Monday, October 29, 2007

Yi and Mason are Starters

Mason last started for the Bucks on 4/19/05 Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

The Bucks now have a starting lineup for their season opening game Wednesday night in Orlando. Surprising no one, Mo Williams and Michael Redd reprise their roles in the backcourt, while Andrew Bogut practiced on Sunday in spite of his sprained wrist and is set to start against the Magic. But Charles Gardner writes that the forward spots will feature two new starters, one an old favorite and the other a fresh face: Desmond Mason at small forward and rookie Yi Jianlian at power forward.

Mason starting probably says as much about Simmons' health than anything, which is why it would have been nice to see Bobby in the starting lineup on Wednesday. He missed a couple preseason games with soreness in his surgically repaired heel, and though he has started the past four games, he's still looking a little slow defensively. Larry Krystkowiak has been talking up the value of energy all month, and Mason certainly brings that. As a starter he'll draw the task of being the team's designated perimeter defender, since the Bucks logically try to shield Redd from other teams' wing scorers. He's never been a lock-down defender, but Mason certainly seems a better option at the moment than Simmons in that department.

While Simmons' shooting could have a nice floor-spacing effect with the starters, it also stands to reason that he'll be able to shoot more with the second unit while Mason stands to shoot relatively less while playing with the starters. Which is a good thing, so if Simmons is only playing 25 minutes anyway it might be best if he's doing it mostly with the backups. On RealGM, GAD also made the point that Mo Williams, Michael Redd and Mason have played together before and the Bucks could benefit from the existing chemistry between that trio. In any case, it would generally be a good thing if Simmons reclaims his starting spot at some point, but given the circumstances surrounding Bobby you have to give the benefit of the doubt to the coaches who see the players everyday in practice.

Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

At the other forward spot, you can take your pick as to whether the glass is half empty or half full. Some will be disappointed that Charlie Villanueva couldn't bounce back from his injury and claim the starting PF spot, but Yi also deserves credit for being a quick study and working hard on both ends of the court. The writing has been on the wall since draft night that Yi was meant to replace CV as the resident "PF of the future," but count me among those somewhat surprised to see it happen this soon. Unfortunately neither was a world-beater in the preseason, when they each played 24 mpg: Yi averaged 10/5 on 43% shooting while CV put up 11/7 on 37% from the field. CV's probably still the better player overall and might play as much or more as Yi, but LK has said he likes the possibility of CV being the offensive focal point for the second unit. Meanwhile, Yi's defensive mobility and willingness to work on both ends in theory makes him the better fit for the starting five. You can bet LK may have been trying to motivate Charlie somewhat as well, and it does look like his intensity on the defensive end has picked up towards the end of the preseason. Credit Charlie for continuing to say the right things; he can't enjoy losing the starting spot, but he could very well be more effective there.

"There will be nights where I'm going to play more; there's going to be nights where he will play more," Villanueva said. "That's the beauty of our team, that we have a lot of depth.

"I don't mind coming off the bench. Bobby and I are two good offensive players that can contribute to any team. Any given night, it's going to be a different guy."

Yi will most certainly have his share of struggles, but that's the way it goes for rookies. If he can be an average rebounder while not being a foul machine he should be OK. He'll mostly be running pick/pops and waiting for open jumpers on offense, but he's a pretty active body and hopefully will be able to work for some offensive rebounds as well. Fortunately for Yi, many of the NBA's top PFs are now penciled in at center--Rasheed Wallace, Dwight Howard, and Jermaine O'Neal to name a few. The NBA has been trending towards smaller, more mobile bigs for a while now, and it will help Yi a great deal that Bogut can match up with teams' best post players while Yi draws smaller, more mobile defensive assignments. It's not that we should expect Yi to lock down Rashard Lewis on Wednesday night, but it's a much better matchup than Dwight Howard.

No comments: