Over a two-week period, I will be breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of the Washington Wizards players. So far, I have evaluated the games of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Josh Howard, Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich. Today's breakdown is Yi Jianlian.
Yi Jianlian is a 7'0" forward/center, weighing in at 250 pounds. He is only 22 years of age, and was traded from the New Jersey Nets to the Wizards this offseason, in a move to clear up salary cap space to go after the big-name free agents.
Jianlian is joining his third team in four years. He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks, and spent two seasons averaging a respectable 8.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Last season, he was traded to New Jersey, and while on an awful team averaged 12 points, 7.2 rebounds and one block per game.
Even though he has had decent career averages, he has fallen short of expectations in his first three seasons. Jianlian has spent much of the offseason working on his game, and began to reap the benefits while at the World Championships this summer. He averaged 20.2 points and 10.6 rebounds playing for the Chinese National team. Many saw this as his coming out party, but others are taking a wait-and-see approach, as the NBA season has yet to start.
Jianlian's strengths are his ability to shoot mid-range jump shots, good athleticism for a player his size, excellent rebounding when he wants to, and can finish well around the basket. His biggest strength is his versatility. Jianlian can play the center or power forward position, and if Flip Saunders decides to go with a big lineup, he may also play small forward. Jianlian is also an excellent free-throw shooter, averaging over 80 percent for his career.
Jianlian also has many weaknesses. Although he averages a blocked shot per game, he is a poor defender. This may be a mental lapse in his game, considering his good athletic abilities. Jianlian spends a little too much time outside the paint roaming around the perimeter. Unless he begins to shoot the ball from the outside like Dirk Nowitzki, he needs to spend a bit more time down low, grabbing offensive rebounds, setting picks, and creating mismatches for the defense.
Yi Jianlian is a potential career double-double guy. If he plays consistent minutes, and puts forth a good defensive effort every night, Jianlian should be able to average 14-17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots per game.
Jianlian is still very young, and will continue to develop his game over the next few years. Yi Jianlian, along with the rising stars of JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche, could become a formidable frontcourt for several years to come.