|[Believe it or not, I actually compare Yi Jianlian to a dreamleaguer...read on!]|
If you're a fan of Yi as we are, today's ESPN Insider article by Chad Ford makes the Insider subscription worth it (even though we got ours at a major discount, ha!).
Ford witnessed workouts by Yi over two days in LA and had rave reviews. Here are some samples, for those of you blocked out of the Insider wall...
Here are some other discussion points from the article...
- Don MacLean (former UCLA star and current trainer for Nick Young, draft prospect out of USC): "Have you seen the Yi kid yet? That kid was amazing."
- Joakim Noah, who was also training in LA, about Yi's workouts: "Something to behold. Where did that guy come from?"
- "[Yi] rarely missed. He got great elevation on his picture-perfect jump shot -- high release, elbow in, nothing but net from both inside and outside the 3-point line. And Noah? His shaky jumper found the basket, but his form looked even worse when he was matched up in shooting drills with Yi and [Nick Fazekas, draft prospect out of Nevada]. Yi handled the ballhandling drills with the same aplomb. He got low to the ground, showing impressive balance and control on spin moves to the basket.Fazekas could do some of that too, but at a pace far slower than Yi. Noah kept up the pace with Yi, but without the consistency. Noah was all over the place, for both the good and the bad."
- "So what's he got? One way to find out was to see him next to Noah, a very athletic big man. Could Yi keep up? It didn't take long to get the answer. After the shooting drills were over, Yi, Fazekas and Noah went through a drill in which they took the ball at the top of the key, cut right or left, were given one dribble and then had to finish around the basket. While Fazekas labored to get to the rim from that distance, Noah had no problem, as expected. He finished every time with either a finger roll at the rim or a dunk. Yi's performance was more surprising. I had to change angles to make sure it wasn't an optical illusion. As Yi finished at the rim, his elbow was often at or just below the rim. His elbow."
- "Purely in terms of talent and tools, I have no doubt he's the third-best prospect in the draft." [For those of you who have just had a brain fart, please be reminded that Kevin Durant and Greg Oden are expected to go #1 and #2, not necessarily in that order.]
"There's an ongoing question about what Yi's true age is, because there was a time when his birth year was listed as 1985 before later being listed as 1987. What does Yi say? He points to a passport that says his birth year is 1987."Alright, we gotta get this one outta the way. Believe me, I've been grappling with this very issue for a very, very, very long time.
My dad was born December 19, 1946 in China. My mom was born December 21, 1946, also in China. So my dad's actually younger than my mom! As a 2nd grader in the 70's, I just didn't see that a lot. A dad younger than the mom. I hope none of my classmates finds out, otherwise they might think I'm weird.
Wait, no. Dad says his real birthday is probably somewhere in February because his birthday is based on the Chinese calendar. WTF? OK, I didn't know "F" at the time, but you get my point. Why the heck is there another calendar? Chinese people wanna live in the future ahead of the rest of the world or something? Or is it the past? I didn't get it. Still don't get. I've been befuddled for about 28 years and counting since my dad first tried to explain it to me.
Anyways, his passport -- there it is! -- it says December 19, 1946. So nobody in the world is really gonna know that he wasn't really born on that date.
Oh yeah, mom. She says her birthday is actually on our calendar. Maybe it was because my grandfather was an agricultural minister and had to travel out of the country a lot. My mom spent her teenage years in boarding school in Switzerland. So let me put it this way. Her side of the family got it right. Of course, my dad's side would probably say the rest of the world has it wrong.
Well, we're here in 2007 and everybody -- the next-door neighbor, our cousins, the IRS, even my dad's brother -- still thinks of my dad as being younger than my mom. I mean, it's just too confusing otherwise. When he hit those golden ages when you're supposed to really look out for your body and have a great relationship with the doctor, he didn't start paying attention to those warning signs at X age before he actually hit age X. It's not like he's chuckling when he fills out a form at the DMV.
Basically only God or the Earth's rotation (if it has a conscience) knows or cares that my dad is really older than he is. Maybe my dad would have some sort of advantage if he got in a spaceship and came back (you know, the Einstein stuff where when you come back, everyone's incredibly older), but honestly, do you care?
|Note to GMs: Only this man and those who understand what he was saying should be concerned about Yi's age.|
Alright, maybe this isn't what happened with Yi's listed age. Maybe the Chinese basketball authorities doctored it. But the fact remains: birthdays in China are not necessarily the same birthdays in the rest of the world, for whatever reason.
So as far as Yi's age is concerned, let me tell you: IT DOES NOT MATTER. Let's move on...
"But as I've learned from somewhat painful experience over the years, what a player does in a workout doesn't always translate to a 5-on-5 basketball game."As evidenced in the comments section of the article, Ford is talking about his rave reviews of Darko Milicic's workout awhile back. However, other commenters have rebutted that Milicic hasn't found the right team to play on, that his early career was marred by coach Larry Brown, thus not necessarily debunking the fabulous-workouts-equals-awesome-NBA-player theory.
Great workouts certainly can't hurt, either. Go read TrueHoop's recent incredible 6-part (and counting) recount of Brazilian translator Gregory Dole's experience with showcasing Leandro Barbosa to NBA executives. Barbosa had mostly great workouts and some that were so-so. How many of those NBA execs who saw Barbosa have a great workout and then passed (btw, Chris Mullin was one of them) are regretting their choice now?
"I've seen him play about a dozen games on tape from China. In some, he's been dominant. In others, he's been a little disappointing. A number of NBA general managers and scouts flew to China to watch Yi's Guangdong Tigers play in the Chinese Basketball Association finals, and they came away with mixed feelings. He clearly did not play his best, and questions about his motor, aggressiveness and toughness have been raised."Poor Man's Commish will tell you time and time again. The NBA ain't no different than any other well-run league. Case and point: dreamleague Bay Area's Michael Kraus.
In 2004-05, Kraus (who is half-Chinese) was still a student at Cal, playing pickup at the RSF and getting introduced to dreamleague's Asian American league by Boun Khamnouane. Back then we had three distinct levels of competition, labeled like Major League Baseball: NL (for the "senior circuit") was the top where the best players probably could've played at some junior college somewhere, AL (which had younger up-and-coming players) was the next highest, and AAA was for the smaller, less serious guys who mostly couldn't make their own high school varsity team. Btw today, the Dream League Bay Area has 9 divisions, but the NL is still known as the top division, where teams are at the upper echelons of national amateur tournament status.
Today, Kraus is the MVP forward-shooter whose game is somewhat like Dirk Nowitzki's. He has been the best, most consistent player on the NL team called Game Time, which has won the last two NL championships in a row. They are currently vying for an unprecedented three-peat in dreamleague. Kraus is also a member of the traveling tournament team, the Dream League All-Stars of the Bay Area. From the last four major tournaments, Kraus has garnered three first-team all-tournament selections, with one of them being MVP.
|This great NBA player also had great workouts.|
Suffice it to say that Kraus's intro to dreamleague on Khamnouane's AAA team was like Yi playing in the Chinese Basketball Association ("CBA"). Kraus finished the 2004-05 AAA season 2nd in scoring at 19.6 ppg, first in rebounding, first in double-doubles, tied for 3rd in steals, 5th in field goal percentage, 6th in free throw percentage, and 9th in three-point percentage. In some ways, he dominated like Yi did the CBA (according to Ford, Yi averaged 24-and-11 on 57% shooting last season).
Kraus's team roared into the playoffs with a perfect 8-0 record and the #1 seed, but got bounced the week before the championship. Sounds almost like Yi's last season in the CBA, as his team failed to defend their CBA crown.
Nowadays, Kraus is still averaging a little under 20 points and around 8 rebounds per game. Some days he plays great and gets 30. Other days he's off and only tallies around 14. There's a big difference, though. He's playing against much higher competition than before. Guess what? Similar numbers.
In retrospect, wouldn't you assume that Kraus would've -- should have -- averaged around 33 and 10 in the lowly AAA? Surely an undefeated regular season was an afterthought, but his team getting bounced in a measly quarter- or semi-final game (dreamleague uses double-elimination brackets, so we don't have "pure" quarters or semis)? Bah! This man should help Khamnouane's lower-division team breeze through to the championship by double-digit margins.
Well, that's not reality.
Two-time dreamleague NL champions, with Kraus in the middle trying to hold up the Game Time jersey, not knowing that Dave Peng's big head is in the way (j/k, DP! hehe).
So what can you make of Yi's performance in the CBA? Not much. If he's building a foundation of 24-and-11 on a regular basis, that's a good thing. It would have been good at 15-and-8. But to expect him to "dominate" and win multiple championships, that's not reality.
Go ask Kraus. When you're constantly playing against inferior competition, especially when you know you belong in at least two levels higher, sometimes your #1 task is just not to get injured. Sometimes it's fun to score 35 two games in a row on inferior competition. Sometimes it gets old. If you're going to turn it up a few notches on the mental scale, it should be worth the tremendous concentration it takes. You want to peak both mentally and physically against the best. You can't do that all the time against weaker foes unless that's the last league you ever play in.
As we all know, the CBA ain't the last league Yi will ever play in. Aside from establishing the baseline that he certainly belongs, Yi's numbers and performance in the CBA have no bearing on what he can and will do in the NBA.
"Can Yi handle the same stresses and strains, the weight of the world? Yi already has the Chinese media camped at his doorstep. In China, 14-year-old girls scream for him on the streets. An entire nation is waiting to see if he can fill the footprints of a national icon. It's heavy stuff."Heavy stuff is when you don't act like a tiger near the end of the game and actually want to shoot the winning basket, taking all the responsibility if you don't make the shot. Heavy stuff is not being shy about showing off your moves, taking the risk that you might turn the ball over, but then again being confident enough to know that you won't. Heavy stuff is trying to find ways to win your foreign teammates over during practice and by example, when you're tired from the grind, the traveling, and the not-so-great game you had last night, which makes it even tougher to win your teammates over as a go-to guy.
Hey, everybody that plays in the NBA has the same heavy stuff. No Boys Allowed. You think Yi will be worrying about the Chinese media, the Chinese fans, the so-called "weight of the world"?
Huh, he has bigger fish to fry, mate. And guess what. When he fries that big fish, all other little fishes are fried in the process.
I told you. The NBA is still basketball. I've seen a lot of basketball.
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