Yi Jianlian looking good so far for China. Very good.


Jianlian_china_dunk.jpgYi 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…).

Rumor: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope demanding more than $20 million annually to sign contract extension with Pistons

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 27:  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #5 of the Detroit Pistons reacts after a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 27, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading andor using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Pistons owner Tom Gores said he’d pay the luxury tax if a contract extension for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put Detroit over next season.

Yet, Caldwell-Pope hasn’t signed an extension with the deadline six days away.

What will it take?

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

There was gossip over the summer that it would take a deal worth north of $20 million per year to get Caldwell-Pope’s signature.

That’s not an unreasonable demand. It’s up to Caldwell-Pope whether he’d accept less in exchange for more security, but I think he’d get even more as a restricted free agent next summer – maybe even a max contract, which projects to start at more than $24 million.

Caldwell-Pope is a good shooting guard in a league with a dearth of quality wings and a greater need for them as teams go smaller. He’ll be just 24 next offseason, so his next deal should last through his prime.

His preseason didn’t foreshadow a breakout year. He remains a good defender and streaky 3-point shooter. But it’s possible Caldwell-Pope steadies his outside stroke and/or becomes an even more impactful defender. He could also improve his off-the-dribble skills, though his bread is buttered as a 3-and-D player.

Still, it won’t take massive improvements for Caldwell-Pope to hold value. To some degree, the Pistons could view every dollar under the max on a Caldwell-Pope extension as savings.

If his demands remain high, the Pistons could always take another year to evaluate the fourth-year guard. With matching rights, they can always re-sign him in the offseason.

NBA sets record with 113 international players, a plurality from Canada, on opening-night rosters

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 21: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs go after a loose ball during the first quarter of the game on November 21, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Spurs defeated the Timberwolves 121-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Until last season, the NBA set or tied its record for number of international players on opening-night rosters the previous three years.

But after peaking at 101 in 2014-15, the number dropped to 100 last season.

A sign the league has hit its foreign saturation point?

Probably not.

The NBA boasts a record 113 international players from a record 41 countries and territories to begin this season. Canada, with 11, leads the league for the third straight year.

A count of international players in the NBA on opening night:

  • 2016-17: 113
  • 2015-16: 100
  • 2014-15: 101
  • 2013-14: 92
  • 2012-13: 84

Here’s a full list of 2016-17 international players, but before you read it, take our quizzes on opening-night rosters.

Trivia: Name every player on a 2016-17 NBA roster

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks the ball against the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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NBA teams cut their rosters to a maximum of 15 players yesterday. Only one team, the Bulls, has just 14 players.

That means there are 449 players in the NBA as the season tips off tonight.

How many of them can you name?

Take these two quizzes, one for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western Conference. Players are in a random order within their teams.

Chandler Parsons out for Grizzlies’ opener

Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons poses for a picture on NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. Parsons signed with the Grizzlies in July. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Chandler Parsons missed the Mavericks’ final 18 games last season, including the playoffs, due to knee problems.

Now with the Grizzlies, his games missed streak will hit 19.

Michael Wallace of Grizzlies.com:

Maybe this is just a blip. Parsons will get healthy soon enough and diversify Memphis’ offense.

But Dallas didn’t make a stronger push to keep Parsons due to his knees. We could look back on this and chastise the Grizzlies for signing someone to a max contract who wasn’t even ready to play in the first place. They have big plans for Parsons, but he must play for those to work.

Brandan Wright just can’t get healthy. Maybe Memphis will believe this injury warrants missing time.