Transcript of February 9 Online Chat at Sports.Sina.comAfter the Cavs-Heat game on February 9, I participated in an online chat at Sports.Sina.com. Fans submitted their questions in Chinese; Renjun Bao translated the questions into English and then translated my answers into Chinese. I tape recorded the questions and my answers in order to produce a transcript for 20 Second Timeout readers who are not fluent in Chinese. Two notes about the chat: (1) As soon as the chat was publicized at Sports.Sina.com fans began submitting questions for me to answer, so I received the first seven questions in advance; I did not know what would be asked in the remaining ones until I heard them on February 9; (2) I have slightly edited the transcript for clarity and to remove redundancies. I think that the participants asked some interesting questions and I did my best to provide informative answers:
1. If you rank the NBA's all-time great centers, what's Yao's standing? Top 10, Top 15 or Top 20?
A: I think that it is too soon to put Yao in the top ten or top 15 of all-time. I think that he has the potential to eventually get into that category--but right now if you were going to list the top ten or top 15 centers of all-time you would have to include Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, George Mikan, Robert Parish, Willis Reed, Bob Lanier, Artis Gilmore and Bill Walton (note: I should make it clear that I listed those names randomly, not necessarily in the order that I would rank them, and that this was not meant as an exhaustive list, just an indication of some players whose careers would still rank ahead of Yao's). Those are all players who have had longer careers than Yao has had at this point while performing at a very high statistical level and several of those players took their teams to at least one championship. For Yao to get into that group he would have to continue to play at a high level and then it would help also if he would lead his team to a championship or at least take his team deep into the playoffs.
2. Among those great NBA centers, whose game is similar to Yao's?
A: I wouldn't compare Yao's style to some of the centers that I just mentioned. I would compare him to some of the super tall centers, guys who stood at least 7-3. In that group you would have guys like Mark Eaton, Rik Smits and Ralph Sampson. Of the guys who had that kind of size, I think that Yao is most similar to Smits in terms of the way that he plays, except that Yao is a better player than Smits was. They are similar in terms of their shooting ability. Sampson was more athletic than Yao in terms of blocking shots and his general mobility. He moved laterally better than Yao does. Most of the guys who were 7-3 or taller--other than Sampson and Smits--were limited players. Yao is not a limited player. He has a lot of skills. So I think that Yao is already well on his way to being the greatest player in that group of the super tall centers. The previous category--the greatest of all-time--is something to be discussed a little bit further down the line.
3. With Yao as the leader of Rockets, the team was struggling. With T-Mac as leader, they are doing much better. Can you explain this?
A: This is not an easy question to answer. It is difficult to explain because Yao was playing well before he got injured. You would think that the team's record would drop off without him in the lineup. Obviously, the biggest factor in the Rockets' current success is how Tracy McGrady is playing. I think that McGrady is really playing at an MVP level; he is making everyone around him better. Of course, I think that when Yao Ming returns to health that the team will reach even greater heights than where it is at now.
4. With Steve Francis as the sidekick, Yao was not that great. With T-Mac as the sidekick, we are not sure yet. Do you think the Rockets have a chance to win it all?
A: I think that the Rockets have a chance to win the title if Yao Ming comes back soon and is healthy but I wouldn't call them the favorite to win it all. They are one of a few teams that has a legitimate chance. The other thing that I would say is that trading Francis for McGrady is the best thing that has happened for Yao. He is much better off playing with McGrady than playing with Francis; I think that the same thing is also true for Dwight Howard in Orlando; he is much better off now that he is not playing with Francis. Francis dribbles the ball too much and does not pass enough to his big men, so it is not good for Yao or Howard to play with him.
5. In your opinion, who will be a perfect partner for Yao to win a ring?
A: I think that a healthy Tracy McGrady is a very good partner for Yao. One thing that would help Yao a lot would be to play alongside an athletic power forward who could help him in terms of rebounding and who could assist him in guarding the paint.
6. Somebody argued that the only reason Yao was voted as the starter in the All-Star Game are the Chinese fans (via internet voting). We really want to know, how many votes could Yao have gotten without votes from China?
A: To the best of my knowledge, Yao Ming led in the paper balloting--the in arena voting--in previous seasons, including 2004. In this year's voting, 75% of the votes came from paper ballots, the English language section of NBA.com or from the 1250 T-Mobile stores in America where fans could submit a ballot. Based on that, I don't think that it is accurate to say that Yao was only voted in because of votes from China. All of the evidence that I've seen from this season and previous seasons suggests that that is not the case at all, that he is in fact getting voted in by fans in America, not just fans in China.
