Houston Rockets greatest draft picks #3: Yao Ming
Yao Ming, commercially, is easily the greatest draft pick in the history of the NBA. He brought the NBA and specifically the Rockets to China and in the process completely changed the economics of the sport.
The Rockets made the right basketball decision when they selected him with the number one overall pick of the 2002 NBA draft. He joined a team that had won 28 games the season before and as a rookie helped lead them to 43 wins.
Yao’s economic impact will be his most lasting legacy, but he was an incredibly productive player on the court. Putting aside his All-Star appearances, which had the power of a nation of a billion people voting for him, he made five All-NBA teams in his seven seasons where he played at least 40 games.
For his career, he averaged 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game on 52.4-percent shooting from the field and 83.3-percent shooting from the free-throw line. Yao could score from anywhere within the 3-point arc and if he had played today he would have used that shooting touch to be a knock-down 3-point shooter.
The biggest thing inhibiting Yao from taking second place is that he simply didn’t last long enough before injuries ended his career. He was effectively out of the league by the age of 28 as a series of foot injuries made it impossible for him to continue playing.
Yao’s overall career didn’t live up to most number one overall picks but on a per season basis, he is well above average. The average first overall pick produces 26.5 win shares over their first four seasons and Yao blew that mark away with 39.3 of his own.
The Rockets landed a ready-made All-NBA quality player who for seven seasons was building an unassailable Hall of Fame case. If it wasn’t for injuries, Yao would be remembered as one of the best centers of all time.
Next: Pick #2