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NBA - NBA's Top Rookie Finally Arrives

By Bill Ingram
Thursday, November 28th, 2002
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No one was sure what Yao Ming would bring to the Houston Rockets. The 7-5 Chinese star averaged 30 points, 19 rebounds, and 9 blocks per game for his team in China last season, but how does that translate to the NBA game? The Chinese Basketball Association is basically a six-foot and under league, so there are plenty of questions as Yao Ming tries to make the transition from China to the NBA.

Yao Ming did not impress too many people with his first few appearances for the Rockets. He had trouble holding his position in the low post, and picked up lots of ticky-tack fouls. He had trouble holding onto the ball, often losing it to smaller players who were zoning him out and stripping him as soon as he caught the ball. Yao Ming was frustrated, but then he had a convesation with teammate Glen Rice that changed his approach to the game and made him a factor overnight.

It seems it's not cool to dunk in China. Apparently dunking the ball is like dishonoring your opponent, and thus Yao Ming did not come to the NBA expecting to play above the rim. Glen Rice pulled him aside and explained to him that he should dunk the ball as soon as he catches it, and explained the difference between dunking in the NBA and dunking in China. It didn't take long for Yao Ming to take to his new instructions.

In his next game, Yao Ming scored 10 points on 5-6 shooting, four of them dunks. He still had some foul trouble, but for the first time, he was a legitimate presence in the post. He would only get better. Playing his next game against a Lakers team that was missing Shaq, he scored 20 points on 9-9 shooting and helped the Rockets get the win. Yao was just getting started.

Yao Ming's breakthrough game came on Thursday in Dallas. He came off the bench to score 30 points (10-12 FG) and collect 16 rebounds. Shawn Bradley was defenseless to stop the Chinese sensation, and only a low-post zone slowed him down. Yao Ming became Houston's official starter that night, as coach Rudy Tomjanovich put him in the starting lineup for the next game. Yao Ming responded with 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks in the first start of his career.

Clearly, Yao Ming has arrived. He is still going to struggle to play with the bigger centers in the league, but he is going to dominate the many smaller starting centers around the league. Rookie of the Year? Too early to call. He is certainly making life exciting for Rockets fans, though.

Visit "The Rocket Guy," Bill Ingram, at TheRocketGuy.com.

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