You knew this was coming: I respect Yao but don't really buy into the hype around him. Never did.
I'm completely ready to acknowledge that Yao Ming is a remarkable center with great offense, a very nice jumpshot and an unguardable hook as we all could see again in game one. No doubt that he already has and will continue to have a good career. Maybe a great one (if he finally manages to get out of first round, that would help). No doubt that he can bury an opposing team in any given game when he gets hot with his shooting and from the line.
Yet it bugs me that he gets perennially voted as a starter into the All-Star game pretty much regardless of his performance that year (and if his countrymen were to decide along with Chairman Yi and every other player - injured or not - on the Rockets).
It bugs me that he continually gets touted as the megastar center by pundits comparing him to the all-time greats - and then little happens. Before the 2007-08 season Hollinger predicted him to be the best player in the league. It didn't happen. Like Bill Simmons wrote in his MVP column about his performance in 2008-09: "The good news? He stayed healthy. The bad news? You're getting a 20-10 and two blocks from him and that's it. He is what he is." That's great, but does that make him a superstar? Offensively maybe, but overall? Can you rely on him to consistently take the team on his back?
In contrast to Yao, people mocked 7'5'' Shawn Bradley all his career for getting - posterized - by - smaller - guys (and playing a doofus in Space Jam). You know why? Because he actually stepped in harm's way not caring how that might look to try and prevent driving players and big guys from scoring. And he did. He registered over 2100 blocks in 12 NBA seasons in a period (1993 to 2005) that saw some of the most dominant centers and players of all time. Only twelve players have more. I repeat: He is a top 15 shot blocker in NBA history since those were recorded about 40 years ago, and you have never heard about that! Tim Duncan is only about to catch him in the next game or so. Now. Yao is already in the league for 7 seasons, and with a bit over 900 hasn't even half that number. Among active players he is on par with Samuel Dalembert. Historically he just overtook Sam Bowie and hasn't reached Utah's infamous Greg Ostertag yet (1293 in 11 seasons). Doubtful that he will ever get near the leaders, Houston's very own Mutombo and Olajuwon (ironically mostly known for his offense, and namesake to "The Dream Shake").
Yes, of course defense is not all blocks. But for a 7'6'' giant, Yao also doesn't alter that many plays not showing up in a boxscore. Players don't continually move away from him or change their shot afraid to get roamed away like they do when a much smaller but more mobile center like Dwight Howard approaches. He opts to step aside to not get posterized frequently (and it still happens) - or doesn't even get on the help side fast enough. He is laterally slow and overall not very quick posing problems in transition, and not being able to step out to defend the pick and roll effectively. His team regularly takes him out for the final possession(s) so he doesn't become a defensive liability. What free throws are to Shaq, defense is to Yao. His coach often prefers to rather sit him when it matters. So while offensively incomparable, is Yao Ming actually a poor man's Shawn Bradley on defense?
That is likely too harsh. Yet he should be e.g. an amazing rebounder in an era when there are few around, but he is not. He has a career total rebounding percentage (yeah, one of those fancy advanced stats) of 16.5% placing him outside the top 100 among centers and top 200 among all players ever. That's on par with Erick Dampier and Chris Kaman. This season it has improved to 17.1% and 20.1% in this playoff series. Maybe there is hope, but that is still outside of the top 40 (top 30 of players with 500 minutes) behind...let's see...Kwame Brown.
With a bit over 4450 in total in his career (again, 7 seasons), he isn't yet in the all-time top 250. At age 28, how long do you think he will continue to play on this level? Five years? Another seven? That would be rare for a supersized center due to the beating their knees, ankles and feet take, but might give him enough time to reach the top 100 (Juwan Howard territory with around 6900), maybe maybe top 50 (9000, Larry Bird).
Bradley while relatively healthy (never missed more than 33 games in a season) for such a big guy was lazy during the offseason and failed to reach his full potential. Even Dirk Nowitzki, usually not one to publicly talk bad about his teammates or boast about his immense own work ethic, called him out recently in an interview.
Finding a way to win despite your own weaknesses is important. But, sure it’s bitter sometimes when a teammate doesn’t invest the necessary time. The best example was Shawn Bradley. He would sometimes come to training camp and not had a ball in his hands for four months. But what can you do? There is no rule. Everyone needs to figure out for themselves how to stay fit.
Yao works hard by all accounts to stay fit and improve, e.g. when he had to overcome his foot injury to get ready for the Olympics where his nation wanted to see him play. And he does improve, recording his best season to date this year.
But if Yao was not Chinese and the NBA wouldn't need him as a marketing tool to sell seats and merchandise (or cell phones), would he be viewed as the same player? Would say a Malaysan Yao be significantly more popular than other good but not much talked about centers like Zydrunas Ilgauskas? Andris Biedrins? Al Jefferson? Or formerly Vlade Divac and Shawn Bradley? Really?
So please Rockets and Yao fans, convince me why Yao is that exceptionally great, and not just exceptionally tall.