Since the Rockets won the lottery on May 19th, Houston fans have been on a nonstop rollercoaster ride, fueled by misinformation and false claims, trying to find out who the Rockets would take with the top pick.
For the Rockets, it was never a question: It was Yao Ming all the way.
The 7-foot-5 center out of China will be a Houston Rocket after being chosen with the top overall pick Wednesday night. It's a bold move that will put the Rockets on the international basketball scene and more importantly, it solidifies the Rockets' future at the center position.
"I am very happy to be joining the Houston Rockets," said Yao.
You think you're happy, Yao.
Props to Yao's reps in China and the Rockets for not folding under pressure and getting this delicate and difficult deal done as personally, I feel Houston landed a gem of a player in the 21-year old Yao.
Yao gives the Rockets an immediate shot-blocking presence. He's athletic. He can handle the ball extremely well for his size. He can knock down the 15 to 17-footer consistently. He can hit the boards. He's got terrific passing skills, hits free throws consistently and is an all-around player. He's a smart kid who works hard, and for that reason I think he will see success in this league.
So many "experts", who have never even seen Yao play, boldly proclaim this is China's version of Shawn Bradley, or if they don't stoop that low, they dismiss Yao as trivial since he will never stop Shaquille O'Neal.
No one can stop Shaq, and no one since Hakeem Olajuwon has been able to come up with an answer for Shaq, yet we're supposed to listen to these narrow-minded "experts" as if they have the solutions? If Yao was 4-5 inches shorter he'd be compared to Pau Gasol, but his height in our society draws stereotypes of clumsy, worthless players, so he must be Manute Bol.
Watch the video. This is no clumsy toothpick.
He will have an impact. He can play in the high post, drawing outside the more low-post oriented centers. He will make the explosive backcourt that much more effective. Already at 300 pounds, Yao has the lower body strength to post up a good portion of NBA centers right now. I think right off the bat we're going to find he will have a tough time staying out of foul trouble, but with experience, that will pass and in a couple of years this kid could be one of the very top centers in the league.
The Rockets players, very skeptical at first, have warmed up to this pick.
"He's a very skilled player and that's fun, and he can pass the ball too," said Cuttino Mobley, who in late May had said he preferred the Rockets trade the pick. "We'll feel him out after he gets here. I'm sure everything will work out. He's the No. 1 pick and he has skills, he's not just your average 7-6 dude."
And once the Rockets actually see him play, up close and personal, they will realize why the Rockets knew all along Yao was the pick to make.
The draft chat was exploding as it got closer to the Rockets' next pick. Caron Butler was sliding, and was eventually nabbed at the 10th pick by the Miami Heat. But some big breaks came for the Rockets that proved critical. Melvin Ely went #12, Marcus Haislip went #13 and then Fred Jones (yes, Fred Frickin' Jones) went #14 to the Pacers.
When Jones was called by Indiana, there was an absolute explosion in the chat as the Rockets now had their choice between Qyntel Woods and Bostjan Nachbar.
They made a terrific choice, nabbing Nachbar, the sharpshooting 6-foot-9 Italian league forward, with the 15th pick.
Nachbar, who turns 22 next month, is a terrific shooter and an excellent finisher on the fast break. He can create his own shot off the dribble and has no problems draining jumpers off picks. While Nachbar needs serious work on his defensive game, this is a player who has a real chance to be a special offensive player in this league.
Personally, I can't believe they got him. Shortly after Nachbar worked out for the Rockets last Sunday, the word came in: the kid put on an offensive show. "Out of around 70 shots from mid-range to three, he may have missed 8. He simply shot the lights out," said one Rocket source. I'm also told he measured here at closer to 6-foot-10, though that was most likely with shoes on.
There are weaknesses or question marks with Bostjan, primarily defense, as mentioned before, and also his toughness, but Nachbar has been playing the past 5 seasons with the Slovenian National Team and in the Italian leagues and isn't some wide-eyed newbie with no big game knowledge. He has experience.
You will recall we passed along back in early May that the Rockets were eyeing Nachbar in Italy and Rudy T spoke on the radio after the draft saying he was impressive there, throwing down numerous slams.
"The scrimmage I watched over there, he had 10 dunks," said Rudy. "They were not [just] going through the motions. He's a competitor and a very good fit for our team."
Nachbar reportedly has a million dollar buyout to get out of his contract with Benetton Treviso, meaning he will fork over some $650K of his own cash, which he has stated he plans on doing.
This pick could pay off handsomely for the Rockets.
With their only pick of the second round, the Rockets selected 6-foot-4 point guard Tito Maddox.
Maddox was booted off the Fresno State team before last season for receiving benefits from an agent while he contemplated entering the NBA draft. It was the second time Maddox had committed that offense, missing the first 8 games of his freshman season for accepting plane tickets from an agent.
All Maddox has played in the NCAA is 25 games as a freshman, but they were an impressive 25 games. He formed a deadly 1-2 punch with big man Melvin Ely, averaging 13.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 8.0 assists as he led Fresno State into the Top 25, but he did draw some criticism for tailing off near the end of the season, possibly because he had his eyes on the NBA already.
He has great handles, can push the ball up the floor and will make the highlight-reel pass if needs be. He reportedly was considered the best pure point at the pre-draft camp, though that is not saying much given the competition there. Had all gone well for him in school and we had seen more of Maddox, it's likely he would have been a solid first round pick.
As it stands, this is a selection with a lot of upside, and one worth taking a chance on. Considering the Rockets have Steve Francis, Moochie Norris and a low-priced backup in Tierre Brown, they definitely saw something they liked here.
Do I like this draft? I absolutely love it. It could not have gone any better. The Rockets came in needing a center and small forward, and they went international, nabbing two talented and competitive players who could pay big, big dividends.
What you saw tonight were the elimination of 2002 Rockets jobs for Kevin Willis (Ming), Dan Langhi (Nachbar) and Tierre Brown (Maddox), who bless his heart went to the Rockets draft party at Dave & Buster's only to find the team drafting his likely replacement. We also now know the "future" starting 5 of the Houston Rockets in Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Bostjan Nachbar, Eddie Griffin and Yao Ming.
I am simply thrilled the Rockets will have Yao.
While I think Ming has the potential to be a top 3 center in the NBA in a couple of years, Nachbar could prove to be just as valuable. If the Rockets are serious about a running game (and last year they were not), a guy like Nachbar could prove to be a vital cog in the offensive attack. Tito Maddox has very little college experience, but he was a highly rated point guard at that time and will be learing the NBA guard ropes from Francis and Mobley.
Rudy, Les, CD, Mr. Goldberg and the entire Rocket organization: Take a bow. Your hard work resulted in a top notch draft.
Draft grade: A+