Wednesday, March 12th, 2008 at 3:00 pm  |  39 responses

Carl Landry’s Rise and Yao’s fall — the view from China

Alan Paul weighs in from the other side

By Alan Paul

I’ve been watching Carl Landry’s emergence with the Rockets with special interest. He was one of 10 Junior College players I selected to profile a few years ago for Slam’s then annual roundup of the country’ best JUCO players. It was always a tough job because the number of people who closely follow the JUCO scene is somewhat limited and with a few notable exceptions, they always seemed to have widely diverging and very regional perspectives; a Texas expert might not know anything about Cali players.

Every year, I tracked down as many players and coaches as I could find to talk to, to help form my list and also to write the story.

Landry always stayed in my mind because he was one of the guys I caught up with and I really enjoyed speaking with him. It seemed to me that he embodied everything I hoped to find in a JUCO player, having struggled through the adversity of not qualifying out of high school then coming out of the two-year juco experience sounding optimistic, articulate and appreciative of being featured.

I also spoke to his JC coach Dan Sparks and it was clear that he had genuinely warm feelings for the kid. I was pulling for him and have kept my eye on him ever since. I have done this with all the guys I covered in these stories and a few have done okay, but by playing a key role on one of the hottest teams in the history of the NBA, Landry is, of course at the top of the list.

My original little story on Landry follows at the bottom of this post, but first some thoughts from China on Yao’s injury, which gave Landry his increased opportunity but is being viewed as a national crisis here in China. People here love the Rockets to be sure but their fate is not the cause of concern – it’s all about Yao’s ability to play in the Olympics, which is now in doubt.

Think about the difference between this and the way that Kobe Bryant’s decision to postpone surgery on his finger was treated in the U.S.; how quickly did anyone mention the threat to Kobe’s participating in the Olympics? It is clearly an issue, but was far from the top of anyone’s agenda. Had Yao faced a similar option of surgery now, threatening the Rockets season, or post-season, threatening the Olympics, there would have been a massive uproar in China is he had even contemplated not making the Olympics a priority.
The huge headline in the state-run China Daily newspaper read Chinese still hopeful Yao Ming will compete at the Olympics. The story began as such:

BEIJING – Yao Ming’s season-ending injury has China thinking the once-unthinkable: The host nation’s biggest, boldest and glitziest star might miss the Beijing Olympics.

While doctors say he should still make the Games, healing is expected to take until around June – perilously close to the Olympics’ August 8 opening ceremony.

When we heard about Yao’s injury, we felt shocked and concerned just like all the basketball fans in China,” Bai Ximin, manager of the national men’s team told a packed news conference.

“We can totally understand how he feels right now and we hope he’ll remain positive and optimistic while receiving treatment,” Bai said.

Yao’s injury dominated coverage in leading newspaper Titan Sports, which offered a hopeful note.

“The only thing offering Yao Ming any solace at this time is that his injury will not force him to miss the Beijing Olympics of his dreams,” Titan said.

Doctors blamed the injury on accumulated stress on the bone, rather than any single incident. Titan said the true cause was the Rockets’ failure to provide a reliable substitute for Yao, forcing him into too much game time.

“In fact, exhaustion was really the major reason behind Yao Ming’s injury,” the paper said.

Titan is the publisher of the Chinese language Slam and their basketball reporters are friends of mine. I thought it was really interesting that they were blaming the injury on the
Rockets overworking him, while the perspective from the U.s. as far as I can tell from my copious online reading is the opposite: he is suffering from working so hard every summer with the Chinese National Team.

The whole country seemed to exhale a huge sigh of relief when it was reported last week that Yao had successful surgery on his foot. As China Daily reported,

Yao is key to China’s hopes of a medal in the Olympic basketball tournament at the August 8-24 Games and a leading candidate to perform the prestigious role of lighting the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony.

“I am very relieved that everything went well with my surgery today,” Yao was quoted as saying.

“I look forward to getting better and starting my physical rehab as soon as the doctors say I can. I would like to thank everyone for their kind wishes during this time and I look forward to the day that I can rejoin my Rockets teammates on the bench.”

6-8, PF, Vincennes (IN) College

Like many JC players, Carl Landry didn’t have the grades coming out of high school to play D1 ball. He’s just happy that he decided to attend Vincennes College rather than sit out a season as a D1 partial qualifier. “I thank God I made this decision,” says Landry. “I learned faster on and off the court and I really grew up. You only have two years at a JC and they expect you to help right away. Coach [Dan] sparks showed a lot of confidence in me from the start and I ran with it.”
As a frosh, Landry averaged 14 ppg and 7.4 rpg and this season he went for 19 and 9. He hopes to continue his improvement at Purdue.
“He’s got great hands, is a great finisher and pop it from outside consistently,” says Sparks.
Landry, a Milwaukee native, says that his versatility is his biggest strength. “If a bigger player is on me, I can step out and if it’s a smaller guy, I can take him to the post,” he says. “Going into this year, I felt my game was there but I wanted to improve my confidence and leadership and figured everything else would fall into place and it did. Now I just need to keep working hard and develop my jumpshot a little more. Then everything else will fall right where it should be.”

