Yi Jianlian is either still 27 years old or already 30, depending on which website you look for the info. Nonetheless, most of his game is still reliant on the athletic ability he possesses in his chiseled seven-feet, 238-pound frame. The most dominant Chinese player of his Era is once again leading the league in scoring among natives, while impressively averaging 1.62 points per shot on 574 attempts, and Guangdong has won 33 of its 35 games under his leadership.
He is a fluid runner sprinting up the court in transition and cutting to the front of the rim after setting a down screen in the half-court. Yi doesn’t play above the rim as a target for lobs very often but has soft hands to catch the ball on the move and can finish strong with momentum, converting his 549 two-point shots at a 60.2% clip this season. He doesn’t play with much energy under the glass, not actively fighting for inside position often, but still manages to make an impact through his jumping ability and seven-foot-three wingspan, collecting 10.8% of Guangdong’s misses.
He has a quickness-edge over most of his competition and uses it well on the post, on sudden turnaround moves looking to finish strong at the rim, proving able to elevate off the ground with power in a pinch. On face-up drives from the high post or the perimeter, Yi actually doesn’t have long strides and dribbles too high in traffic but manages to protect possession by using his body well and maintains balance through contact to get to the rim or draw shooting fouls. He’s averaged a jaw-dropping 9.4 free throws per 36 minutes this season and converted them at a 74.5% clip. His 9.7% turnover rate is quite low in the context of his sky high 29.1% usage rate.
Part of that is because Yi does not attempt to create many shots for others. He has flashed some appealing passing instincts scanning the court with his back to the basket and on the move off the bounce. But despite this and playing with several shooters around him, Yi has assisted on just 6.7% of Guangdong’s scores.
His ball skills are mostly on display in his outside shooting. Yi has only taken three-point shots sporadically since his return to China, averaging less than one a game over the last three seasons. But he does take quite a few long-twos, sometimes from three-point range but with one or both of his feet on the line. Yi doesn’t elevate much off the ground and doesn’t have a particularly quick release but elevates with pretty good balance and extends himself fully, which gives him a high release point tough to contest effectively. He’s hit 11 of the 25 three-point shots he’s taken this season.
On the other end, Yi is very selective with his effort. He does get on his stance guarding the pick-and-roll by showing-and-recovering but will at times look disengaged off the ball. Yi has great length to contest perimeter shots effectively but won’t always hustle on closeouts. He’s not an effective interior protector with smaller guards running at him but has proven able to play above the rim as a shot blocker rotating off the weak-side. Yet, his 40 blocks on 34 appearances aren’t particularly impressive.
He doesn’t look to box out diligently, more often relying on his athleticism to chase the ball off the rim quicker than the opposition. His 22.8% defensive rebounding rate is a top 20 mark, but not quite the dominance you’d expect from an NBA-caliber athlete. Yet, through all of these frustrations, Yi is very effective playing the passing lanes with his long arms. He’s averaged almost two steals per game, which help explain why his individual defensive rating of 103.3 ranks second in the league.
Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched at realgm.com.
Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here and at BballBreakdown or at Upside & Motor, a couple of websites where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.