Before playing in his native country in a few hours, it’s important to reflect on Yao’s big night on Saturday, in which he unleashed the Yao we have not seen since going down against the Lakers more than a year and a half ago.
Against Indiana, Yao used his entire offensive arsenal. He had his footwork going, and more than once, he put a “Shanghai Shake” on Roy Hibbert in the paint. He used his patented turnaround jumper (though he missed it), and hit a couple of nice hook shots that impressed. His put back early in the first after a tough offensive rebound was nice as well. He may have only ended up with 10 points, but he did it on 4-5 shooting and in only 12 minutes. That’s the kind of efficient, reliable post scoring Houston has gotten from him in the past and could really use again. If Yao manages 12-15 points with 55 percent or more shooting in his 24 minutes a game, I’d be happy.
And his game helps other offensive players as well, by drawing doubles and passing out to open jump shooters or drawing bigs away from the lane with his mid range game. More than once, a Yao block or rebound even helped start a fast break, so I don’t think his lack of speed will hurt a Houston team that has learned to run in transition a lot more without him in the lineup.
He did a lot more than just block a couple of shots and get four rebounds in those 12 minutes. It’s hard to explain to someone who didn’t watch the game, but the defense just looks better, more coordinated and more impressive with him on the floor. With Yao on the floor, Hibbert was forced to settle for 15-footers and the second he came out Hibbert abused Hill and the rest of the Rockets bigs.
I’m certainly not ready to give Yao the MVP or even ready to say he’s capable of being the player he once was, but the improvement from the first game against Orlando to the Indiana game on Saturday seemed pretty remarkable. If it’s any indication of how he’s progressing, than Houston fans have a lot to be excited about. A couple of performances like that in his home country could do a lot to further boost Rockets’ fans confidence in him, as well as his confidence in himself.
I think he’s got a lot left in the tank, and unlike so many Tracy McGrady “comebacks,” this is a comeback I can believe in.