July 11, 2011

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Despite Injury-Shortened Career, Yao Lived Up To The Hype

By: Anson Whaley

Way back in 2002, Yao’s detractors stood almost as long as the Great Wall of China. We all remember the pre-NBA Draft video footage, right? Sure, he looked fine against a run-of-the-mill center from Oregon, Chris Christoffersen (not to be confused with Kris Kristofferson), in a one on one matchup in front of a host of NBA scouts. Yes, he could shoot jump shots and block shots as well as advertised, but we’d also been down that road before (see Shawn Bradley circa 1993).

The fact is there were question marks about Yao Ming – and lots of them.

The trendy pick for the No. 1 selection was point guard Jason Williams out of Duke. He was a ‘proven commodity’ shall we say, having played against the best amateur players in the world. Unfortunately, Williams suffered a career-ending motorcycle crash shortly thereafter, ending his brief NBA career and ensuring that the mantra ‘There is no sure thing’ remained firmly intact.

But back to Yao. The Houston Rockets gambled with the No. 1 pick taking the big man. Ming immediately paid dividends on a poor Rockets’ team, averaging more than 13 points and 8 rebounds in his first season. The best news, though, was that there was far more to come. Three seasons later, Yao averaged 20 and 10 and had established himself as one of the NBA’s best big men.

Even though Yao Ming had become an NBA star, his biggest contribution may have been expanding the reach of the league overseas. Ming was an instant hero in China and at many points over his career, was one of the league’s leaders in jersey sales. His influence was apparent when he repeatedly led the NBA in All-Star voting at center, even in seasons in which he was injured.

More importantly than that is that Yao Ming appears to be a genuinely good person. When Shaquille O’Neal mocked him with faux Chinese, Yao was the bigger person choosing to not make it a big deal. Yao Ming has also donated two million dollars and set up a foundation in order to help rebuild schools after the earthquake in Sichuan.

But on the court, the problem was that injuries eventually derailed his career. Yao missed 25 games in his fourth season and was never quite right the rest of his career. The frustrating part was that when he played, it was clear that he had the talent. From 2005 through last season, Yao was heavily injured playing only one full season over that span. But during those years, he averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Now at the young age of 30, Ming’s been reportedly forced to retire.

The announcement hasn’t yet been made official, but if all reports are correct, Yao has decided to call it a career. The good news is that he may be back. At 30, he’s still young enough to even sit out for a year or two and still have several more seasons left. One of his agents is saying the chance exists for him to make a return and that’s encouraging.

So if it’s the end of the line, where does Yao stack up amongst the greats? It’s hard to find a spot for him as a top ten center of all-tme because his career ended so early and he’s not a likely selection for the Basketball Hall of Fame. But Yao Ming was definitely one of the best centers of his era and proved a lot of people wrong on draft day.

June 21, 2011

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Mock NBA Draft

By: Joe Williams

Cleveland

Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke

Ever since the Cavs won the draft lottery, the talk has been either Irving or Derrick Williams with the first pick. It has been reported that Cleveland has decided on Irving.

Nick Gilbert won the lottery, securing the #1 NBA draft pick for the Cavaliers

Minnesota

Derrick Williams, SF, Arizona

The Timberwolves need all the help they can get. Williams and Irving are the consensus top two players in this NBA draft.

Utah
Enes Kanter, C, Turkey
With two picks in the top 12, the Jazz have options. The Irving and Williams are pretty locked in as the top two picks, so the wheeling and dealing could start here. Utah stays put and takes a 7-footer, hoping he can become one of the few legitimate big men in the NBA.

Cleveland
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lithuania
With Irving on board, the Cavs look to get some help inside. If they can hit on these two picks, it will go a long way towards moving on from the Lebron James era.
 
Toronto
Jan Vesely, SF, Czech Republic
The Raptors have a history of drafting international players. Why stop now?
 
Washington
Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas
The Wizards have plenty of young guns in the backcourt. Picking up Thompson would give them some help on the glass.
 
Sacramento
Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky
The Kings go for another Wildcat to join DeMarcus Cousins. Adding Knight to run the point will allow Tyreke Evans to move to the two-guard.
 
Detroit
Jordan Hamilton, SF, Texas
After all the trouble in Detroit with Rip Hamilton last year, nobody would expect the Pistons to draft another Hamilton. Wrong.
 
Charlotte
Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut
The Bobcats need another scorer. Michael Jordan and company hope Walker can be that guy.
 
Milwaukee
Alec Burks, SG, Colorado
Milwaukee is set at point guard and center. The Bucks need more firepower.
 
Golden State
Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State
The Warriors need someone who will crash the boards and provide some toughness.
 
Utah
Jimmer Fredette, PG, BYU
If Jimmer is still on the board here, Utah has to take him. Don’t they? The fan base will go bonkers if the Jazz pass on the Jimmer.
 
Phoenix
Marcus Morris, PF, Kansas
The Suns ought to be looking for a big man who can rebound.
 
