Stern's Golden Ticket in China: Yi Jianlian
Well, you can call Larry Harris a lot of things, but a wimp is not one of them. With favorites Al Horford and Mike Conley off the board at 3/4 and the Celtics taking the remaining "safe" pick in Jeff Green at 5, the Bucks knew there was only one man left who they wanted--7'1" Chinese power forward Yi Jianlian. Nevermind that his representation--the murky conglomerate of Chinese basketball officials, American agent Dan Fegan, and Nike--was desperately hoping for him to end up in a bigger market like San Francisco, Boston, or Atlanta and had denied the Bucks access to a private Yi workout. Rather than settle for Brandan Wright or Corey Brewer, Harris and the Bucks braintrust did exactly what they had been saying they were willing to do and tabbed Yi as the Bucks' first ever Chinese import. And while there were continued rumblings about his hopes for a trade, the JS has quoted Yi as sounding open to coming to Milwaukee:
If those quotes mean anything, it suggests the Bucks read the situation right. While Fegan, Nike and the Chinese did their best to get him to the most favorable city from a marketing perspective, Yi himself has always seemed far less interested in playing games and far more interested in playing the game.
Though Yi's camp refused to let the Bucks watch Yi workout last week, Yi said in an interview Thursday night that he planned to play for the Bucks this season.
"I'm not really familiar with the city, but I'm happy to play with the team and I'm happy to play in the NBA," Yi said.
"I don't know much about the team...in China we didn't see a lot of games. I've never been therre, it's kind of a new city for me."
So where does this leave the Bucks? While the frontcourt was an area of need coming into the summer--Charlie Villanueva will be the only true veteran PF on the roster assuming Brian Skinner's option is declined--Yi certainly isn't the prototype that might make the most sense for the Bucks. He's not known for being an intense defender or rebounder and his primary strength is his dynamic offensive game and athleticism. As a result, the fit might be less than ideal in terms of complementing the Bucks' existing personnel.
So why can I not help but like the pick? Well, it's hard to argue the Bucks didn't go with the most talented player on the board, and in a league where superstars rule, that means almost everything. Brandan Wright and Corey Brewer could be good or even great players, but they simply don't have the combination of size, athleticism and skills that Yi has. As Larry Krystkowiak noted, Yi has the most upside in addition to being someone they expect to contribute immediately. And it's that chance at greatness which makes the pick the right one. In the draft you simply have to go for the home run when you get the chance, and Larry Harris and his front office just took a Prince Fielder-sized cut.