Water Cooler Talk: McGrady/Yao
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SECAUCUS, N.J., Nov. 23, 2007 -- Last week's Water Cooler Talk featured a matchup of San Antonio's Tony Parker and Phoenix's Steve Nash. According to the e-mail responses I received, it was a one-sided victory in favor of the two-time MVP. Today, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming go head-to-head.

By Maurice Brooks By Chris Bubeck
Fred Flinstone had Barney Rubble in the cartoon I watched as a kid and still watch with my kids.

Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and they led the greatest basketball dynasty of my lifetime.

Laverne De Fazio had Shirley Feeney in a sitcom that before right now I was embarrassed to admit I watched.

Christopher Wallace had Sean Combs when hip-hop music was at its best.

Batman had Robin and they are the top all-time crime fighters not named Superman.

Bo Duke had Luke Duke in the television show that was so much better than the movie that came out in 2005.

Owen Wilson had Ben Stiller in all of those sometimes-I-laughed, sometimes-I-didnít comedies released since 1996.

Pat Morita had Ralph Macchio when I thought it was really cool to wax on, wax off, paint the fence and paint the house.

In every great duo, there is a pecking order. Somebody gets to play the role of the man, while the other person has to be the man next to the man (in the case of Laverne & Shirley, the woman).

This got me to thinking: Who is the alpha male and who is the second fiddle in Houston where Yao Ming patrols the paint and Tracy McGrady rules everywhere else?

Yao is a wonderful player. He has a nice touch for a big man, rebounds well and took the title of best center in the NBA from Shaquille O'Neal years ago.

Still, McGrady, who will never be the best two-guard in the league (hello, Kobe Bryant), carries the success or failure of the Rockets on his often-injured back.

For the simple fact that T-Mac has the ball in his hands more, Iíll say he is more important to the success of the Rockets than Yao.

Think about it for a second.

  • He is one of the top scorers in the league.

  • He makes his teammates better by setting them up for wide-open shots with his drive-and-kick ability.

  • He prevents defenses from ganging up on Yao, because they have to focus so much attention on slowing him down.

  • And because of his athleticism and height, he is one of the best rebounding shooting guards in the game.

    The only complaint you can make about McGrady is that he spends too much time on the sidelines due to his lingering back problems, but Yao has also been injury prone during his career.

    As a matter of fact, last season, when Yao missed 32 games with a fractured right leg, McGrady put together a season that was MVP worthy. Without their big man in the middle, most experts thought the Rockets would possibly miss the postseason.

    McGrady made sure that wasnít the case, averaging 24.6 points, 6.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds en route to leading Houston to a 52-win season. The Rockets went 20-12 without Yao. Compare that to the fact they are just 13-39 the past three seasons without McGrady and the picture becomes a little more clear about who is more important to the success of the team.

  • Anyone that watched it live or has seen a photo of Dikembe Mutombo clutching the ball in the air after his Nuggets stunned the Sonics in the playoffs back in 1994 will have a hard time erasing that image from their memory.

    I remember exactly where I was when Mutombo and Denver pulled off the upset. I was out on some family dinner and my step-brothers and I were sneaking around the restaurant to check out the game.

    What does any of that have to do with the argument of who is more important to the success of the Rockets: Tracy McGrady or Yao Ming?

    Well, my brothers (one who wasn't even in high school at the time) are both now in their late 20s, my little sister has grown up from that 11-year-old girl with braces to a 24-year-old, and Mutombo, hardly a spring chicken back in '94, is still in the NBA.

    He comes off the Rockets bench to spell Yao and if anything were to sideline their five-time All-Star, Houston would have to rely heavily on the 40-something Mutombo and his robust scoring average of under a point a game. Don't get me wrong, Mutombo showed he still has some game left when Yao went down last season. He can still board and throw elbows with the best of them, but the Rockets would have a lot of trouble replacing Yao's 22 points and 10 rebounds a night.

    Sure they would also be in trouble if T-Mac were to miss time yet again with another serious injury, but his likely replacement is a little more capable of coming close to replacing his production.

    Just two years ago, Bonzi Wells averaged 23 and 12 for the Kings during the playoffs. Already this season, he came in for an injured T-Mac and dropped 21 and 10 on the Lakers.