7. Which weakness restricts Yao's development most?
A: I would list three things, two in particular. The first thing is his lateral mobility. The second thing is how quickly he gets fatigued. I don't think that the third thing is as much of a problem as it had been but Yao needs to maintain his aggressiveness and attack other players. He should not be passive during games but should always be active and aggressive. I think that he has made progress in all three areas. Obviously, there is only so much that he can do about his lateral mobility.
8. In China, there are two groups: one loves Yao Ming and one dislikes Yao Ming. Do you think that it is the same in America?
A: I don't detect that there are people here who dislike Yao Ming. Obviously, people are fans of various teams, so he probably would not be a favorite player of someone who roots for a team other than the Rockets, but I don't think that there is a negative feeling toward him. I think that the feeling toward Yao is generally positive. I think that when Yao first came over there was a lot of curiosity about him and people wondered how well he would do. Charles Barkley made the statement that Yao would never score 20 points in a single game, so people wondered how much Yao would develop and how quickly it would happen. Now people see that he is a top level player.
9. When Yao does not play, the Rockets do fine. When T-Mac does not play, the Rockets struggle. Which team would go further in the playoffs, the Rockets without Yao or the Rockets without T-Mac?
A: You have to say the team with T-Mac would do better because their record in the last two years shows that. In the past two years when T-Mac has been out the Rockets have tended to lose, regardless of whether or not Yao plays. So it seems that the group of players that they have are more dependent on T-Mac than Yao. I think that one reason for this is that T-Mac creates offense for everyone by drawing double-teams, which creates open shots for other players. The thing that is strange to me is that it would seem like Yao should be able to do the same thing but for some reason it doesn't seem to happen that way or they don't use him in a way in which he would get double-teamed and pass the ball to the other players. He doesn't get a lot of assists, so it seems like they are not fully taking advantage of his passing ability.
10. The uptempo style that Phoenix plays is popular but the Rockets play a slower style. Are the Rockets too conservative?
A: The Rockets play a more conservative style than Phoenix does but that is the right style to take advantage of Yao's skills. The way Houston plays, with a heavy emphasis on defense, is actually, from a historical standpoint, a more successful way to play in the playoffs. If Houston can ever get T-Mac and Yao healthy at the same time and then get a little bit more production from the bench the Rockets could win a championship. The reason that I don't think that Houston will win a championship this year is that championship teams usually have to play together a little while and get used to each other. They added some players this year, like Battier, and I don't think that there is enough time to get everybody healthy and used to playing with each other in order to win a championship this year.
11. How would you characterize Jeff Van Gundy's coaching ability? Where would you rank him among NBA coaches?
A: I would rank him as one of the better coaches. He has already taken a team to the NBA Finals, the 1999 New York Knicks. He has proven that he is a good defensive coach; his teams perform well at the defensive end of the court.
12. Which team will win the All-Star Game and who will win the MVP award?
A: It is very difficult to predict who is going to win an All-Star Game. It is tempting to pick the West because most of the top teams are in that conference but everyone in the All-Star Game is an exceptional player, so any one player could get hot and take over the game for either team. It is almost impossible to predict who will win the MVP but it probably will be a small forward or a shooting guard, someone who gets to take a lot of shots. A lot of times when there is an All-Star from the host city his teammates try to get him the ball and help him to win the MVP; last year the West tried to help McGrady to win the MVP because the game was played in Houston--but the West didn't win and the MVP usually goes to someone from the winning team. This year, with the game being in Las Vegas, there is no one who plays on a team from the host city. Maybe Shawn Marion will win the MVP because he played college basketball at UNLV; I say that half seriously and half joking.
13. In the long run, do you think that there will be NBA regular season games held in China?
A: I think that in the long run that is the direction that things are headed, to have regular season games outside of the United States. I don't know that it will happen immediately in China but it would not surprise me if it happened eventually. I think that there have already been some regular season games in Japan, so I think that having games in China is a natural thing for the NBA to do eventually.
14. David Stern has been the commissioner for a long time. Who do you think will be the next commissioner?
A: That is an interesting question. Russ Granik just retired as deputy commissioner and Adam Silver was appointed to take his place. I think that one might consider him to be the front runner to be the next commissioner but I don't have any reason to believe that Stern is resigning soon.
15. There was a lot of hype about LeBron James before he came into the NBA. Do you think that he has lived up to the hype?
A: I think that he has. In some ways, he has exceeded the hype and has done even better than people expected. If you look at his statistics from last year in terms of points, rebounds and assists, he performed at a level that only Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan have reached in a single season. He has set a number of records for being the youngest player to accomplish various things. There were enormous expectations, yet he has met or even exceeded them and I think that this is remarkable.
The chat ended at this point before I had a chance to add one more point to that last answer: James has met the challenge individually but the next test for him is to take his team deep into the playoffs and eventually win a championship.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:29 AM