Yao Ming: Is He A Hall Of Famer?

While we might’ve seen this coming – the end of the road for Yao Ming – we weren’t ready for it just yet. Now the next phase in Yao’s life has all but begun. Gone will be the 20/10 nights. Gone will be the All-Star games. And gone will be any chance at a championship.

The focus has shifted to his place in history. Is he a Hall of Fame player? Some say he didn’t do enough on the court, and that should be the only thing that matters. Others say his overall impact was greater than probably half of the players already elected into the Hall of Fame.

Now that Jeff Van Gundy checked in with his opinion, we figured we would go at the debate ourselves. So is Yao Ming deserving of the Hall of Fame? We argue. You decide.

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You could call Yao Ming an architect.

A transcendent physical specimen who bridged the basketball gap between China and the United States, he globalized the game – constructing a virtual runway for millions of fans, thousands of miles apart. For that, we are ever thankful.

Having said that, we’re arguing his influence on the game as a player, not as a “contributor” (a separate Hall of Fame category in which you can be inducted).

Individual statistics are an NBA player’s resume, a way to look back on a player’s career, appraising his worth, calibrating his influence and equating his legacy.

Let’s say you run the NBA Hall of Fame. You have dictatorship-like power and every induction is made by you and only you. The resume of Player X has just been placed on your desk.

It reads:

Player X played eight seasons in the NBA. Of those eight seasons, only two were full seasons. Of the 486 total games, 170 were missed. Player X reached the playoffs four times – only once making it out of the first round. Player X never won a championship, never played in the NBA Finals, and never played in the conference finals. Player X was an eight-time All-Star during a historically weak center class, and averaged a career 19-9. He was undoubtedly the best player on his team for three of his eight seasons and was named to five All-NBA teams (two seconds and a three thirds).

Obviously Player X is Yao Ming. His name – for his influence and globalization of basketball – carries more weight than it should in terms of his actually on-the-court accomplishments. However, reading his resume as Player X allows for a more organic perspective. Disregarding any emotions or bias.

Yao’s most productive seasons took place from 2005-2008. Yao averaged 23.1 points and 10.1 rebounds during that four-year span (three seasons), notching career highs in points (25.0) in 2006-07, rebounds in 2007-08 (10.8) and blocks in 2007-08 (2.0).

His career playoff numbers (19.8 points and 9.3 rebounds) were almost identical to his career regular season numbers, a credit to his consistency and dependability.

However, nothing on Yao’s resume really jumps off the page. In fact, an argument could be made that during his eights seasons with Houston, Yao was only the best player on his team for three of them. From 2004-2008, Tracy McGrady averaged 24-6-6, lead the team in scoring for three seasons and was selected to three All-Star games. In his three playoff appearances with the Rockets, he averaged 28-7-7, most notably in 2005 when he averaged 30.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 6.7 apg.

Yao played only five games in 2010-11, making it impossible to say he was the best player on his team that year. By that math, Yao takes three of his eight years with the Rockets as their without-a-doubt best player.

Just to clear things up:

2002-03: Yao Ming
2003-04: Yao Ming
2004-05: Tracy McGrady
2005-06: Tracy McGrady
2006-07: Tracy McGrady
2007-08: Tracy McGrady
2008-09: Yao Ming
2010-11: Kevin Martin or Luis Scola

So you tell me. A guy who was the best player on his team for three of his eight seasons. A guy who never won a championship let alone reached the Finals. A guy who battled injuries. You tell me if this person is Hall of Fame quality. You tell me if this person belongs with the likes of Jordan, Bird, Magic, Russell, Wilt and Kareem.

I say no.

When Jeff Van Gundy boldly proclaimed that Yao Ming was a no-brainer Hall of Famer, you quite possibly scoffed at the former Rockets head coach.

“I don’t care if you put him in as player, as a contributor or put him in with his own heading,” Van Gundy told the Houston Chronicle. “This guy definitely gets in for the greatness as a player when healthy or what he did as ambassador.”

Contributor, yes. But as a player? Taking a look at his statistics through eight seasons – only four of which he played more than 57 games – didn’t rile my basketball senses one bit. In his best season, Yao averaged 25 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, and he never tallied more than 10.8 boards per game through a full season.

Numbers often don’t tell the whole story, however, and Van Gundy isn’t the only guy who will testify toward how great the 7-foot-6 center was.

“He was a great offensive player and a very effective defensive player,” Van Gundy’s replacement, Rick Adelman, told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “You couldn’t guard him one-on-one. Shaq (O’Neal) was like that. Yao was like that. They were just too good.”

Unlike Shaq, Yao wasn’t the type of guy who wanted a high volume of shots; he’d rather play within the offense and pass out of double-teams as they came. Feigen argues that Yao’s numbers are reflective to such double teams, but in the rare occasions when Yao was guarded by a like-size center in Dwight Howard, it was Yao who shined.

From Feigen’s article:

“Yao flourished in one of the few matchups in which he did not go against double-teams, averaging 23.6 points, on 56.1 percent shooting, and 10.4 rebounds in nine games against Howard. Howard averaged 12.2 points, on 45.1 percent shooting, and 9.8 rebounds in those games. The Rockets went 7-2 when Yao went against Howard.”

So he has the support from his coaches and those around the NBA (see five All-NBA selections), but does Yao have a shot at being voted into the HOF as a player after such a short and shaky career? Look no further than Croatian star Drazen Petrovic, who spent only 1989-1993 in the NBA. As an NBA player, Petrovic’s highest point average was 22.3 points per outing before his tragic death in a car accident (https://www.hoophall.com/hall-of-famers/tag/drazen-petrovic ), but even he is listed under the category of “player” opposed to “contributor.”

Petrovic’s presence in Spingfield, Mass. hints that a shortened career doesn’t necessarily mean Yao won’t eventually make it there. So call Van Gundy crazy, but think again if you were in the camp that said Yao has absolutely no shot at entering the HOF as a player.

What do you think?

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