Tag Archives: Yao Ming

HP Big Man Eulogy #2: Yao Ming a threat no more

Why do we always have to meet this way?

Yao Ming has a stress fracture in his ankle. That means he’s out for the month/year/career/millennium/Willennium/whatever.

And another absurdly talented and young big man goes down. Yao Ming is a veteran by NBA standards but he’s only 30 years old. Even though 30 is when you start getting up there in NBA years, it’s still young enough to matter on a grand scale in the NBA – especially when you’re 7’6” with one of the best touches around the basket these eyes have seen.

We all thought he was going to be a stiff. He was a slow, lumbering, Chinese freak coming into a league of quicker, more athletic American born players that were going to eat him alive. Charles Barkley was going to kiss Kenny Smith’s donkey (still amazing Kenny Smith has a donkey, even if only for a studio show stunt) if he ever scored 19 points in a game. He did and Chuck did.

In fact, over the first five years of Yao’s career, he improved in a way none of us really expected. I never thought he was going to be bad, but I also never thought he was going to be a guy I thought could lead his team to a title. But as he turned 26 years old and showed so much improvement in every aspect of his game, I was convinced that he and Tracy McGrady could get it done in some way. But injuries happened to T-Mac and even worse happened to Yao too.

In the first three seasons of Yao’s stay in the NBA, he played two full seasons and missed just two games in the other season. The next three seasons Yao missed 86 of the 246 regular season games. And so his career went.

Tons of potential. Immeasurable skill that could dominate basketball games. Brittle extremities that kept him from being truly great.

He’s not the only one. I gushed and eulogized over Greg Oden over the last two years. Zyndrunas Ilgauskas had similar problems. Danny Manning’s body failed him constantly. Sam Bowie became a running joke. Ralph Sampson never got to be Ralph Sampson. Bill Walton is a fused together, walking tragedy of basketball proportions. This happens to big men. It happens to everyone really. Injuries are a part of sports. Sometimes the great ones can’t stay on the court and get a chance to prove just how great they are.

But Yao sort of teased us too. That’s the really hard thing about his story. Greg Oden just hasn’t been able to stay on the court. He had a couple of nice glimpses in which he showed a world of potential. Yao Ming showed us glimpses of substance, then was too injured to stay on the court, then came back for (in retrospect) one last hurrah.

In the 2008-09 season, he played 77 games. And it wasn’t like the experiment of this season in which they limited his minutes and shut him down on back-to-backs. He played 77 games and averaged 33.6 minutes per game that season. And he posed as a big threat to the Lakers’ big title hopes in the second round.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you the Rockets win that second round series against the Lakers if Yao his healthy for seven games instead of just the three he played. The series went seven because the Lakers could coast and still come out the victor. But the threat was there and most god-fearing, non-Kobe slurping Laker fans over the age of 17 know this to be true.

Unfortunately, that’s all Yao has ever been: a threat. He threatened to be a force in this league. He threatened to be a franchise player. He threatened to be the best center in the NBA.

Now he’s out for the rest of probably this year, next year and the rest of the years. He hasn’t necessarily moved on. He’s just in another holding pattern we’re all used to seeing with him. He’s been neutralized by his bad wheels once again.

In his own words, “I haven’t died. Right now I’m drinking a beer and eating fried chicken. What were you expecting, a funeral?”

Let’s hope he can be a threat to NBA frontcourts again, instead of just a threat to Buffalo Wild Wings.

Yao-zers – Andrew Bogut Out For The Season

This just sucks. We’ve been robbed of our manifest playoff destiny once again.

Andrew Bogut is out for the year. Now, normally this wouldn’t be huge news and it wouldn’t really matter with just a week and a half remaining in the regular season. Normally, the Bucks would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a couple of weeks now and the city of Milwaukee would be turning their attention to Prince Fielder and the rest of the Milwaukee Brewers. But not this year.

This year, the Bucks aren’t just making the playoffs; they’re putting teams on notice that if you face them in the first round you’re going to be in for a rude awakening. The Bucks are scrappy but it’s a different kind of scrappy. In the past, we’ve had scrappy teams that “nobody wanted to face.” They were teams who most likely put up a lot of points or had huge glaring weaknesses that far superior teams would be able to exploit in a seven-game series. The Wolves teams from the late 90s and early 00s were scrappy but you didn’t truly fear them. Tracy McGrady’s Orlando teams were scrappy but you knew they weren’t pulling off the massive upset against better teams. But this Bucks teams is completely different.