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  • whooo!

    the point about china blaming the rockets really is interesting. i looked at the guy’s mpg averages and they’ve steadily been increasing. it used to be a mere 30 mins, and this year was the highest at around 37 mpg. that’s pretty damn high, tied for 31st w/ peirce, melo, and monte. his higher minutes have been a prime example of the work he’s put in on his conditioning and avoiding fouls, and his stats have really benefited. but a 7’5 guy probably shouldn’t be playing that much considering he doesn’t get offseason breaks like everyone else.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Vincennes College–that’s where Matrix went too, is it not?

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    And also, thanks for the Yao perspective. Personally, I think the Rockets should put him on the market this summer. Guys his size just don’t have a good track record health-wise, and I’m not sure whether he and McGrady will ever truly mesh. Either that or try and surround him with more spot-up shooters and slow the pace.

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    quick question AP, did you have to translate all those newspaper quotes from chinese? how’s your madarin and your chinese coming along?
    also a nice read on yao’s injury from china’s perspective. i was interested to see how they were gonna spin it.
    and Russ, there’s no way rockets will put Yao out there simply because it’d cause an uproar in china, not to mention big time revenue loss.

  • http://tadone.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Izzo? And Russ: Do you really think the Rockets would seriously shop Yao to other teams?

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    I don’t know if they would–precisely for the reason albie cites–but I think for the good of the team they should. Part of the reason I think they’ve been so good lately is because they have an identity. They’ve never quite sorted out how to properly use both Yao AND Tracy simultaneously. In fact, I think they manage to make each other LESS effective.

  • http://tadone.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Yao would do well with a pure PG who can shoot. Not too many of them around. Rafer is like the opposite.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Seems to me that Yao would be most effective in a halfcourt system where he could score in the post and pass to spot-up shooters out of double-teams. Tracy needs to play a more uptempo game where he can create mismatches and score in transition whether it be off drives or pull-up jumpers. I just don’t see how it’ll ever really work.

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    i never really could figure out why two such offensive forces cannot join forces (the rockets are my team on nba 2k8), but you are probably right, Russ. although can you shed some light on how shaq and kobe worked during their 3peat? is it really because of the triangle?

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    I think the triangle had a lot to do with it, but there are just so many other differences, from coaching to teammates to Kobe’s youth and Shaq’s agility. Too many to get into in just a comment box.

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    Russ, i’d love for you to elaborate that on a column (if you have some time on your hand of course).
    if yao can go to any team in the league, which team would be able to maximize his potential? toronto sure as hell have a lot of jump shooters, and they have a huge chinese population to boot.

  • http://slamonline.com apaul

    I think the idea of having the Olympics without Yao is just horrifying here. You have to realize how much he transcends hoops.

    Albie, My spoken chinese is coming along decently but is still a frustration. I speak all the time obviously but have never studied properly and have huge holes in my knowledge I can’t really read at all. The quotes all came from China Daily, which is English language.. sort of a translated People’s Daily.

  • The Biz

    Russ i believe matrix went to unlv

  • http://www.freewebs.com/betcats BETCATS

    do the chinnes read this?

  • http://slamonline.com apaul

    who are “the chinnes”?

    I’m sure some chinese fans read this.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com/2006/01/24/eighty-one/ Joel O’s

    Mutumbo isn’t good enough as backup?

  • http://suns.orangeplanet.net Dacre

    I think Yao would benefit if he was a better player. I thought Yao was going to be the 1st player over 7’5″ to win a championship in the NBA. Jury is still out.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Yao’s already done more than any player over 7-5, not that there have been many. Who’s the best NBA player of all-time over 7-4? Mark Eaton? Ralph Sampson? Artis Gilmore (plus Afro)? Building your team around a 7-5 center is like building it around a 5-7 point guard–they’re better as curiosities than centerpieces. Come on, Yao, prove me wrong.

