Over the next few weeks, we will be evaluating the 2010/11 seasons of all the players who ended the year on the Wizards' roster. We'll offer our quick thoughts, then ask you to grade their season on a 1-10 scale in the comments. For the purposes of this exercise, we'll start with the key players and work our way down. Next in line: Yi Jianlian.
#31 / Forward / Washington Wizards
Oct 27, 1987
|2010 - Yi Jianlian||63||17.6||2.3||5.5||41.8||0.0||0.2||23.1||1.0||1.4||68.1||1.3||2.7||3.9||0.4||0.8||0.4||0.5||1.8||5.6|
In baseball, a popular term has been coined called the "Quadruple-A" player. Writers like Bill Simmons have used it to describe the disparity between the National and the American leagues, but in its original meaning it was used to describe a player who was too talented for Triple-A, but lacked the ability to be successful in the Major Leagues. The NBA version of the quadruple-A play in Yi Jianlian, a player who would probably score 40 points a night if sent to the NBADL, but lacks the set of skills necessary to be successful in the pros.
This isn't to say that Yi doesn't have a skillset or that he won't continue to circle the NBA drain as 8th or 9th man on a bad team. Indeed, there were flashes this year where one saw the talent that Yi's hype promised such as when he took the ball at the elbow, decided "to hell with this" and drove to the lane to the dunk. There was the silky 16-17 ft jumpshot that when Yi was feeling it could be a deadly weapon to punctuate Wizards runs. There was even a bit of toughness that was integrated into Yi's game, such as when he refused to back down to Blake Griffin at the Verizon Center. All these things pointed to potential growth for a player who has been labeled a bust since the day he stepped into the league.
The problem is that these improvements are those of a second year player, and not one who is entering his fifth year in the league. His defensive awareness remains poor, which makes him hopeless in the zone and a liability in man defense. He never extended the range on his jumpshot into three point territory, so a player who should be a deadly weapon of the bench is reduced to taking low-percentage shots that often destroyed momentum. All of this could be corrected by coaching, but I am uncertain if anything can done to improve the speed at which Yi processes and make decisions. Like Jason Campbell in the pocket, Yi is....very....slow....at making decisions about when to pass out or react to a shot that has been put up. As such, teams adjusted to his trademark 17 footer by quick doubling him and forcing a turnover or securing the rebound by boxing him out early in the possession and denying him position. Yi has all the tools and athleticism to be successful at the top level of the league, but he has no idea as how to properly deploy them to make himself a successful player.
The Wizards are a young team, and normally young teams are able to take the time to train their all their charges together. Unfortunately, Yi is so far behind the rest of the team in basketball acumen that to retain him would do a disservice to the development of the other players. Some of these issues may come from him being a star on the Chinese National Team, where he doesn't have to play team basketball, but instead is expected to do all the scoring for his country. It doesn't help that Yi is the second best player from the largest country in the world, he has been coddled from an early age and not forced to improve against superior competition. Others may steam directly from the fact that coaching he has received throughout his NBA run has been sub-par at best, as he has stepped into terrible situation in Milwaukee, New Jersey and now Washington.
Whichever the case, the Yi experiment has now officially come to a close. The best thing for his career would be to take a low contract on a contender and funnel his skillset into improving one skill that will keep him in the NBA. Whether he will be able to do that is another question entirely.