Everybody always wants a comparison -- the natural human need to label, stamp and pigeonhole is too strong to resist. "Whoís he like?" they ask when it comes to a budding NBA player. Such comparisons are never fair, nor particularly accurate, but despite all that they are often indelible. Which is why theyíre dangerous.
No one has inspired that question, of course, more than 7'5" center Yao Ming, largely because so few people on this side of the Pacific have seen him play. By now he has been cast as someone akin to Nellie doghouse dweller Shawn Bradley and the incredibly shrinking ex-Pacer Rik Smits. The reasons are obvious -- all three are unusually tall (Smits is 7'4", Bradley is 7'6"), all played against weak competition (Smits at Marist, Bradley for one year at BYU) and all are from foreign countries (Smits is Dutch, Bradley is from Castle Dale, Utah).
Having seen Yao play both in his Chicago workout and with the Shanghai Sharks in China, Iíd like to offer a few more names -- Kevin Willis, Michael Olowokandi and Patrick Ewing. Letís throw in Kevin Duckworth, too. Does that confuse the issue? Good. Now letís look at what Yao has and doesnít have at the present time before deciding who he is and isnít:
Offense: By now you know all about his jump shot, which he can take out to NBA three-point range comfortably. That is what has inspired the comparisons to Smits, who was deadly from 18 feet. Even when he posted up, Smits looked to turn and hit a step-back J. Yao has more post moves than that, and is comfortable finishing with either hand, even though he didnít get to show it against Chris Christoffersen in Chicago.
What he doesnít do is finish strong, which has inspired the comparisons to Bradley. Several NBA talent scouts were dismayed to see Yao in Chicago finger-rolling off the glass and attempting reverse layups. I saw the same tendency in Shanghai, where he missed from close range going up soft when he couldíve dunked.
Even in light of the inferior talent in the Chinese Basketball Association, itís impressive that Yao went 21 for 21 with 21 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the championship game. He has passing and ballhandling instincts that Smits never developed. He reminds me of Duckworth in that he has a tremendously strong trunk but not much upper-body strength.
Yao, however, has had no weight training of any kind and his parents, both ex-Chinese national hoopsters, both asked if heíd have that available to him in the NBA. Yao has done squats on his own, but his routine actually reduced his vertical leap by four inches, which is easily correctable.
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