This big move in the West was not planned, but it could certainly shake things up a little in the conference playoff picture. With ten of the 15 Western Conference teams above .500, every game counts. The Houston Rockets knew this better than anyone, winning 12 straight games only to find themselves still in seventh place in the conference. Then today, they lost All-Star, starting center Yao Ming for the season and the playoffs with a broken foot.
But how much will this affect the team’s playoff chances? Even with a relatively weak schedule (for a Western Conference team) that features 13 games against teams with below .500 records, it means that Houston, an otherwise lock for the playoffs, will have to fight hard until the end.
We utilized our free NBA SimMatchup technology to find Houston’s expected final regular season win total with and without Yao Ming. If Yao had not gone down and with new acquisitions like Bobby Jackson and Gerald Green, Houston would have been projected to finish 54-28. That means 17-9 the rest of the season and out-scoring opponents 98-91 over that stretch. With Yao out of the lineup and a combination of Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, Dikembe Mutombo, Carl Landry and even Shane Battier manning the power forward and center positions, the Rockets project to finish the season at 48-34. That is just 11-15 and would be out-scored 108-100 the rest of the way.
While a .585 winning percentage is typically really good (and could mean homecourt in the first round of the playoffs in the East), it projects to the same record as the Golden State Warriors and two games back of the Denver Nuggets. That means they go from being in the discussion for a top-five Western Conference seed and potential conference champion to having a 50/50 chance at the eighth seed and likely first round casualty.
The analysis above makes it look like, against the remaining schedule, Yao not only means six wins, he subtracts about 12 points a game. He does mean quite a bit defensively, but part of that has to do with pace. With Yao in the middle, Houston slows the game down and dictates tempo. Without Yao, this will not be as feasible. Opening up the middle, opens up the entire court for opposing offenses.
Ironically though, picking up athletic, versatile players like Bobby Jackson, Gerald Green and Landry can help this team. Yes, Houston is much worse defensively now, but it can get up and down the court and score a little bit. And, with Rick Adelman at the helm instead of Jeff Van Gundy, the Rockets may be more comfortable doing so. They are a worse team, but watch for a more charismatic and fun-to-watch team.
Assuming his health stays intact, Tracy McGrady should put up around 30 ppg; while, the Adelman-favorite Jackson may be leaned upon to help pick up the rest of Yao’s 22 ppg. Whether he plays at the four or the five, Luis Scola’s minutes and some of his numbers may go up, but his efficiency will likely decrease with opposing interior defenders keying on him.
The X-factor to all of this may be rookie forward Carl Landry, the first pick of the second round in this year’s draft. Given that he has only played 359 total NBA minutes and has just come on as of late, it is very difficult for us to project Landry’s stats for the simulations; yet, he is the perfect type of versatile, interior player who could provide the athleticism, energy and efficiency off the bench that the Rockets will need to run with and out-score their opponents. If he catches fire and McGrady and Jackson stay healthy, the Rockets could be right back in the mix with the top Western Conference teams.
Either way, they are a vastly different team now without Yao Ming.
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