We found out this week that the short career of Yao Ming has, sadly, ended due to injuries that he simply could not shake. We can now begin our assessments and retrospectives.
From a Marginal Win Score perspective (Glossary link), I would describe Yao as an “upper middle class” NBA player. He was not in the Wilt, Russell, Gilmore, or Jabbar category, but closer to the Willis Reed category. Here are the big man’s career win-loss numbers, followed by some analysis of the numbers by me:
SHADES OF BILL WALTON
As you can see from the numbers, Yao was a superb win producer, but not “super elite”. At his best, Yao was a +4.00 MWS player. He consistently produced +5.0 wins above 0.500% for his team, which is exceptional. Few players reach those numbers. However, Yao cannot be considered among the greatest of the great because he never produced a VALUE score of +20 in any given season. “+20″ is the mark of super greatness, and he never quite got there.
He simply could not avoid injuries. I don’t think we should be surprised by that. I don’t believe human beings were meant to grow to a height of 7’6” tall. In fact, I am amazed that more +7’2” players aren’t plagued by bone injuries.
I am also amazed that a player of such a freakish height possessed Yao’s coordination and skill. What a unique combination. Unlike most big men of his stature, Yao never relied solely on being tall (like the late Manute Bol or Mark Eaton). Yao actually had legitimate basketball talent. Yes, he was slower than Heinz Ketchup pouring from out of the glass bottle, but he knew what he was doing, and he knew how to do it. He had a sweet little jump shot, and I always appreciated his passing abilities.
Plus, as slow as he was, he made life difficult for his opposing centers. During Yao’s career, the average NBA center posted a Win Score average in the neighborhood of 12.41 per 48 minutes. Against Yao, the average center posted a Win Score of 7.58 per 48 minutes. Here are the opposition production averages broken down by category (source: 82games.com)
As the table shows, NBA centers had a hard time scoring efficiently against Yao, rebounding against Yao, and defending Yao without fouling him. As a result, the average NBA center had a hard time producing wins for his team when he was on the court with the Chinese big man, and that obviously inured to the benefit of the Houston Rockets and is reflected in Yao’s win-loss total posted above.
It’s difficult to write a succinct epilogue to Yao’s career. The essay would be full of “what ifs?”. But we can say this much with certainty. Yao, at his best, was one of the better centers of his era. We simply did not see enough of his best to say more than that.