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Houston Rockets: Yao Ming The Last International All-Star Lottery Pick

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Three foreign players (players drafted without NCAA experience) were Lottery selections in the 2015 NBA Draft. Houston was not among those teams who drafted a foreign player this year, instead selected Sam Decker. Decker was the eighteenth pick in the first round and Montrezl Harrell, was the 32nd pick, in the second round. Houston has drafted foreign players in the past, the last draftee, Clint Capela, of Sweden was selected with the 25th  pick in the first round in the 2014 NBA Draft.  Capela spent most of his rookie year in the NBA’s Developmental League, but through hard work, ended the year as a contributing player on the active roster.  There is no guarantee that any draft pick will turn out to be a Hall of Famer or become a future NBA All-Star.

Since Yao Ming was drafted No. 1 in 2002, 19 international players were Lottery Picks, none were ever All-Stars. H/T ESPN Stats and Info.

— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) June 23, 2015

The Houston Rockets were the last team to draft (Lottery pick) a foreign born player who made an NBA All-Star team. That happened thirteen years ago and the player drafted was Yao Ming, the 7’6” center from China. He was the number one overall pick in 2002.  Before that draft, basketball enthusiasts wondered if he would be a long-term project, or just a big stiff sitting at the end of the bench. Foreign big men have been drafted in the past by NBA franchises with varying success. The bottom line with analyzing Yao at first sight was, “We know he’s big, but can this guy from China play?”  The skeptics were out in multitudes because no one ever heard of him or had seen any footage. Honestly, people just didn’t believe one could be Chinese, and have game.

The worst case scenario for the Rockets would have been that he’d be a bust. The best case would be he could prove the skeptics wrong and become an equivalent to Rik Smits, the 7’4” center form the Netherlands, who had an above average 12 year career, with one All-Star appearance.

Yao Ming had many cultural obstacles to overcome. He had to adjust to a new way of life in the United States. In addition he barely spoke any English. Yao’s calm demeanor, with a resistance to retaliation, made the opposition think it was open season on him. His adversaries envisioned him as the new launching pad for every NBA player that wanted to be featured on a poster, dunking on Yao, of course.

However, the biggest foe and challenge for Yao (at least on the court) was Shaquille O’Neal. In their first match-up, Shaq dominated the statistical line with 31 points and 13 rebounds. But it was Yao’s inspiring play that motivated his teammates in that game to an overtime win against the Los Angeles Lakers 108-104. Yao finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. After the game, both men exchanged handshakes. The moment of Yao’s enlightenment was when Shaq reached out and pulled Yao towards him for a hug along with a few words of encouragement.

Since Yao Ming was drafted No. 1 in 2002, 19 international players were lottery picks, none were ever All-Stars.

Yao Ming didn’t rule the NBA nearly as long as the Ming Dynasty ruled China, but he did have a nice run. Yao Ming ruled scoring in the NBA from the center position from 2002-2009, he scored the most points of any center during that time. Yao quickly developed into the Rockets franchise player, but Injuries ultimately ended his nine year career. He finished with career averages of 19 points and 9.2 rebounds and eight All-Star appearances. “Since Yao Ming was drafted No. 1 in 2002, 19 international players were lottery picks, none were ever All-Stars.” Yao Ming raised the bar to which future foreign players are measured.

Next: Rockets Year End Reviews

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