  • RV


  • RV

    hopefully my post goes through this time…i was expecting the streak to end since landry went down, he’s been extremely consistent and always seemed to get that big play when the team was in danger of loosing a large lead, great young player, hopefully he’ll improve his FT shooting so he can be a complete player

  • RV

    As for china, i dont understand how they could even think of blaming the Rockets, did they expect Yao to DH for houston when they drafted him? They knew he’d be playing as much as 82 games a season, plus playoffs, and they also knew he’d be a big part of the team so that means big minutes. No nba player has been able to play year round year after year, they always want a break (manu) at some point. China should have given Yao that break some time ago

  • RV

    I agreee with Russ that they Yao and tmac make each other less effective, it may be impossible to ever get them both playing at a their peak levels at the same time consistently, but i think they can still co-exist long term and make houston a dominant team. I think the best way to play Yao on this team is similar to how Rudy played Yao in the past. He’d give him his touches in the post, but there were also a lot of 15 foot jumpers. Sure, having a 7’6 center shooting 15 foot Js isn’t the most efficient way to use him, but its still pretty damn effective (90% FT) and will save Yao bumps and bruises in the long run. This would probably lower his stats though and will make him less of a star, but should bring more wins. $$ would be a problem though since it would probably make him overpaid.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Guys his size inevitably have health problems. It’s just the way of the world. The only players Yao’s height and taller who’ve played in the L have been Shawn Bradley, Manute Bol, Chuck Nevitt and Gheorge Muresan. Ming has already played in excess of 13,000 NBA minutes. Of the players listed above, only Bradley played more (19,000). He’s played almost as many minutes as Ralph Sampson. As a rule, supersized guys just don’t (pardon the pun) stand up.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Mark Eaton (7-4) played 25,000 minutes, but all he did was stand around and block shots (his season high rebounding average was 8.8). If the Rockets are going to build around Yao, they should set Mac free and try to get a slowdown, halfcourt point and a mess of spot-up three-point shooters.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    The Artis Formerly Known As Gilmore played a ludicrous 47,000 minutes (ABA/NBA), but he was only 7-2 and weighed a lot less.

  • RV

    They should just play him near the top of the key most of the time, his production would dip, but the new forwards will pick up their production, he can still go down low at times, but top of the key play would mean less physical play and shortens the distance he has to run during games, the downside, again, is he’d be overpaid

  • http://www.nba.com/games/20080312/HOUATL/recap.html hursty

    i like him and scola, it gives them a better dimension to the team and hustle, scrappiness.

  • http://nothinpersonal8.blogspot.com/ nothin personal

    they should get 20 PGs and have every one of them foul out, while stopping transition with a foul to the opposing guard. Or they should install a bus line to get Yao back and forth. Or they could give him a pair of those shoes that have a little wheel on the heel and allow you to roll instead of run!

  • http://suns.orangeplanet.net Dacre

    I’m with you all the way on this Russ. I can remember thinking that Gheorghe Muresan was going to WIPE THE FLOOR with Shawn Bradley, you know that SINGLE 30 point game he had that time can skew your vision at some point….These giants are a shin splint away from the circus.

    I’m probably going out on a limb here – but I would trade Yao for a ‘smart PG’ and a smaller big man that can switch it up with Scola, defending PF and C’s.

    Imagine the Rockets with that Chris Duhon kid and Samuel Dalemebert?

  • http://suns.orangeplanet.net Dacre

    Russ…CHUCK NEVITT! GOtta love a 7’5 guy sporting a 2 foot moustache!

  • http://suns.orangeplanet.net Dacre

    HEY RUSS! Do you know of any “giants” coming up in the college ranks or overseas even?

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Kenny George at UNC Asheville is 7-7 and has bigger feet than Shaq, but I think he’s a long shot. Moving is not his strong point.

  • http://www.friendster.com/sesa Sesa

    Carl Landry made Chuck Hayes expendable

  • http://tadone.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    I saw that Kenny George character the other night and wondered who he was. He seemed more awkward than Muresan out on the court.

  • http://slamonline.com apaul

    Russ, all good points. I think we could all agree that yao needs a break but you have to understand how deep the national team runs here. They shortened the CBA season by months and ended it in February so national team could start training for Beijing Olympics. It’s not like U.S. where a guy like KG can just say “Nah, I don’t think so” and everyone just shrugs.

  • RV

    Sesa, i dont think he’s expendable, they’re both different even though they are both undersized energy PFs. Chuck is still a way better defender, no one strips the ball like Hayes. Landry gives low post scoring and a nice J. Both are cheap investments for now, so i don’t see chuck being shopped at all.

  • RV

    Dacre, that may be too much for Yao, teams may not want to give too much due to his possible leg injuries. We definitely would need a center in return though

  • ddd

    Is ODEN also having a microfracture just like YAO?

  • http://www.nba.com hursty

    hey RV, also um chuck hayes is funny and can contribute 6fouls per night- that ability is underrated, i believe a smiliar thing ws mentioned with the team being so guard heavy.