The Los Angeles Lakers raised some eyebrows across the league when they announced the signing of Yi Jianlian, the Chinese star who excelled during this summer’s Olympics. Yi was drafted into the NBA in 2007 by the Milwaukee Bucks but only lasted five disappointing seasons before heading back to the Chinese Basketball Association.
However, it appears that the now-28-year-old Yi has not only improved his skills, but also put on a solid amount of muscle, which is crucial because a lack of physical strength plagued him during his previous stint in the NBA. One person who believes that Yi will make an impact in his second stint in the NBA is former Lakers Coach Del Harris, who knows Yi from the time he spent coaching the Chinese National team.
In an interview with ESPN.com, Harris expressed optimism that the Lakers would be a great fit for Yi:
“I think that is the right team for him. He should be able to play for them and will really fit the style Luke (Walton) employed so well last year [with the Warriors].”
Ideally, Yi’s skillset as a versatile big man with the ability to shoot outside will mesh well with the Lakers’ offense. Yi has historically spent most of his time at power forward, but with the NBA trending small and the Lakers already employing Julius Randle, Luol Deng, and Larry Nance Jr. at the four, it seems likely that he will spend his time fighting for minutes as a backup center. Harris even mentions Yi’s defensive potential:
“His versatility will serve him well, and Luke will know how to mix with his outside-inside skill combination,” Harris said. “They need what he is capable of doing — great runner, excellent mix on offense and the potential to be a defensive factor.”
While most won’t expect much from Yi on the defensive end of the floor, Harris does make a good point about Yi’s ability to run the floor. He is fairly mobile for a player of his size, and those expecting him to solely shoot jumpers will be disappointed. His outside shooting is an asset, but as we saw during the Olympics, Yi has also developed a solid game as a slasher, using his length to draw contact and get to the free throw line.
If all goes well, Yi could prove to be a valuable contributor for the Lakers next season, and if not, his contract only lasts for one year, making him a low-risk venture.