Former NBA coach Don Casey gets around. In addition to doing basketball clinics in Haiti, Yugoslavia and Germany in the past year, he also traveled to China last November and got a first-hand account of 7-5 center Yao Ming. Here’s his scouting report of the top pick in Wednesday’s Draft.

Last November I traveled to China with great anticipation. I had heard the reports that Yao Ming was some player, and I would finally get a chance to see him first-hand. Yao was playing in a preseason tournament featuring the top 16 teams in China that was very similar to the NCAA Tournament in the United States where competition was high and bragging rights were at stake. My first reaction while seeing Yao Ming play three games in this pressure situation was that he has a tremendous upside. Why?

Strengths:

  • Sheer size – size and wingspan is all encompassing, but not only does he have the size, he has good speed.
  • Great body control -- great balance, agility and body control to the point where he can run and stop on a time and not look awkward.
  • Shooting touch – a very good outside shooter and has been compared to a quicker Rik Smits… can shoot the basketball well from the 15-17 foot range…showed ability to catch and shoot as a trailer on the break…if taught to keep ball high, his shot is not blockable.
  • Post moves -- shoots a nice hook shot from the right box (a la Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and also has a strong baseline spin move that he will use to attack the basket for a dunk…appears to have a nice step in and seal off move.
  • Has passing skills -- good passer from high to low… faced quite a few double-teams -- on the dribble and on the pass…appeared to have a few problems going middle and identifying the double-team, but all young centers do at first.
  • Defensively -- quick enough to deny front entry…deters people from driving to the lane…didn’t see him go from box to box to block a shot, but I’m sure he can.
  • Great competitor -- will certainly compete…not a big man who floats out on the floor.
  • Quite coachable.

    Weaknesses:

  • Didn’t see many moves when he faces up, may need some work catching and shooting in transition.
  • Needs to develop concrete game down low, and seemed a bit uncomfortable going to the middle.
  • Needs and will do a weight program.
  • Can he withstand the rigors of an 82-game season?

    Outlook

    I look at this draft in very simple fashion, two-to-three years down the road, will there be another “star” guard or small forward available? The answer is undoubtedly “yes.” Will there be another Yao Ming? That answer is a resounding “no.”

    He will hold is own in the league. The biggest unknown is whether or not he can take the day-to-day pounding over the course of the season, especially in the early going. The Chinese basketball coaches don’t stress weight training as much as they do in the United States. Instead they place a greater importance on aerobic conditioning – having the players run mountains and sprints and such. But Yao is so committed to playing in the NBA, once he is in a weight program he will be able to withstand the NBA style over the long haul. He will need to be monitored, reviewed and watched so that he does not burn out or take too much of a pounding, but he is an extremely hard worker and has such a tremendous upside, a player like him doesn’t come around very often.