Let's start with the caveats. We don't know if Yao will be back, be back healthy, be back as a Rocket, or manage to remain healthy. We don't know if his baby girl will be born in America or China, though I'm betting baby Yao will be born at Methodist.
We also don't know if Jordan Hill will realize the sizable potential he's shown since coming to Houston, that he'll stay healthy, that he won't go Ricky Williams on us, that he won't get hit by an asteroid.
Ok. Now let's talk basketball, and not today's game. I'll just chalk this one up to the Rockets spending all night Saturday, into the wee hours, then morning, and by the looks of it, on through game time, celebrating the Final Four win of scrappy, cerebral Butler, the team that worships at the altar of Battier. (And ironically now must play Duke.)
I'll talk about my new favorite Rocket obsession, Jordan Hill. Damn, but it's been a long time since we've seen this kind of player on the Rockets. An almost 6'11", strong, athletic, active, quick, quick jumping, shot blocking, offensive rebounding PF. He even has Boshian dreadlocks. Now don't get me wrong, Carl Landry did a lot of those things, and Lord knows I miss him, but they are different players. Carl is an accomplished post player with (still) tremendous hops, and strength. Hill can be used at center in a quick line up. He can play PF against matchups that are difficult for Scola.
But even more, Hill can provide Yao with the sort of help D he's never gotten. Despite the greasy taste in my mouth I get whenever I think about it, I've long through Andrei Kirilenko would have been a great complement to Yao. AK47 (before Jerry Sloan ruined him for not being a bigot, and misting up a little too often after his baby was born) was an excellent weakside shot blocker, and can fly in at weird angles to block shot, or alter them.
Basically, I thought he could effectively eliminate Yao's main defensive weaknesses: slow rotation to deal with offensive penetration in the lane, vulnerability to strong, quick, post players who get good passing from their PG, and difficulty covering "stretch" or long-range shooting centers and PFs. (Notice that Utah itself posses players that exemplify every one of those weaknesses? It's no mystery why Houston and Yao have trouble with them.) With a guy like Kirilenko, Yao would receive defensive help against all of that - he could set to contest the shot, or simply hold his ground, and wait for help to come and swat it away.
No one on Houston has been able to do that, and AK47 isn't what he once was, while his contract remains so radioactive that it qualifies as another Russian nuclear disaster.
But what about Hill? Could he do these things? Can he provide the quick jumping offensive rebounding Yao lacks? Yes. Can he block shots "oblique" to the play? So far, it looks like he might. Can he stop his own man inside? Yes, though that's a work in progress. Can he bring help to Yao against quicker players? I'm thinking yes. Can he play in the high post, and make defenses pay for fronting or doubling Yao - again, a work in progress, but signs are encouraging. Can he snare defensive rebounds that Yao lacks the footspeed to track down? I'd say yes to that one already.
With Yao in the low post, and Hill in the high post, you've got one guy who is 7'6" and another near 7footer operating near the basket. I dare to dream that Hill will be able to serve the ball into Yao over defenses, but that might be asking too much. I do think that if Hill's midrange game and drive threat are real that we might get a very large percentage of what we'd get with Bosh, at a fraction of the price.
It's too early to say, but it's something to dream on in the long offseason to come.