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Analysis of Yao’s game

October 2005

Since I have watched almost every game Yao has played in the NBA since 2002, I figured I would write a summary of his game for those fantasy leaguers who are considering drafting Yao in their mock drafts.

Note: I can’t guarantee that my assessment of Yao will help you win your fantasy league. You probably have a better chance of playing casino games if you want to win some real money.

Yao Ming is the consummate team player. He could score more points than the 18.3 PPG he averaged in 2004-05, but his personality is not conducive for seizing control of the offense at the expense of his teammates getting involved, especially Tracy McGrady, the Rockets’ most lethal offensive weapon. However, the Rockets would like Yao to be more aggressive and shoot the ball more, especially down low in the paint.

Field goal accuracy

In 2004-05, Yao’s field goal accuracy (55.2%) was third best in the league, mainly due to getting plenty of shots around the rim via alley-oops, hook shots, or fallaway jumpers in the lane or on the block. Surprisingly for a 7’6” big man, Yao does miss his fair share of chip shots and layups since he is more of a finesse player who is not inclined to dunk it every time he has a chance. There are many times when Yao will also miss easy dunks.


Yao is an average rebounder, which is surprising considering his height. His size seems to works to his disadvantage since it hinders his quickness to go after rebounds.


In addition, head coach Jeff Van Gundy expects a lot from his centers defensively, frequently flashing them out of the paint to prevent opposing guards and forwards from getting into the lane. This can tend to fatigue Yao more than if he were to just stay parked in the lane guarding the rim. He is a hard worker, though, frequently crashing the offensive boards to get in good position for a rebound.

Although he may not be blatantly “flopping,” Yao falls to the floor more than one would expect on both offense and defense, not unusual for many foreign players where selling a foul to the ref overseas is common.

Free throw shooting

Yao is an excellent free throw shooter for a man his size, shooting 78.3% in 2004-05. However, there were stretches of games where Yao would miss too many free throws, especially in crunch time. The main cause had to be a lack of confidence, which not only affected Yao’s ability to make free throws in games (especially in the fourth quarter), but to even make shots or grab rebounds.


Yao’s main problem is playing with consistency. He can light it up for 30 to 40 points and double-digit rebounds one night, then a couple of weeks later score less than 10 points. Part of the problem is his tendency to get in early foul trouble, thus limiting his minutes and stats. Through most of his NBA career, Yao got into the faulty habit of trying to draw too many charges by remaining stationary on the floor, resulting in a blocking call. Fair or not, the refs tend to call less blocking fouls if you’re aggressive and leap off the floor to contest the shot. Late in 2004-05 season, Yao started using that approach, and it seemed to work, reducing his foul totals and increasing his minutes and stats.


Yao averaged 2.0 blocks per game in 2004-05. But again, the lack of quickness he has in going after boards or loose balls also affects his ability to block shots. However, his shot blocking did improve late in the season and in the playoffs, where he averaged 2.7 in the Dallas playoff series.

Overall projections

In 2005-06, don’t look for Yao’s stats to increase dramatically, except maybe in the rebounding department with Stromile Swift joining the Rockets during the off-season. Ironically, it will be the presence of a power forward like Swift that will make it easier for Yao to grab rebounds and grab tipped balls, kind of like how power forward Kelvin Cato (before being traded to Orlando) freed up Yao’s game.

Yao’s lack of quickness will keep him from dominating like Shaq, and T-Mac’s offensive firepower will prevent his from having to score lots of points. However, Yao does benefit from T-Mac’s ability to draw a double-team and pass to the open man, resulting in easy shots around the rim for Yao and a high shooting percentage. In the Dallas playoff series last year, he was virtually unstoppable when he got the ball, shooting 65.5% from the floor.

For fantasy leagues, Yao is probably worthy of being the first or second center drafted (behind Shaq), but there are probably a dozen or so players who could be prioritized over Yao in the pecking order.

The one potential upside to these projections is the benefit of the rest, relatively speaking, Yao was able to enjoy this off-season. Over the past few years, many people have said that if Yao could NOT be obligated to practice and play with the Chinese national team, he would be much more effective the subsequent NBA season. This off-season Yao got lots of rest after having routine ankle surgery, and having a light practice and playing schedule before and during the Asian Championships.

Yao also had former Rockets trainer Anthony Falsone come over to China to train and condition him non-stop. Supposedly Yao is in the best shape he has ever been. We’ll see. If he doesn’t play better than previous seasons, then the “no rest” excuse many media people and fans use will no longer be valid.

The one thing I’m also wondering is if Yao developed any new moves during the off-season, like Hakeem Olajuwon was famous for doing every summer to continue adding to his offensive arsenal to make him unstoppable in the regular season and playoffs. So far I haven’t heard anything like this in the reports I have been reading from China. For Yao’s sake, I hope he has, because the expectations on Yao this season are higher than ever, especially after getting the maximum 5-year deal from the Rockets.

john b [at] YaoMingMania.com