Houston, We Have a Problem

Randy LutzCorrespondent IMay 10, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 06:  (L-R) Ron Artest #96, Aaron Brooks #0, Kyle Lowry #7 and Yao Ming #11 of the Houston Rockets huddle against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 6, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Coach Adelman, this is Houston, we have a problem.  We have a 7' 6" tower in the middle of the lane that we’re not using.  It seems to be just taking up space on offense, and it seems that despite it’s presence in the low post for the past seven years, we still haven’t figured out exactly how to use it to our advantage.

You see the real problem is, the only way that the tallest player in the league can get his hands on the ball is by rebounding.  It’s amazing to watch, this man who towers over everyone in the post is typically opposite where the ball is, watching teammate after teammate jack up poor shots.

While watching the third game in a series that may stretch out to seven games total between the Lakers and Rockets, I can’t help but wonder…the Rockets do realize Yao is 7’6” don’t they?  I mean yes, he’s human.  Sure, I’ve seen him blocked before (once by Kobe tonight in what was truly an amazing defensive play) but still, he’s a giant. 

There was a time in this league that it was widely believed you simply couldn’t win a title without a dominant big man.  For many years the league was essentially run by the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, and George Mikan.  Years later we saw players such as Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson lead their teams to NBA titles.  More recently Shaquille O’Neal left everyone’s mouths gaping with shattered glass, broken backboards, and ultimately four titles (as of the writing of this article).  What I’d like to know is where have those days gone?

With the athleticism of many of the players currently entering the NBA, it seems as if the value of lining up a human skyscraper has fallen by the wayside.  The likes of Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and others with similar skill sets have not taken away from the talent of the larger players, but instead has erased them from the game plan entirely.  The proven philosophy of pounding the ball down low and beating the other team up in the post has become a clear second to the electrifying and dare-devilish moves smaller and more athletic players are able to pull off.

I have several problems with this and they’ve almost all been displayed for us here in the first three games of this series.  In Game 1 we saw Yao post 28 points in the process of stealing a game from the Lakers on LA’s home court.  In Game 2 we saw the Rockets almost completely ignore their low post offensive power, as he only took 4 shots from the field and was held to 12 points while still grabbing 10 rebounds (3 offensive).  Now the Rockets enter Game 3, and most would think they’d surely learned their lesson.  Those of us who might be tempted to think that however, are soon shocked to see Ron Artest jack up three point shot after three point shot, and watch Aaron Brooks do everything in his power to not only keep the ball away from Yao, but keep it off his side of the court entirely! 

Yao must have been growing impatient as we all watched him start really getting aggressive on the offensive boards, cleaning the glass to the tune of six offensive rebounds as we near the end of the game.  The sad thing is, he had to do this just to get a shot.  In the final minutes of this game it seems as if someone reminded Coach Adelman what worked for him in Game 1 and they began to try to push that ball back down to Yao in the post and shockingly-began seeing that lead the Lakers had shrink.

As I watch the end of this game, a game that will almost surely go to the Lakers and allow them to go up 2-1 in the best of seven series, I wonder if now that Yao seems to have finally come to the realization that he’s 7’6”, will his team ever figure that out?  Will there be a time in the near future that we’ll see another team that reverts back to that old philosophy of pounding the ball down low or is this style of play a thing of the past?  At what point will seven footers in the league have made a full circle from being the most sought after commodity in the NBA to being nothing more than obstacles in the way of smaller more athletic players on their way to a flashy slam dunk or layup?


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