For the first time since the days of Hakeem Olajuwon the Houston Rockets have a team that could contend for the NBA Championship. ESPN’s NBA expert John Hollinger has some good news and some bad news in his latest NBA rankings. The good news is the Houston Rockets are the fourth ranked team in the NBA. There are two pieces of bad news though. The first is the Houston Rockets are the third ranked team in their division. The second is the Houston Rockets are the third ranked team in the state of Texas. That’s right according to Hollinger’s latest rankings after the #1 ranked Phoenix Suns #3, 4, and 5 are teams from the same division and from the state of Texas, the Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets.
You know the old saying “everything is bigger in Texas”? That might just be why the state of Texas is dominating sports. They have all three of the best big men in the NBA. The Houston Rockets are led by center Yao Ming. Earlier in his career Yao Ming was just really tall and not much special other than that. But over the years Ming has finally developed into a good basketball player. Obviously at 7 – 6 he’s you’re typical big man. Yao Ming is going to score a lot underneath the basket and is going to provide the team with rebounding and blocked shots.
Meanwhile, in San Antonio the San Antonio Spurs have the Big Fundamental, Tim Duncan. Tim Duncan’s 20 points per game might not look as gaudy as Yao Ming’s 25 points per game but don’t let that fool you. Tim Duncan is still just as valuable he’s always been. He’s got the best fundamental skills of any big man. After all Duncan might not match Ming in points but Duncan does grab more rebounds, has more assists and steals, has turned the ball over less and has a better shooting percentage.
The Dallas Mavericks might possess the most unique big man out of the three. There have not been many 7 footers in the history of basketball that could shoot and handle the ball the way that Dirk Nowitzki can. Dirk Nowitzki is such a good shooter that he has a higher shooting percentage than Yao Ming. That’s especially impressive when you consider that Dirk is taking outside shots while Yao Ming is a 7’6″ center standing under the basket. Yao can practically just turn around and drop the ball in the basket and yet Dirk has the higher shooting percentage.
The three big men aren’t running the NBA without any help. They all have all star caliber teammates backing them up.
Yao Ming has the best running buddy, or at least the most prolific scorer, in Tracy McGrady. McGrady’s scoring is down from past years but that is also due to the emergence of Yao Ming as a more major threat. McGrady has also become a more unselfish player; his assists are up 1.5 assists per game from last year.
The Rockets have the highest scoring big man and their second scorer might be a better scorer than the two other teams’ second scorer but the reason the Spurs and Mavericks are even better than the Rockets is because of the amount of people that contribute. Tim Duncan gets a good scoring boost from both of guards. Tony Parker is actually a point per game shy of being the leading scorer and Manu Ginobili adds 16.4 points per game. Those are the only three players on the Spurs that average more than 10 points per game but the reason the Spurs do so well is because they are one of the few teams left that actually plays defense. Tim Duncan is in the top ten in blocks, Manu Ginobili is in the top ten in steals and Bruce Bowen is widely known as a great defender. The Spurs also gets bench help from veterans such as Brent Barry and Michael Finley.
Dirk Nowitzki is getting the most help from his team which is why they have the best record in the league. Nowitzki gets close to 20 points a game from Josh Howard but in addition to that gets 16 points per game from Jason Terry, 10.8 points per game from Devon Harris and 10.4 points per game from Jerry Stackhouse. Erick Dampier adds 8 rebounds and leads the team in blocks. What separates the Mavericks from the other teams is that while they have five players who score in double digits, they also play better defense than most teams. Both Devin Harris and Josh Howard get a good amount of steals and Howard can also block some shots.
It still doesn’t end there either though. All three teams are led by three of the better coaches in the NBA. The Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy has been coaching in the NBA for 11 years and has had winning seasons in 8 of those years. Greg Popovich has also coached 11 years but he’s coached all those years for one team, making him the coach with the longest tenure. Popovich’s first season the Spurs went 17 – 47 but since then the Spurs have never had a losing season, in fact the Spur’s worst season in the past 10 years was in 2000 when they had a 53 – 29 record, not bad for their worst season. Popovich’s lifetime career is 545 – 265 and his postseason record is 76 – 47. Avery Johnson, the coach of the Dallas Mavericks, is one of the hot young coaches. Avery Johnson was hired towards the end of the 2005 season, the Mavericks responded immediately finishing the season 16 – 2 under Johnson. The following season the Mavericks had the best season in their team history going 60 – 22 and reaching the NBA Finals. Once again Avery Johnson has the Mavericks playing well, they have the best record in the league and are on pace to go 66 – 16 this season.