Houston
Nikola Vucevic, C, USC
Yao Ming may need to be replaced. If Ming does return, the Rockets would be wise to have some insurance in case he gets hurt again.
 
Indiana
Bismack Biyombo, PF, Spain
The Pacers could use another big man to rebound.
 
Philadelphia
Tobias Harris, PF, Tennessee
The Sixers have plenty of young talent in the backcourt so they look to get some help for Elton Brand on the inside.
 
New York
Klay Thompson, SG, Washington State
The Knicks add a shooter to help spread the floor with Anthony and Stoudemire.
 
Washington
Nikola Mirotic, SF, Serbia
The Wizards hope the Serbian can develop into a key contributor.
 
Charlotte
Chris Singleton, SF, Florida State
There is a good chance Charlotte will not pick here on NBA draft night, but if they do they will go for the best player on their board.

Minnesota
Donatas Motiejunas, PF, Lithuiana
Minnesota shocks everyone by not taking a point guard.

Portland
Markieff Morris, PF, Kansas
The Blazers should let the team doctor make this pick and bring in the healthiest player on the board.

Denver
Marshon Brooks, SG, Providence
Good luck finding the next Carmelo Anthony at this point. Denver has lots of free agents so they could take any position. Might as well take a guy who scored more than 24 points a game.
 
Houston
Kenneth Faried, PF, Morehead State
The Rockets add another big man.
 
Oklahoma City
JaJuan Johnson, PF, Purdue
The Thunder could use a low post scorer to take some pressure off of Kevin Durant.

Boston
Jeremy Tyler, PF
Is Kendrick Perkins available?
 
Dallas
Norris Cole, PG, Cleveland State
The NBA champions will try to find a point guard to take over when Jason Kidd retires.
 
New Jersey
Justin Harper, PF, Richmond
The Nets need to get Deron Williams another scorer.
 
Chicago Bulls
Shelvin Mack, SG, Butler
A shooting guard who can score would really help Derrick Rose.
 
San Antonio
Jon Leuer, PF, Wisconsin
Tim Duncan is not the man he once was.
 
Chicago Bulls
Travis Leslie, SG, Georgia
Why not take a pair of two guards and hope one becomes the missing piece?

February 15, 2011

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NBA All-Star Weekend Needs a Makeover

By: Joe Williams

The year was 1999. The world was preparing for Y2K. The NBA All-Star Weekend was canceled because of a lockout-shortened season and Keanu Reeves starred in the Matrix.

Since 1999, Reeves has been making movies like Thumbsucker and The Lake House while the NBA All-Star Weekend has lost some of its excitement as well. Reeves’ career and the All-Star Weekend are both in need of a makeover. I’ve got some suggestions for the NBA (sorry Keanu, you are on your own).

Maybe the NBA should follow the NHL example. The NHL just held an All-Star Game with two team captains picking teams in a live draft. This is a great idea. The NBA should take it a step further.

Instead of having current players as the team captains, I say David Stern should bring in two NBA legends to coach/captain the teams. Nothing against Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich, but I would much rather see the teams led by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. We see Rivers, Popovich and Phil Jackson on TV all season. Why not change things up?

This weekend’s all-star game will be in Los Angeles. The Lakers and Celtics met in the NBA Finals last season. Both teams are among the favorites to reach the Finals this season. Why not keep the rivalry going? Imagine Larry Bird taking Kobe Bryant with the first pick, putting Kobe on the visiting team in his own building and playing against Magic Johnson’s team. Magic could counter with LeBron James as his first pick and then draft a couple of the four Boston Celtics who are in the game.

The NBA could create some great matchups with this system. I would love to see John Stockton lead a team against fellow Utah Jazz Hall of Famer, Karl Malone. How about a Reggie Miller and Spike Lee matchup? Anyone for Charles Barkley against Michael Jordan? The matchups are endless.

I also believe the NBA should take the all-star game back to the cities that no longer have an NBA franchise. When places like Vancouver and Seattle lose their team to another city, the NBA ought to keep in touch with those fans. They deserve an all-star game.

My next suggestion would be to have a HORSE competition with some of the NBA greats. I’d like to see Michael Jordan and Larry Bird play for a Big Mac like they did in a Super Bowl commercial in 1993. There are some great possible matchups for this too. I suggest a Dennis Rodman (58.4% free throw shooter) and Shaq (52.8% free throw shooter) in a free throw showdown. Of course, for the sake of time, they may have to shorten a game of HORSE to a game of H.

The last thing I would like to see change for the NBA All-Star game is the voting process. Currently, the fans vote in the starters for the game and that’s how it should be. But when a guy (Yao Ming) is voted as an all-star starter despite only playing in five games all season, something needs to change. Nothing against Yao, but he should not be on the ballot if he can’t play. That spot should go to someone who has earned it with a great first half of the season.

I would love to see these things happen but I’m sure there is someone smarter than me at the NBA headquarters who has a whole list of reasons why these ideas won’t work. I’d just love to see it happen.