The Houston Rockets announced today that Yao Ming would be strictly limited to 24 minutes per game this upcoming season. Yao’s history of foot injuries is the cause of the newly imposed regulation. The Rockets figure that 24 minutes of Yao Ming over 82 games is much better than 32 minutes of Yao Ming over 68 games, his career averages to date. Are they right?
Over his career, 32 minutes of Yao has been good for 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Break that down to the per minute count, then multiply by 24, and his projected averages are 14 points per game, 7 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks per game. The per game averages are indeed lower. Moreover, if you multiply the 24 minute per game averages by 82, the best case scenario for next season, the total numbers are still lower than his career total averages at 32 minutes over 68 games.
While those numbers suggest that Yao’s production will not benefit from fewer minutes over more games, an examination of win share shows improvement. On an average season of 68 games, Yao’s win share is 9.4 games. However, when factoring a full season, that number jumps to 11.2. While two games does not seem like a significant increase, it could mean all the difference in the usually tight Western Conference.
Lost in the numbers is the confidence that Yao inspires in his teammates. The knowledge, skills, and experience that he can impart on his teammates is a great boon that cannot be captured by stats. NBA fans everywhere, particularly in China, will be happy to see Yao return to the Association. Hopes are that we will all get to see a full season of one of the most talented and skilled centers of our lifetimes.