Thursday, August 30, 2007

Yi's Playing Time

Channel 12 on the Yi Signing

Chris Mannix at CNNSI tackles the Yi signing. He has a couple Redd quotes but mainly argues the Bucks shouldn't be guaranteeing Yi a specific amount of PT:

"I'm glad we got it knocked out," said Redd. "I didn't want it to be a distraction during training camp and I'm glad he signed on to be part of our team."

"Training camp is war and he is going to have to fight for his minutes," said Redd. "All I know is that he is going to have to come in and battle. If he comes in with the mindset to work hard, he will be fine."

Like any rookie, Yi should have to earn his playing time. If Milwaukee coach Larry Krystowiak is under orders to play Yi, say, 20 minutes per game it will impact his overall game plan. Suppose a game is close in the third quarter and Krystowiak has to sub out a Bogut and insert an inexperienced Yi into a game just so he meets his predetermined minutes total. What if as a result, the game slips away? Is getting Yi on the roster worth sacrificing games? This isn't CYO basketball where all the kids are supposed to play. This is a professional league with high stakes.
While I agree Yi shouldn't be promised anything, Mannix's hypothetical is rather severe and overlooks the fact that the Bucks won't have many other options outside of Yi. First off, even if Harris/Kohl asked LK to give Yi 20 mpg, are they really going to be enforcing this on a game-to-game basis? Of course not. Mannix also seems to assume that the Bucks' assurances of playing time mean they'll force Yi into the rotation when he doesn't necessarily deserve to be there. But given the Bucks' lack of depth at PF outside of Yi and Charlie Villanueva, they really have no choice but to give Yi significant playing time. Harris and company clearly approached free agency with the assumption Yi would contribute, as they let Brian Skinner, Ersan Ilyasova and Ruben Patterson walk. While Villanueva's injury was a large part of it, that trio combined for 61% of the Bucks PF minutes according to 82games. I'm not terribly worried about Yi beating out Jake Voskuhl and Damir Markota for PF minutes. Over at the JS Garry Howard argues Yi should start:
Today, pencil in Yi, mainly because I believe the Bucks want desperately to have a confident first-round pick and general manager Larry Harris indicated in this morning's conference call from Hong Kong that the team has made assurances to Yi and his representatives that he will be a big part of their season.

Having said that, I still believe Villaneuva is the better player and will not let a depth chart keep him from reclaiming his place in the starting lineup for the 2007-'08 Bucks. But he has to prove that his shoulder is fine and that his stated desire to be a major contributor to this team's success has not waned.

Believe me, Yi will get his minutes.

The fact that Yi WILL get minutes regardless of whether he starts is precisely what makes starting him not terribly important. The Bucks don't need to start Yi for him to be a contributor, and I think it's nonsense to say Yi needs the confidence boost of starting. Couldn't Charlie Villanueva also use that confidence boost as well? It seems unlikely to me that Yi beats out Villanueva in camp simply because of the experience gap between the two, and giving Yi the starting job anyway won't win him any fans among his new teammates. Larry Krystkowiak has stated his desire to implement a disciplined system where all players are held accountable, so gift-wrapping the starting PF spot to Yi seems to only undermine the young coach's authority. Yi faces a steep learning curve guarding NBA PFs, so it also makes sense to have him playing against second units early on as he adapts to the way the game is played/officiated. Villanueva might be a defensive liability, but forcing Yi to line up against Howard, Garnett, and J. O'Neal might do both Yi and the Bucks more harm than good in the short-term.

Clearly the writing is on the wall that the Bucks want Yi to be their PF for the future. So what about Villanueva? Even in Toronto he played most of his minutes at PF rather than SF, and his lack of perimeter foot speed makes him even worse defensively at the 3 than the 4. So while the occasional Bogut/Yi/Villanueva lineup might make it on the court, it's more of an NBA Live lineup than something that will work in the long term. With the end of his rookie contract on the horizon (his last team option will be in 08/09), Villanueva will be facing plenty of pressure to bounce back from an injury-riddled second season, and I think the Bucks have plenty of incentives to give him the opportunity to prove his worth. Ideally Villanueva has a strong season and puts up 15/8 while Yi becomes a valuable third wheel in the 4/5 rotation. Then the Bucks can explore their trade options for Villanueva and perhaps acquire a more defensive-minded big man to complement Bogut and Yi.

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