- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Yao Ming is having a breakout season, and his potential remains limitless.

The 7-foot-6 center for the Houston Rockets is averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds for the first time, one of only four players in the league with those numbers.

Since returning from toe surgery Jan. 30, Yao has averaged 23.3 points and 11.2 rebounds. Since the All-Star Game three weeks ago, he boasts 27.5 points and 13.3 rebounds a contest. In other words, he’s getting better every month.

Yao’s future looks even better: He’s 25, Shaquille O’Neal is 35 and there are either no true centers left or 7-footers interested in playing the position.

Players who average 20 points and 10 rebounds usually do so for a number of seasons.

O’Neal averaged 20-10 for the past 13 seasons and Tim Duncan for the past eight, although both streaks are in danger this season.

Hakeem Olajuwon hit those milestones 12 times, and Karl Malone did it 10 times. Patrick Ewing did it nine consecutive seasons, and his first one wasn’t until he was 27.

That’s the player Yao is most similar to: Ewing, one of Houston’s assistant coaches.

Both are offensive-minded centers who aren’t as imposing as they look on the defensive end. Like Ewing, Yao can hit the 15-foot jumper.

And most importantly, both adjusted to NBA officiating. Many players, especially big men, average more than three fouls a game when they first enter the league. Then they adjust.

Ewing improved in his mid-20s for the same reason as Yao. They committed fewer fouls, so they were able to play more minutes and put up more 20-10 games.

Ewing averaged 35.4, 35.0 and 31.0 minutes a game in his first three seasons, partly because he also averaged 3.8, 3.9 and 4.0 fouls.

Part of Yao’s problem also has been his stamina. He averaged 29.0, 32.8 and 30.6 minutes his first three seasons because of his 2.8, 3.3 and 3.7 fouls a game.

This season, the fouls are down to 3.4 a game, and he’s averaging a career-high 34.0 minutes.

Yao is not an intimidating force on defense and may never be. Sunday, both Michael Finley and Manu Ginobili of the Spurs dunked on him.

But Yao didn’t pick up fouls on those plays either.

It’s more important for him to get back down the court and match those points.

The Rockets would be smart to add a defensive-minded enforcer to play beside Yao, not an athletic player like Stromile Swift. Patrick Ewing had Charles Oakley.

Bill Walton had Maurice Lucas.

That’s the best way for Yao to reach his limitless potential.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide