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Scouting Report: Yi Jianlian

yi.jpgNote: Eric Weiss writes for and reviewed game film from 32 full games to come to the following conclusions.

Situation: The Celtics are looking for a complementary frontcourt player to pair with Al Jefferson. The ideal candidate would have the ability to play the high post offensively by hitting set shots from 17 feet and in as well as having the instincts and mobility to play off of Jefferson and Paul Pierce by crashing the offensive glass and attacking off the swing of the ball.

Defensively, Boston is looking for a frontcourt player who has the ability to defend the high pick and roll by cutting off the penetration lanes to the basket and recovering afterward. The ideal candidate would also be able to defend on-ball in the high and low post as well as play help defense by effectively picking up dribble penetration.  

Read more after the jump.

Strengths: Yi has a reliable set jump shot out to 18 feet. He’s got fundamental form and a smooth release on the catch-and-shoot that will force defenders to close out on him when the ball is delivered. His release point is very high because of his height and he shows the ability to make the shot even when a player is closing in, most likely because he knows it won’t be blocked.

Yi has a solid turnaround jumper from the baseline that he uses by turning away from contact on the post. He can use the glass effectively when the angle is there as well. Yi also utilizes a decent running hook shot going to the middle from the left block. He can also do this from the right side, but not with the same fluidity. Overall, the jump hook looks like a weapon that can be developed because he shows good ball control when going into the motion.

Yi has excellent fluidity of motion and decent footwork, though he over commits himself to plays driving toward the basket. He shows very good instincts on the offensive glass, closing in on caroms when the shot goes up and finishing without gathering himself, which allows him to avoid the recovering defense. 

Yi is also very good at working off the ball by making basket cuts through the defense. He has good hands and can finish these cuts from far away due to his explosiveness and length. This skill set makes Yi strong in transition situations as well because he can run the court and quickly take advantage of a disorganized defense.

Defensively, Yi’s best strength is his mobility and timing on his shot blocking. He has the ability to "track" an opponent and make blocks on drives without making a lot of body contact. He should be able to contribute to help defense because his length and athleticism translates to the NBA level.

jianlian.jpgWeaknesses: Yi has difficulty in ISO situations. He has decent ball handling skills, but is uncontrolled when putting the ball on the floor and doesn’t shot much in the way of a pull-up game when attacking the basket. Yi gets caught driving into traffic on many of his attempts and is prone to turnovers.

Yi is not effective taking contact on the block or driving the lane. He loses control of the ball very easily and gets knocked off balance when he meets minimal resistance. He prefers to feel contact and move away from it to free himself for the turnarounds and running hooks that he uses to good effect, but cannot create high percentage opportunities for himself when the contact disrupts his rhythm.

While his set shot is good, he doesn’t have three point range on his shot.  The further he gets out the more of a "flip" his shot becomes and he loses accuracy in terms of left/right motion on the shot as well as losing arc on the trajectory when he does keep the ball straight. He will have to work on extending his range, but does have the solid fundamentals closer in to project an increase in range.

Yi’s on-ball defense is sub par for the same reason he has trouble on the block offensively, he doesn’t deal with contact well. He gives ground when bodied up and relies on his standing reach to try and defend his opponent on the low block.  He doesn’t establish a low base or show much resistance when player’s initiate contact and on the NBA level the strengths and explosiveness that he’ll face will make this a major area of improvement.

Outlook: Overall, Yi has the current offensive skills to help an NBA team with some very basic complementary play. He can be relied upon to hit the open shot, move the ball to an open teammate, and hit the offensive glass.

Defensively, he isn’t going to contribute much in the way of man defense, though he should be able to guard the high post decently with his recovery speed and timing. If he has decent interior help defense to close lanes and help with pain coverage, he should be able to contribute to some effective team defense. But Yi isn’t a defensive anchor by any stretch and it will be a process to get him to an effective level with his man defense. He must learn to play with contact and utilize his body to counter his opponents attack.

Rebounding is also somewhat of a concern. He has solid anticipation skills, so he can move his feet and go for rebounds out of his range, but he doesn’t use his body to carve space for himself and can get shoved out of the action very easily by simply, fundamental box outs or swim moves to gain position. Yi relies on height and timing for rebounds and may be able to adapt by learning to tip balls to himself.

In terms of becoming a focal point on offense, Yi has a lot of work to do. His use of the glass, hook shots, and turnarounds are a good base to start with, but his ISO skills and lack of effectiveness when attacking the basket is something that must be addressed. He may be able to take centers off the dribble from outside, but his decision making once he gets past the primary defender is poor and will need a good deal of coaching and repetition to rectify.

In the paint, Yi is going to have to learn how to initiate contact and maintain control. It is far too easy to disrupt his rhythm and affect his offense by bodying him up and playing physical. His best moves are made when creating space and avoiding contact.

If the Celtics keep the 5th pick they are going to need to make a veteran acquisition to help bolster next year’s attack. Yi could fill a role as the backup center and has a good complementary game to Perkins and Jefferson due to his outside shooting ability, but he isn’t much help defensively and isn’t going to be dynamic enough offensively to warrant substantial playing time on a winning team.

This is a role player who must flesh out various elements of his game before he’ll be more than a support, rotation player.  He seems to have a bit of an attitude, but he must ratchet up his aggressive tendencies if he is going to become a top-3 option for any team. Right now, he doesn’t play with purpose or tenacity on every possession.  Some of this may be a byproduct of the team culture in China, something we’ve seen before from Yao Ming’s developmental track record. Whether or not he has the internal mental makeup to follow in Ming’s path is yet to be determined.  Ultimately , it will be the mental and not the physical that determines Yi’s success in the NBA.

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