Los Angeles Lakers Roster: Yi Jianlian Returns, Will the Chinese Superstar Succeed This Time?

By Jeff Villanueva, Posted: 09/19/16 10:55AM EDT
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Before there was Linsanity, there were five players with Chinese blood who have played in the league. and all of them actually are pure Chinese. They were part of the Chinese National team that brought fame by dominating the Asian basketball tournaments year after year. In fact, one of them, Yao Ming, was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year.

But among the five, there's one who will be coming back for another tour of duty in the NBA and his name is Yi Jianlian, a 7-foot power forward from Heshan, China. At 28 years of age, Yi was part of the Chinese Basketball team that participated in the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

Yi Jianlian's First NBA Journey

Yi was the No. 6 overall pick of the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2007 NBA Draft. During his first year in the league, Yi showed brilliance of an NBA veteran and flashes of future NBA star. He was even named Rookie of the Month in December of that year, and was selected to play for the Rookie team at the 2008 NBA All-Star Game.

Unfortunately, Yi got injured during a match against the Houston Rockets whose one of superstars is his fellow countrymen Yao Ming. Yi was sidelined for the rest of the season until the Bucks decided to trade him to the New Jersey Nets.

Since then, Yi has never completed a season without suffering an injury. Yi later played for the Washington Wizards and the Dallas Mavericks before he decided to return to China.

Back home, Yi showed his deadly form when he rejoined Guangdong Southern Tigers. Proof to this is getting the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) Championship in 2013 and being named CBA Domestic MVP and Finals MVP. And since he returned to CBA, Yi has been named Domestic MVP for four consecutive years, surpassing Chinese legend Mengke Bateer.

Finally, after years of absence on the biggest stage of basketball, Yi Jianlian has decided to test the waters anew in the NBA. What a better way to restart Yi's career than joining the Los Angeles Lakers. First, the Lakers are rebuilding post-Kobe Bryant era, which means anyone who will show excellence could become the team's foundation in the coming years.

Second, there is a big Chinese community in California, thus, a very big fan base to support the reemergence of the LA Lakers. Chinese are known to support their own, thus, visiting teams will have a hard time beating the Lakers' sixth man -- the crowd -- at the Staples Center.

Making big adjustment from CBA to NBA is never a question, and Yi knows it. He has played five years in the NBA before. Yi has consistently played in many international events, competing against the best players in the world. These players happen to play in the NBA so he's pretty much familiar with most of them.

The only thing that he needs to worry is whether Yi can stay healthy for the entire season given his history of injuries. But four years in the CBA would have given him enough time to recuperate so old injuries should not be a problem.

How Yi Jianlian Could Fit In the Lakers System

Depending on the team's performance this coming training camp, there will be a couple of options for Lakers coach Luke Walton. One of Yi's assets that could earn him a starting position will be his deadly outside shooting. The Chinese are known for outside shooting prowess and Yi is actually one of them.

Other things Coach Walton should look into Yi's skills are his mobility, quickness on and off the ball, and his high basketball IQ. Among the five, or six including Jeremy Lin, natural born Chinese citizens who played in the NBA, Yi has the closer chance to getting an NBA Championship, a great contribution to the team's cause, perhaps Sixth Man of the Year, and even being named to the All-Stars.



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