It’s just not a good one. With the season winding down, you have a lot of national media writers posting their awards and such. Steve Aschburner from Si.com did this as well, just with a little twist. He gave out awards for the bad of the NBA season. Included was his pick of Least Improved Player…Yi:
Yeah, right. It was Milwaukee’s fault and its lack of Chinese culture and limited opportunities afforded by former Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak and … and … and … The excuses can’t hide the fact that Yi has had ample opportunities with the Nets this season and has frittered away most of them. Yi has played himself out of New Jersey’s starting lineup and is averaging only 5.7 points since the All-Star break. He is shooting 38.5 percent for the season, to which we can only say, “Yao!”
If you can for a minute, lets ignore the terrible pun at the end. Yes, Yi has been awful, and he has probably deserved this award, but Steve Aschburner fails to point out some key information in this post. He mentions the PPG after the All-Star break, well that’s convient, he has been hurt and his minutes have been cut. All I am saying is if you are going to bash players like this, at least be accurate (or explain why he only had 5.7 points after the All-Star break) in your bashing. But like I said, yes Yi has been awful this year.
Yi finally got what he wanted way before he was drafted by the Bucks last year…well, almost what he wanted. He wanted to play for a big market team, he gets the Nets…sorta in between. You see, before he even got drafted Yi showed no interest in playing for the Bucks…hell, he didn’t even work out for them. He pulled that stunt trying to force the Bucks into not drafting him, it didn’t work, but they ended up trading him to the Nets this offseason.
OK, so after that little history lesson, let’s take a close look at this kid, yes he is still a kid (turning 21 October 27th). First of all, Yi is a freak of nature with a tremendous (yeah, I used the word tremendous) skill set. His size (7’0″) makes him a matchup nightmare because he isn’t a true center. He has a silky touch from anywhere on the court free-throw line extended, which gives him the ability to face up in the post. He is also a beast with his back to the basket. Now don’t let his stats from last year fool you. Sure, 8.6 PPG and 5.2 RPG a game aren’t spectacular, but lets look a little bit closer. First, he only averaged 25.0 Minutes Per Game, a number that he is going to surpass here in Jersey. Second, let’s look at his point guard…Mo Williams who only averaged 6 assists per game. That is a decent number, but you got to think that most of those simply came from giving the ball to Michael Redd and letting him bomb away. Which leads me to my theory about his rebounding numbers…the Bucks, who were usually losing, enjoying shooting the three ball. Anyone who has ever played basketball knows that the longer the shot, the longer the rebound, which leads to interior players not getting as many. I expect to see these numbers increase a ton this year. He is in a situation where he is going to be happy, have a point guard who is more pass oriented, and maybe most importantly, he has a year of experience under his belt.
Now, lets look at what him being on the court means for his teammates. First and most importantly, whenever a team decides to man-up the Nets with Yi on the court, there will be matchup problems. With Yi not being a true center, you will usually have smaller players covering him. That means Power Forwards and Small Forwards have the challenge of trying to stop him, in which case he will have a size advantage, and if a team is crazy enough to have a center and try to man him up, Yi will just pull them away from the basket and hit his jumper or open up the court for the Nets center (hopefully Brook). The second thing, and I just touched on it, he will open up the court for his teammates. Let’s say we got Yi on the high post and VC on the wing – same side. Vince can have a nice little iso, and if Yi’s man (who is closest help defender) doubles or helps, Yi has a nice free throw line extended jumper. If there is no help, that leaves Vince one-on-one, and he can win that match up more often than not. Yi’s on court presence can lead to another offensive set. Let’s say the Nets decide to try and run a pick and roll offense (and they better!). They could do it with two different players – Vince Carter and Devin Harris. With Devin, a quick screen at the top of the key will give him enough room to use his speed to get to the lane, which is Devin’s strenth. After getting beat with that a few times, teams will send a double team or switch off the screen, leaving Yi wide open when he pops for a nice little jumper. With Vince, a screen on the wing will give him a lane or a jumper, and if teams try to double or switch Yi has his jumper.
With all this being said, Yi really needs to show up this year. A lot of what I put in the above paragraph is all dependent on Yi being happy and playing well (which I think will happen this year). When (notice when instead of if) he does have a great year, the Nets can surprise some people. I am going to save my prediction for later, but can somebody say playoffs? Now, I am going to let you go with some Yi videos, enjoy: