Yi Jianlian has spent the last couple years in New Jersey playing like a guy who was trying to do what his coach told him and over-thinking things, not having fun and just playing basketball.
The Nets didn’t want that, but for whatever reason the fit just seemed wrong. He was shooting 40 percent from the floor and you saw only flashes of the athleticism and promise that made him the No. 6 pick overall.
Yi spent part of the summer working out with player development guru David Thorpe, then was asked to step forward and be the lead man for the Chinese national basketball team at the World Championships.
Sure looks like he is having fun now, averaging 26 points and 11.5 board a game through the first two games of the championships, as Michael Lee notes at the Washington Post.
Yi carried China to its first win on Sunday, with 26 points and nine rebounds in an 83-73 victory against Ivory Coast. With Ivory Coast lacking much size, the 7-foot Yi had his way inside, backing down defenders and showcasing his low-post game with bank shots and jump hooks.
He also was especially aggressive. On one sequence, Yi got the ball near the foul line, pump faked, took one dribble and soared toward the rim for a vicious two-handed jam. He followed the dunk by doing a pull-up on the rim that surely would’ve been a technical foul in the NBA (international rules allow those kind of post-dunk theatrics on the rim). Afterward, Yi tapped his fist against his chest, showing the American influence on his game.
His best outing, though, came in defeat on Saturday, when Yi scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds China played a surprisingly competitive 89-81 loss to European power Greece, one of the favorites to win the Group.
China is in a tough group, they will need to upset Russia, Puerto Rico or Turkey in one of their next three games to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament.
But Yi is playing like a guy who can lead a team to that. He is seeming more comfortable in the post, he is being aggressive around the rim. We know Yi can drop a three on you, but what would make him more dangerous is the threat of that combined with more aggression inside. He is showing that now. He is dunking everything he can.
We told you before Yi — running the floor along side John Wall for a revamped Wizards — may be poised for a breakout season. If he can keep up this new attitude. This is just more proof. Yi is ready to take on the mantle of best player from China (unless Yao Ming has a healthy foot, then…).