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Far East Scouting Report: Yi Jianlian

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YiA few weeks back we had the pleasure of interacting with a Celtics fan in China.  Since we haven't had the chance to watch Yi Jianlian ourselves, we followed up with a request for a scouting report on him.  Here's what we got. Enjoy. (special thanks to Will and Kai from China for this)

Regardless of the “age issue”, Yi is a good choice considering his size and agility. On the other hand, no matter which team gets Yi, it is sure that the team will become popular in China (like Houston Rockets).  All in all, picking Yi in the draft is not a bad decision.

When looking back in the history, Celtics seldom took foreign player into their roster. However, it is clear that Danny is interesting in Yi and plays close attention to him: During the March Madness, he didn’t play as much attention to the college game as the CBA (Chinese Basketball association) Finals----he came to China in order to evaluate Yi’s prospect. In addition, he had been to China for several times before, for the same reason.

Back to Celtics, It is sensible for them to get a big guy in the draft, considering that both the quantity and talent is prosperous in the backcourt, and both Olowankandi and Raltiff are very likely to be traded in the offseason. Hence, Yi is acceptable given that his learning ability and potential is recognized by the team.

If we get Yi

Although we have so many young players, our frontcourt still needs improve, especially when the main big guys in the team are undersized. In this case, the 7-feet Yi meets the “size” demand. What’s more, he has a top physical set among Asian people, which makes him always energetic on the court.

Furthermore, Yi has an excellent perimeter shooting, meaning that the mid-range field goal is one of his main scoring skills. Considering that Al Jefferson is becoming more and more dominant in the paint, Yi can have many wild open chances when the defensive attention is drawn. If Scalabrine could get so many minutes merely because he is an inconsistent shooter who has enough size, it is no doubted that Yi will find his place in the team.

In addition, Yi’s ball-dribbling skill and first step needs to be mentioned here. You just can’t always find a 7 footer who is able to penetrate like a small forward like him. Once the defender finds Yi can’t be left alone outside the paint and step out aggressively to take care of his mid-range field goals, Yi can immediately dribble past the guy and then attack the rim directly.

According to his different performance in the China National Basketball Team and in Guangdong Tigers of CBA, a conclusion can be drawn: the high-quality training and high-level competition did help Yi a lot. In the national team, where provides comparatively advanced training, Yi gained great progress when facing tough opponents; On the other hand, during the CBA’s regular season, he seems have learned nothing, because he can rely on his athleticism and outplay most players. That is to say, when Yi enters NBA, he will have a large leap because of the fierce competitive circumstances and the finest training methods.

Shortcoming

It is tough, but I have to say that Yi’s offensive talent is not gorgeous. According to the recent observation, I still can’t imagine that he can score at will in the NBA game field.

In fact, Yi’s low-post skill is a bust. Although his footwork and agility is good, he seems helpless when facing some strong, agile or experienced defenders: He tends to finish his move by turn-around jumpers, but not a powerful dunk or a lay-up after drawing contact----once the defender finds the way to deter him from shooting the ball comfortably, Yi can be easily outplayed. The most typical example is that during this year’s CBA Finals, Yi was frustrated when facing Wang Zhizhi(former NBA player, once played for Mavs, Clippers and Heat) both in the offensive and defensive end. It is well-known that Wang can’t survive in NBA because of his lousy defense; Even in CBA, he is not the greatest defensive player. However, Yi just lost his ways to put the ball into the basket when Wang was standing behind his back. In a word, Yi needs to be more versatile in the offensive end.

Right now we have two core players (Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson) who finish most of the offense in our team. Considering that Yi’s one on one skill needs to be improved, he may not be one of the top 2 choices in the offensive end, which possibly turns him into a role player. On the other hand, although his athleticism and height is impressive, he is not strong enough----It makes him unable to play center. So my own description to him is: a thin and offensive-skill-lacking power forward.

Uncertainties

Someone holds the opinion that Yi can become an excellent blue-collar player since he has a fine physical set. Personally I think it is not a good destination for Yi’s sustainable development. Confidence is a significant factor for the development of young players, which is mainly acquired by getting involved in the offensive end. Furthermore, Yi needs those opportunities to implement his offensive skills. It can’t be fulfilled once he is defined as a blue collar. Hence, whether Yi can get enough opportunity in offense determine his future.

Another uncertainty is that I’m not sure how tough will Yi become mentally, after joining NBA. It is no doubted that a strong mindset is the key to gain improve in this league. It is even more important than the talent. For example, Gerald Green’s talent is higher than Tony Allen’s, but Tony is tougher than Gerald; and we can see a “fearless Tony” acts better than a “talented Gerald”.  Even Yao is very tough mentally. If Yi learns how to persist and never give up, we all believe that he will achieve a lot.

Finally I want to talk something about his age. I myself do not know exactly how old Yi is. But according to some source in the CBA, Yi’s birth year should be 1984. (IT IS UNOFFICIAL)

All in all, I am not very optimistic in Yi’s NBA career. What I am concerning is not about whether he can survive in the league. I just don’t think that he can turn into a superstar. That is to say, he may not the one we are going to pursue in the draft. The only thing I am sure now is that if Celtics gets Yi, we Chinese basketball fans can watch much more Celtic’s live game. ^_^