A rookie mistake?
Guaranteed PT would be bad for both Bucks and Yi
Posted: Wednesday August 29, 2007 10:40PM; Updated: Thursday August 30, 2007 1:57AM
LAS VEGAS -- Yi Jianlian already had the weight of a country on his shoulders. Now he adds the weight of a city as well.
The news that Yi signed his name to a standard rookie contract (about $3 million per year for his first two years with two more seasons at the teams option) with Milwaukee is good news for all parties involved. For Yi, he avoids the possibility of a prolonged holdout that would have cost him valuable time in his rookie season. There is tremendous pressure on Yi to improve his game in advance of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where China is hoping to make a big splash. Another season spent toiling in the Chinese league would do nothing to enhance Yi's game -- in fact, any skills he has picked up in the summer spent Stateside most likely would have deteriorated by the time 2008 games rolled around.
That the Bucks weren't forced to trade Yi is a win for them, as bowing to pressure from a foreign country would have set a horrible precedent. If China was able to handpick Yi's team, what's to stop other countries from doing the same thing? Besides, you know, not being socialists.
The addition of Yi bolsters a Bucks team that was decimated by injuries last season but should bounce back strongly in 2007. Michael Redd, Mo Williams, Andrew Bogut, Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Villanueva all missed significant time last season due to injury. Their healthy return, coupled with Yi's arrival, the return of 2005 Most Improved Player Bobby Simmons (who missed all of last season with a right heel injury) and the addition of Desmond Mason will probably vault the Bucks into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference.
"I'm glad we got it knocked out," said Redd. "I didn't want it to be a distraction during training camp and I'm glad he signed on to be part of our team."
What is potentially troubling is if Yi has actually been promised a certain amount of playing time this season. Bucks general manager Larry Harris deftly avoided the question at a news conference Wednesday, but if he did, it's a horrendous decision.
Like any rookie, Yi should have to earn his playing time. If Milwaukee coach Larry Krystowiak is under orders to play Yi, say, 20 minutes per game it will impact his overall game plan. Suppose a game is close in the third quarter and Krystowiak has to sub out a Bogut and insert an inexperienced Yi into a game just so he meets his predetermined minutes total. What if as a result, the game slips away? Is getting Yi on the roster worth sacrificing games? This isn't CYO basketball where all the kids are supposed to play. This is a professional league with high stakes.
"Training camp is war and he is going to have to fight for his minutes," said Redd. "All I know is that he is going to have to come in and battle. If he comes in with the mindset to work hard, he will be fine."
Besides, who's to say Yi is going to be any good? Setting aside 2007 Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy, the previous two sixth overall picks have been Martell Webster and Josh Childress. Hardly a pair of impact players. Yi is also coming over from a vastly inferior league, which will make his transition to the NBA that much more difficult. The learning curve is going to be tremendous.
Personally speaking, I think Yi is going to be a pretty good player. I had a chance to see Yi work out in Los Angeles in June and I see him as an effective four who can run the floor like a guard and knock down the perimeter jumper. His weight shouldn't be a problem considering he is bottom-heavy and strength coaches always say that it's easier to build up the upper body than the lower one. Just look at Yao Ming.
But I also think it is going to take time. Sitting on an NBA bench isn't a bad thing. Jermaine O'Neal did it. Tracy McGrady did it, too. Look how they turned out. Yi can still hone his skills in practice, battling Bogut, Villanueva and Gadzuric. He'll even face the same rookie hazing, a rite of passage for all first-year players. "Oh man is he going to get it," said Redd with a laugh. "We all went through it; he's going to go through it, too."
Just by practicing against NBA players on a daily basis, where Yi is free to make mistakes and learn from them without tangible consequences, will make him a better player for both the Bucks and for China.