: 26-16, 4th)
35.2 mpg | 9.4 ppg | .450 FG% | .681 FT% | 14.4 rpg | 3.0 apg | 3.9 bpg
Pau Gasol (MEM: 13-31, 12th)
37.0 mpg | 19.1 ppg | .501 FG% | .818 FT% | 8.9 rpg | 3.0 apg | 1.4 bpg
The most interesting part of this stat comparison, Yao leads in minutes. Yao has steadily, slowly to some, but finally reached a level of consistency in high-impact numbers over the load of increased minutes. And he's never played with more energy and fire. Which leads me to the first of a series of Yao Top 5's leading up the All-Star Game:
Top 5 Reasons Yao Gets No Asterisk by His ASG Start This Season
1.) More posters: Yao has posterized more unwitting opponents with emphatic dunks and blocks in the first half of this season than in his entire career. The fear is starting to set in. Yao's no longer bringing just the Charmin around the rim, now he's bringing the pain. Just keep dunking the ball. Keep dunking the ball. Like mantra. He had a little relapse in the Portland game, but he remembered. Keep dunking the ball.
2.) Better defense: It's still not perfect, he's still not quite an elite shot-blocker but teams are starting to learn this year not to get silly around the rim with Yao in the paint. Refs are coming around slowly, but around nonetheless, by not bailing out players who just want to slam their bodies into Yao. 2.3 bpg is good for 7th in the league; 6th really if you discount Theo Ratliff whose only played 6 games.
3.) 4th quarter free throws: There's no other center in the league I'd rather have at the free throw line to ice a game. Even though he missed those two vs. San Antonio, the guy's the closest to an automatic FT shooting center I think I've ever seen.
4.) Dominance in the offense and the opposing defense's gameplan: Yao is one of the few big men in the league who's not just a finisher but also a fantastic playmaker. He is completely unselfish, almost to a fault, and always trying to find the open man. His 2.4 apg is a career-high but that figure isn't indicative of how important he is to the offense. I'd make a bet that Yao has more "hockey assists" (meaning the first of two passes to the scorer) than any other center in the league. No big man in the league gets more double and triple-teams than Yao. With nearly every team designing a scheme specifically to stop him, it's fairly obvious just how dominant a player Yao has become in the minds of coaches league-wide.
4.) Increased minutes, stamina and vitality: I don't know if it's a ginseng cocktail or loads of Red Bull but Yao is finally in it for the long haul and the Rockets can count on him to go late into the 4th even after carrying the squad through 3 quarters. He's been showing signs of this for the last two seasons despite the injuries, but there's still another 39 games to go. And then there's those playoffs. Keeping Yao at around 35-37 minutes a game is ideal. He'll be at 40+ come playoff time. He's looked like he's ready for it all season.