Posted: Wednesday August 16, 2006 12:06PM; Updated: Wednesday August 16, 2006 12:51PM
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SI.com: Why do you think Yao Ming gets such stick from the national media? The guy averaged 22 and 10 in 34 minutes a game last year, and yet most writers seem to regard him with the same stereotypes (ineffectual, soft) that dogged him in his '02 NBA debut.
Hardisty:Anyone who thinks Yao is any kind of stiff clearly has not watched him play or is blinded by stereotypes of his nationality or size. I think some members of the media don't like to admit being wrong, and many of them had no problem calling him a future bust in '02. He's always been a highly skilled player who can put up numbers, and he's improved each season. With that said, in the middle of last season even I would have questioned whether he was a true "superstar." He was averaging 19 and 9 -- very good numbers -- but he just did not seem to have the mentality needed to dominate the game.
However, in the final 24 games of last year before he was injured, a lightbulb seemed to go off in the big man's head -- he averaged 26.6 points on 54 percent shooting, 12 rebounds and 1.9 blocks during that stretch. If Yao has truly grasped the fact that no single NBA player can really stop him, the rest of the league should be concerned, because there are definite signs that Yao is becoming a force.
SI.com: Does this team have the depth to compete with the big boys in the Southwest Division?
Hardisty:I don't think you can say that just yet about the Rockets. While T-Mac, Yao and Battier form a strong trio, the Rockets are loaded with "maybes" beyond that. Rafer Alston is a solid passer and playmaker but hasn't been the long-range shooter the Rockets need at the position. Snyder improved in his second season with the Hornets, but he's a question mark. Chuck Hayes and Luther Head were pleasant surprises, but both are just entering their second seasons. And while we could see an impact on the rotation from Steve Novak, Vassilis Spanoulis and/or John Lucas III, all three are unproven rookies. A lot would have to come together at once for the Rockets to be on the same level as the Spurs and the Mavericks.
SI.com: How do you think the transition between outgoing GM Carroll Dawson and incoming personnel boss Daryl Morey will go? What players on the current roster are already Morey's kinds of guys?
Hardisty:It's early, but I think the transition will go fine. Morey may be young, but he's very intelligent and will learn a lot from Dawson next season. The key is how the chemistry between Morey and Jeff Van Gundy forms; I really think Morey is going to be as much of an asset in helping determine rotations and player combinations that are successful as much as he is signing players and making trades.
Battier is clearly his type of player -- Morey had a lot of influence on that trade. Battier is efficient in all areas of the game and does the little things that often get overlooked to help teams win. He should complement Yao and T-Mac nicely. Another player who has to be high on Morey's charts is Hayes, who is extremely high-energy. While Hayes is undersized, he was in the top three in the league in rebounds per 48 minutes and top 14 in steals. I anticipate that we will see a lot more of Hayes this season.
SI.com: What about these Rockets would surprise fans of other teams?
Hardisty:I think their record in general this season could surprise many. After their disastrous '05-06 season, Houston has fallen off the map for many NBA fans looking toward '06-07, and I would be careful in overlooking them. McGrady's health is the big key. If he can play pain-free this season -- and admittedly, while he claims to be healthy, that's a big if right now -- the Rockets could surprise to the tune of 50 wins. I believe they are a piece or two away from being considered among the elite of the West (in particular they need better three-point shooters), but a healthy McGrady and Yao is as good as any one-two punch in the NBA.