By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
Yao Ming: One of the elite pivots in the game, Yao's latest foot fracture will likely sideline him for the entire season, though there's some chance he could return down the stretch. When healthy, Yao is one of the most efficient offensive players in the game, hitting more than half his shots from the floor and more than 85 percent from the line. He'll also pull down 10 boards and average two blocks - essentially he's elite in all the key big-man categories. Yao has also improved his passing of late, averaging a career-high 2.3 assists per game last year. Of course, none of this means anything unless he's healthy.
Luis Scola: One of the grittiest and hardest working players in the league, Scola is aggressive on the glass, averaging nearly nine per game last season - a number that should increase with Yao gone. He's also a very efficient scorer with nice touch from the line for a big man and hitting more than 50 percent of his field goals all three seasons in the league. Scola has good court sense and is an underrated passer, so expect his assists to climb now that he's likely to be the team's primary low-post option. Scola can also average close to a steal per game if he gets an expected bump in minutes, but he won't block many shots, so look elsewhere for contributions in that category.
David Andersen: It's hard to say what to expect from Andersen who was originally drafted in 2002 and has never played an NBA game. He could potentially see significant minutes at center, perhaps even start, and he has a soft jumper with nice range for a big man. That said, despite his 7-0 frame, he's not very physical defensively, and he's unlikely to help a lot on the glass.
Carl Landry: Another very efficient scorer from the floor and the line, Landry doesn't have a lot of range, but is deadly around the basket and good on the offensive glass. He's a good second low-post option after Luis Scola and can bang with most opposing bigs. Landry isn't an elite defender and could lose minutes to Chuck Hayes at times, but it's likely the Rockets will need his scoring off the bench as the team will have to get contributions from several sources this year.
Chuck Hayes: An elite defensive big man, Hayes can guard almost anyone in the post, using his solid lower body and quick feet to establish position and keep scorers away from the basket and out of their comfort zone. Hayes can rebound a bit, but he lacks the height to block a lot of shots and contributes little on the offensive end.
Trevor Ariza: Signed to a three-year $33 million deal, Ariza is expected to be a cornerstone of the team's rotation this year and should see big minutes at the three. Ariza uses his quick feet and long arms to be one of the league's elite sources of steals (1.7 per game in just 24.4 minutes), and he's also capable of knocking down the three-point shot (61 last year on 32 percent shooting). Ariza isn't a go-to scorer, instead getting most of his points on fast breaks and kick-outs, so don't expect him to carry a major load in that department even with the Rockets needing shooters. Ariza should improve across the board, however, as he's expected to see a major bump in playing time now that he's no longer competing for minutes on a very deep Lakers squad.
Shane Battier: One of the top real-life players in the game if you care about advanced stats like plus-minus and PER, Battier makes a more modest impact in fantasy, contributing to every category but excelling at none. Still, Battier's the rare player who can average a steal, a block and a three per game, and he could even bump up his scoring slightly as the team needs everyone to take more shots.
Tracy McGrady: The superstar McGrady of five years ago is probably gone for good, and that assumes he can get back up to full speed even in his current incarnation. McGrady's returning from microfracture surgery on his left knee, and while he looked good in five-on-five drills at press time, his status for the start of the year is in doubt. If relatively healthy, McGrady can still score in the high teens, hand out five assists and pull down 4-5 boards. He'll also hit a few threes and average over a steal per game. But his field-goal shooting is poor, and his free-throw shooting isn't great from the guard spot, either. Expect him to log less minutes this year, but when he plays he will fill up the box score on occasion.
Brent Barry: At this point in his career, Barry is a one-dimensional three-point shooter, but an elite one when he's on the floor. It's possible he could even start for the Rockets if McGrady's not back, but it's just as likely he gets dealt to a contender who needs his accuracy from long range.
Chase Budinger: A big guard with a nice outside shot, Budinger had an outstanding Vegas Summer League, shooting 68 percent from the floor and averaging 17.8 points per game. His all around game is still on the raw side, but he could have a significant role if McGrady's not ready, and Barry is dealt.
Jermaine Taylor: A second round pick by the Wizards, the Rockets traded for Taylor to address their shooting guard depth. Taylor can score, but he needs to show he can handle the ball and guard opposing twos to earn a role.
Aaron Brooks: The lightning-quick Brooks took over the point guard job midseason after Rafer Alston was dealt to the Magic. Brooks was inconsistent at times as he adjusted to being the team's primary floor general, but played well in the playoffs and earned the job heading into this season. Brooks can penetrate and score at will, he's deadly accurate from the charity stripe and he's a capable, if streaky, three-point shooter. But Brooks' overall field-goal shooting is poor, thanks to some ill-advised shots, and as long as Tracy McGrady's healthy, Brooks will have a hard time cracking five assists as McGrady often initiates the offense when he's in the game. Moreover, backup Kyle Lowry is competent and more of a pure, pass-first point guard, so he could cut into and even push Brooks for minutes.
Kyle Lowry: Houston's backup point guard lacks the jaw-dropping quickness of teammate Aaron Brooks, but he's an efficient, pass-first floor general who makes good decisions and understands the game. Lowry should have a significant role in the rotation from the outset, and if Brooks struggles to build on last year's success, Lowry could even take over.
Article first appeared on 9/15/09