The new Chinese player has taken the NBA by surprise.
Halfway through his first season, the Chinese rookie Yi Jianlian has already shown great promise for the Milwaukee Bucks organization.
Being ranked third in his draft class, Yi is only 20 years old. He followed the path of the superstar Yao Ming, and entered the draft without having any knowledge on American culture.
Yet, he took the risk, and arrived in the city of Milwaukee, where the Chinese population is relatively smaller than other cities.
He did not complain. And now, he is averaging 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 block per game for the Bucks.
Will he ever be as good, or possibly even better than Yao Ming?
At 7'0", 238 pounds, Yi Jianlian is deceptively quick and agile for a guy his size. He is also a terrific shooter, both inside and outside. His offensive rebounds are strong, and so are his ball-handling skills. To go along with these offensive abilities, is his defense. He is a threat in the paint, as his long arms can block shots just as good as any other center. Plus, his quickness allows him to steal with efficiency too.
Somehow, that sounds a lot like what Yao Ming is capable of.
But it should be noted that Yao stands 7'6" tall, and it has both advantages and disadvantages. Sure he can clean up the boards with his height, and take a jump shot over the other centers, but his immense body is not as quick as the smaller players. This limited his ability to become a more versatile player.
But Yi Jianlian is 7'0" tall, and his speed and agility makes up for the height differential. And remember, he is still 20 years old.
As a member of the China National Basketball Team, Yi has experience on the world's grandest stages. He has played in FIBA Tournaments, and the Asian Games. But above all else, he leads the team when Yao is not there. When Yao is there, Yi still serves as second option.
Despite his tender age, Yi never failed to meet his coach's expectations, and usually exceeds them. His terrific work ethic makes him an even better teammate.
But what is truly remarkable about this player, is that he has the potential to be an All-Star player, which would also benefit his nation.
As a post player, he can drain those turnaround fadeaways, as well as hook shots. His footwork is terrific for his age, and he is not afraid to be aggressive with the ball. As a shooter, he will nail the wide-open 20-footers, and can also make three pointers from time to time.
Then there are the rebounds. His ability to jump helps him grab offensive and defensive rebounds, and that he can block shots is also a boost.
But the most valuable element Yi provides is his unselfishness and hustle. He is willing to give up his scoring opportunities to open shooters, but at the same time, he is not afraid to take a crucial shot down the stretch. His hustle gives him the edge of using his speed to get loose balls when competing with a slower post player.
However, if Yi intends to stay in the NBA, he needs to get bigger. For a seven-footer, he is extremely skinny. Imagine if he is to compete against Dwight Howard for rebounds!
If Yi does become stronger, and becomes more accustomed to the NBA style of play, he might turn Yao's statement on Yi into reality: Yi will be better than Yao.
For now, the Bucks have Michael Redd to help them carry the offense.
But when Yi Jianlian is ready to burst onto the NBA scene, his emergence might be grander than that of Yao Ming.
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