Thursday , Apr , 24 , 2003 C.Y. Ellis

Rockets find inside presence; center spot is soldified

In what was an otherwise disappointing season, the Houston Rockets did find a golden gem this season. His name is Yao Ming. And while you all may be snickering, thinking you knew he’d be this good all along, just remember that the Rockets organization themselves even had doubts. After all, this was a young man who only had experience against the weaker international players. And while he put up some nice numbers while playing for China, it was often cited that it was because the competition was so much inferior. Most thought it would take Ming 2-3 years to adjust to the physical ruggedness and intensity of the NBA game. Come to find out, it only took him ten games.

In his first nine games, Ming averaged a mere 6.6 points and 4 rebounds a game in only 15 minutes a game. At the point, most Rockets fans were whining over how terrible Ming was and how he was a waste of a #1 draft pick. It’s funny how quickly their minds changed as Ming scored 30 points and snared 16 rebounds in his breakout game against the Dallas Mavericks on national television. Afterwards, he started being consistent and providing the inside presence that the Rockets had so desperately been missing. He finished his rookie campaign with averages of 13.5 points/game, 8.2 rebounds/game and 1.79 blocks/game in all eighty-two contests. He also was voted in as and All-Star starter and single-handedly put the Rockets back on the basketball radar. He was arguably the sole reason why the Rockets increased their win total by 15 games from the previous season (28-54 vs. 43-39 this year). He showed an astounding basketball I.Q. for a rookie and proved that he was a team player. He had various highlights of his passing and showed that he is likely the only center who can be considered a threat to Shaquille O’Neal.

While all the hoopla surrounded Ming, few failed to recognize that backup center Kelvin Cato had one of his finest seasons of his career. He averaged 4.5 points/game and 5.9 rebounds/game in only seventeen minutes a contest. But if you look further within the stats, you will see that Cato also ranked #5 in the NBA in Offensive Rebounds per 48 minutes; #4 in Rebounds per 48 minutes; and #11 in Blocks per 48 minutes. He finished plays with authority and was the shot-blocker that the Rockets needed. He was a great complement to Yao Ming, and was arguably the best defensive player on the Rockets this season. Cato had so good a season that the Rockets are even now very hesitant to include his name in any trade talks (!). When you consider that a year ago Cato’s name was all over the trading block, you can tell how much of a progress and how big of an impact he had on this year’s team.

The center spot is solidified for the Rockets. They have a great young man in Ming in which the build the franchise around, and Cato has proven to be more than a capable backup. It would be very surprising to see the Rockets mess with any changes regarding the center spot. This is the one position that they can feel safe with.