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<  Yao on the court, and his most recent game  ~  Who's better than Shaq? Yao -- and how

PostPosted: Fri Mar 17, 2006 3:06 pm
User avatarPosts: 3614Joined: Thu Feb 13, 2003 8:48 pm
by Matt Steinmetz from SportingNews

Now is as good a time as any.

It's time to call the Rockets' Yao Ming what he is: the best center in the NBA. Yes, there's that small matter of the big fella in Miami, but the reality is that the gradual upward arc of Yao has intersected the inevitable downward arc of Shaquille O'Neal.

That's nothing against Shaq. It's just that Father Time doesn't lose matchups.

O'Neal still is the most dominant player in the NBA. . . . at times. But Yao has O'Neal beat when it comes to production game in and game out.

Forget for a moment that the scoring and rebounding stats have swung in Yao's favor. The most pertinent numbers are 34 and 25. O'Neal is 34, and the cold, hard fact is he's getting worse, not better. Yao is 25 and by almost any objective measure has yet to reach his prime. In four of the past five seasons, including this one, O'Neal has missed at least 15 games. Yao had been an iron man for three-plus seasons before a toe injury sidelined him for six weeks in December and January.

But since his return, Yao has been relentlessly good, with the lone exception a 6-point blip on the radar against the Suns. O'Neal, to his credit, has been doing his thing since returning from an ankle injury in mid-December. But his big games aren't quite as big as they used to be, and they're coming a little more infrequently.

Then, of course, there's foul shooting. Popular opinion suggests O'Neal hits his foul shots when they matter. Perhaps, but O'Neal has shot less than 50 percent from the line in each of the past two playoff series his teams have lost.

Yao, who is hitting 83.2 percent from the line this season, is Houston's best free throw shooter and is shooting more free throws now that he has become a bigger part of the offense. Yao no longer is willing to go long stretches without being a factor. His selflessness, frequently cited by critics as a significant shortcoming, is diminishing. He asserts himself these days, and his teammates are giving him the basketball whenever he demands it.

In his first nine games after the All-Star break, Yao's numbers were jaw-dropping: 27.8 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. What's more, the Rockets were 7-2 in those games and Tracy McGrady wasn't around for a couple of them.

It's no wonder that even reluctant praiser Jeff Van Gundy calls Yao the "best regular-season center in the NBA." That obvious qualifier no doubt is in deference to O'Neal, who, unlike Yao, has done big things in the playoffs. Yao's playoff resume is skimpy when compared with O'Neal's.

That the Rockets are even talking playoffs, though, is largely because of Yao. Houston will head toward the homestretch without McGrady, who might miss the remainder of the regular season because of a back injury. So it's on Yao to guide what has become a severely undermanned squad to eighth place in the Western Conference standings.

That's a big-time challenge -- the kind O'Neal, in his prime, likely would have been up for. And the kind Yao, in just his fourth season, seems ready to handle.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 17, 2006 3:54 pm
User avatarPosts: 10633Location: PhillyJoined: Sat Apr 02, 2005 8:03 am
I still don't get why people say that Shaq is still better than Yao when Yao is clearly better in both rebounds and points. :x

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