A former top NBA pick, power forward Yi Jianlian, is reportedly “finalizing a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers” according to ASZ News. The deal is worth $8 million and Jianlian, who was drafted in 2007 by the Milwaukee Bucks, is set for a return at the age of 28.
After being drafted by the Bucks in 2007, it was announced that Jianlian would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury in April of 2008.
Jianlian was traded to the New Jersey Nets in 2008 and has played with two other NBA teams until going to China to play with the Chinese team, Guangdong Southern Tigers of the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) in the 2011-2012 basketball season.
Jianlian returned to Guangdong and was a star on the team. During the last three years after playing in the NBA, Jianlian averaged 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds per game.
The best season statistically that Jianlian averaged in the NBA was with the New Jersey Nets in the 2009-2010 season where the Chinese star averaged 12 points per game, had the most minutes, shot the best 3-point shot percentage of his career, and averaged a NBA career best 7.2 rebounds per game.
Now with four years in China, the four-time CBA Champion and eight-time All-Star has a second shot at the NBA with the Lakers.
Los Angeles Lakers’ General Manager Mitch Kupchak was “rumored to have been impressed” by Yi’s strong showing leading the Chinese national team with 20.4 points per game in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Kupchak also reportedly believes that he (Jianlian) can contribute to the Lakers at the highest level for a big market team like Los Angeles.
Some experts applaud the move by the Lakers of signing the 28-year-old PF, like Trevor Lane of LakersNation.com. Lane calls the signing “a solid move for the Lakers.”
“He has his faults,” Lane said. “but Yi is a true seven-footer who possesses a 7-foot, 3.5-inch wingspan and the ability to shoot all the way out to the three-point line. While he was a power forward previously, the NBA has changed a lot in the last four years, and those changes appear to make his skill set more valuable. It would make all kinds of sense if the Lakers and Coach Luke Walton view Yi as more of a floor-spacing center than a power forward at this point.”
Lane also believes that Jianlian isn’t the same player that he was when he was with the Milwaukee Bucks during his first stint in the NBA.
“The Yi that begrudgingly showed up on the Bucks’ doorstep in 2007 was scrawny and lacked confidence,” Lane said. “But that isn’t the player that we saw with the Chinese team this summer.”
The difference in Jianlian is obvious. Lane noticed the difference and said that Jianlian “looked much more muscular and chiseled.”
Will Bynum, a teammate of Jianlian in the CBA, had positive things to say to Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo.
“Yi’s [expletive] good. I played against him when he was here too,” Bynum said. “When he was in Milwaukee and Jersey, he got a whole lot better. He’s physical now. He always could shoot the basketball. He’s rolling. Yi’s a tough, man. He’s a matchup nightmare over there.”
Dave Dufour of Real GM believes that Jianlian fits very well with the Lakers. Dufour points out that Jianlian’s true shooting percentage in China (which is above.600 percent) is an ideal addition to a Lakers team which struggled mightily in that department. Last season, the Lakers were ranked 30th in the league with 97.3 points per game.
“He would be a natural fit in a twin tower lineup as a stretch 4 next to Ivica Zubac on second unit lineups,” Dufour said. “Those lineups would provide inside/outside scoring which should keep them competitive in short bursts. An explosive leaper and powerful finisher, Yi can go up to get lobs and put backs. A stretch 5 role as a poor man’s Kristaps Porzingis could be the ideal scenario for Yi’s NBA return.”
Dufour believes that if Lakers’ coach Luke Walton creates an offensive game plan like the Golden State Warriors have made with Harrison Barnes over the last few seasons, Jianlian could have a similar role as Barnes does with the Warriors.
[Photo by Rob Carr/ Getty Images]