We talk a lot about the Yao-McGrady Rockets and what might have been. It’s been beaten to death. But what we forget is how much potential the first version of the ‘Yao Rockets’ had. I am here to remind you of that and push you closer to jumping off that ledge.
Let’s start with Francis. This was–at the time–a guy who at the least, was considered to be on the level currently occupied by Russell Westbrook and thought by some to be a legit superstar and the second best point guard in basketball. Francis was Isiah Thomas in the making; he would only get better with age and already was pretty good. When healthy, he was carrying–by himself–teams that ran the likes of Walt Williams and Matt Bullard at the forward spots to respectable records.
Move onto the other guards: Mobley made up the other half of what was thought by some to be the best backcourt in basketball. Supremely competitive, a heady defender, and young. Consider this: the ’02 Rockets were adding a true center prospect to a core that included the best guard duo in the league. That sick feeling in your stomach is returning. Moochie Norris is easy to crack on after having gained a good 75 lbs., but looking back, the then 24-year-old wasn’t thought of too differently than how we now think of Goran Dragic – a damn good change-of-pace backup point guard who was only getting better.
This was interesting. In response to my latest Yao feature, a reader, KingJosh, wrote:
Rahat do you really think Stoudemire was the correct choice over yao? Even today I would still have taken yao 9 times out of ten, even with the power of hindsight.
Amare has a current career average of 22/9, 4 pts better than yao – yet he is half the defensive presence of yao. His team’s success has always been accompanined by 1st tier talent (Nash, J.johnson, Marion etc) and has had injury problems of his own. This year we saw amare attempt to lead his team by his own and only barely squeak into the playoffs in a piss weak Eastern confrence. There is denying that he is NOT a superstar. However when healthy, yao definitely WAS a superstar. 22 and 10 while anchoring a top 5 defence? Prime yao was a top 10 player, and a center at that.
Scoring PF with no defence are a dime-a-dozen these days, hell the rockets aqcuired one for v.span. Give me 7 years of a transcendnet superstar center anyday.
With the benefit of hindsight, was Yao the right choice? Yao finished with a career PER of 23.00; Amare is at 22.6, so the two are comparable in overall production.
Yao anchored some of the best defenses in basketball while Amare probably couldn’t guard his shadow. With that said, against certain matchups, Yao became an absolute liability on the defensive end. That was the case when Dallas went small in ’05 and against Boozer in ’07. (Chuck Hayes shut down whichever of Boozer/Okur he faced in that series.)
You couldn’t take Amare out of a ballgame – he’d always be a presence; put a 6’8 guy on Yao and the latter might as well have been on the pine. How much of that was due to the vastly superior talent Amare enjoyed by his side?
What about the postseason and clutch play? Yao averaged 19 and 9. Was he ever truly dominant. He struggled against Shaq in his first trip – that’s completely forgivable. But he was neutralized in the critical home games against Dallas when the Mavs went small and failed to punish the Jazz in ’07 for not doubling – he got his averages but we needed him to roast Mehmet Okur in single coverage.
Lastly of course, there’s the small issue of health. Amare is still going while Yao Ming has called it a career.