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Yi Jianlian playing better in small lineups

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Amid the dark clouds of more road losses, Yi Jianlian's play has really improved.  Over at Truth About It, Kyle Weidie has an excellent post breaking down just how well Yi has played recently, and how his defense has improved this year.  Over the last four games, Yi is averaging 16 and 11 per 36 minutes, and we know he played well last night against Dallas.  It's a tiny sample size, but there's a need to look for optimism, and Yi has provided it.

But to take things a step further, I think there's a reason for Yi's improved play: he's getting more minutes as a center instead of having to be a power forward.  Specifically, he's not sharing the court much with any of the Wizards' true centers (JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker), and he's even getting a chance to play at times with Andray Blatche off the court.

Here's a look at Yi's frontcourt partners for the past four games, via Popcorn Machine:

  • DENVER: Andray Blatche (6:25), Trevor Booker (5:33). Granted, this was garbage time.
  • OKLAHOMA CITY: Booker (19:24), Rashard Lewis (3:30), Blatche (1:30) Al Thornton (:33)
  • MEMPHIS: Blatche (6:31), Booker (5:01), Lewis (3:28).
  • DALLAS: Blatche (26:08), Lewis (4:57), JaVale McGee (4:50) 
Sure, McGee didn't play in two of those games, but that's still almost all of his minutes as a de-facto center, depending on how you view Blatche.  Under those circumstances, Yi can use his shooting ability and relative quickness compared to his peers as an advantage, even though he's giving up a little in the strength department.  

It's still too early to call it a trend, and I'm still not sure whether it's worth it to hand Yi over minutes that you'd like to see Seraphin out there, for example.  But at the very least, we might want to stop giving Yi power forward minutes going forward.