Or at least it was until last night when Andrew Bogut seemingly slipped off the rim and fell on his right arm. The diagnosis is a dislocated elbow, a broken hand and a sprained wrist. If it was just one of those injuries, the tough Australian anchor to the Bucks defense would wrap it up and go be the destructive defensive force he’s been all season. He’d be the guy that makes you wonder if Dwight Howard is hands down the best defensive player of the year.

Dislocated elbow? He’d probably pop it back into place in a pseudo-tribute to Lieutenant Riggs and go out there and be the guy Milwaukee needs him to be. If it was a broken hand, he’d most likely tape it up, take a few painkillers and go out there to carry out the plan of his defensive-minded coach. Sprained wrist? I don’t even know that we would hear about him having a sprained wrist. Andrew Bogut is one of the toughest guys in the NBA. He has that Aussie blood running through his veins that allows him to feel very little pain. However, throw all of those injuries together into one horrible fall and you’re left with the situation the Bucks are in.

It’s eerily reminiscent to the Houston Rockets situation from last season. With Tracy McGrady on the shelf already, the Rockets lost Yao Ming deep into their playoff push against the Lakers. The Rockets were already in the playoffs and in the middle of a Round 2 showdown with the eventual champs. After Game 3, we found out Yao Ming had a hairline fracture in the same left foot that had sustained three significant injuries throughout his career. It was completely deflating for all basketball fans that didn’t root for the forum blue and gold. When you have a scrappy team with the odds stacked against them, you don’t want them to lose their best player in the middle of what could be a special run.

Would the Rockets have beaten the Lakers in the second round of last year’s playoffs? Would the Bucks have advanced to the second round or the Eastern Conference Finals on the shoulders of the biggest, toughest man in Milwaukee? Unfortunately, we will never get those answers. We’re left to guess and hypothesize instead of get a definitive yes or no to the situation.

Much like the Rockets, the Bucks were already without their best wing scorer – a fate they have grown accustomed to and are used to dealing with. They know life without Michael Redd just the same as Houston knew life without Tracy McGrady. It was something you could sort of prepare for and make due with. Any NBA wing player (outside of Sasha Pavlovic or Sasha Vujacic or anybody named Sasha) can get hot and carry his team for an extended period of time. But like that Rockets team, this Bucks team has always been praying the bad luck wouldn’t once again trickle down into the post and befall their franchise big man.

What’s left of the Bucks is an aircraft carrier with no anchor. The Bucks are left with Ersan Illyasova playing the role of a much younger Luis Scola, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute playing the role of Shane Battier, John Salmons as a heavily medicated Ron Artest and Brandon Jennings as the flashier and more swaggerish version of Aaron Brooks. And I sort of hope it works.

What we need now is this Bucks team to rally around this adversity. We need them to accept this horribly dealt hand and bluff their way into winning a pot.

I often get labeled as a Brandon Jennings “hater” because I believe Tyreke Evans is not only the better player but is far more deserving of the Rookie of the Year award. The truth is I’m crazy about Brandon Jennings. Just because I believe Tyreke is better and more likely to receive the hardware doesn’t mean I’m not a Jennings fan. I’ve always been a fan of point guards first in this league. I’m drawn to them for some reason. Honestly, I would love nothing more than Brandon Jennings to go NOVA for the entire playoffs and give the opposing defenses more than they could ever hope to handle.

I want Brandon Jennings to turn back into the Pterodactyl With Wings of Fire. I want him to find the jumper that eluded him for too long this season. I want the three-point shot to snap through the bottom of the net. I want the runner to fall, the pull-up jumper to splash and the dribble to be so succinct and elusive that defenders are left confused and trying to recreate the scene of the crime to figure out how their dignity was taken from them on Jennings’ way to the court. I want chalk outlines of defenders’ ankles on the court and William Petersen brilliantly piecing the whole thing together with his creepy beard.

The Bucks may be deflated with the loss of Andrew Bogut for the rest of this campaign but this is a new Milwaukee team. Hopefully they can show the innate toughness that their coach and defensive centerpiece have infused into Bucks basketball.

Fear the Deer.