    Let's look beyond Houston's roster and see who would be easier to replace. Aside from Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire, Yao is in a league of his own at the center position. I'll even give you Tim Duncan, although he is technically a power forward. Plugging any other center into Houston's lineup would undoubtedly weaken the team's front line.

    It's the reason team's reach on centers like Kwame Brown and Andrew Bogut in the draft again and again. To go anywhere you need the big man and they are hard to find. Houston has a legit one and he would be very hard to replace.

    McGrady is clearly among the top shooting guards, but there are plenty who could come close to replicating his production. Kobe Bryant is a step above and Vince Carter, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen are all on an even playing field, while there is a handful of proven veterans like Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Manu Ginobili and Joe Johnson or rising stars like Kevin Martin and Brandon Roy that are a step below T-Mac as far as production, but not by much.

    Throw in the fact that McGrady has yet to lead a team to the second round of the playoffs in six attempts. Yao is 0-3 himself, but just entering the prime of his career, while McGrady already has a lot of miles on an oft-injured body. For one game, I might go with T-Mac's possible heroics but as far as who is more valuable over the long haul, I'm going with the big guy. Hands down.

    Time to respond to some of your e-mails.

    Jack in Utah: Tim Duncan has to drop. Past performances shouldn't affect the rating, otherwise we've got to put Shaquille O'Neal at No. 11, don't we? You done good son, just tweakin.

    Brooks: Dad, is this you? No, well why are you calling me son? Also, what's with all of this "we" stuff. Last I checked, R2MVP was a one-man show. Just when I was ready to lower the boom on Timmy he goes out and shows he still has it. Look at his last three games. He had 25 points and 13 boards against the Rockets, 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists against the Hawks and 20, 16 and five against the Magic. And of course, San Antonio won all three games.

    Jeff in Canada: Do you think there should be MVPs for the West and East? Sort of like how baseball does it. There are so many stars in the NBA that deserve MVP honors and this would help sort that out a little. I'm surprised you've never raised that point in your Race to the MVP segment.

    Brooks: Great idea. I'll write about that on Tuesday.

    Max in Florida: How is Miami's Dwyane Wade not in your top 20?

    Brooks: Statistics, team record, injury: choose one.

    Chris in Los Angeles: Whoever hired you Brooks, should be fired. Everybody knows Kobe Bryant should be No. 1.

    Brooks: The first 200 e-mail responses I got like that were funny. When the total went over 300, I stopped laughing. I guess I asked for it.

    Wongy in New Zealand: I've been waiting for this day all my life. On the otherside of the world in New Zealand I've been following Dwight Howard since his rookie year through hundreds of boxscores and limited ESPN coverage. Dwight is the man, and I love the Orlando Magic. Thanks for giving him love. Now time for a new nickname ... DH12 just isn't cutting it.

    Brooks: Hmmm ... Howard has only been in the league four years, but you said you've been waiting for this day all your life. Something isn't adding up. Anyways, Howard is playing as well as anyone in the league and obviously the Magic are performing at a high level. My nickname for him is Beast of the East.

    Steven in California: Hey, I was wondering where Baron Davis was in your rankings?

    Brooks: When healthy, there are few point men I'd rather have than Davis. This season he is putting up big numbers (23 points, eight assists and almost five rebounds a game), but until last week's three-game winning streak, the Warriors were 0-6. Is that MVP worthy? No sir.

    Elliott in Texas: If you want a reason why the Spurs Manu Ginobili should be on the top five of the list, stretch out his stats across 40 minutes.

    Brooks: That is like saying if you took my salary and multiplied it by 40 and then added a few more zeros, I'd be rich. Manu's numbers are what they are and so is the amount that shows up in my check. This isn't the league of make believe.

    Tony in Maine: Now that Gilbert Arenas is out for three months, do you have any positive words for a Wizards fan?

    Brooks: Yes, Gil is a stud and it will be hard to make up for all that he brings to the table, but you guys still have Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. Look for Butler to start scoring more. He is playing at an All-Star level, averaging 21.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest. In his last game, he dropped 39 points on the Bobcats and you guys are hot right now, winners of six straight.

    Chris in the Bronx: I thought the Knicks would challenge for a playoff spot this season once they traded for Zach Randolph. Now they've lost eight straight and are in last place. What is the problem?

    Brooks: Chris, check your schedule and let me know how much free time you have. For me to answer this question is going to take awhile.

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