Let me start by saying you can’t have high expectations about a guy who shot 38 percent from the field last year dramatically turning around the fortune of the Nets. With that said, there’s reason to believe that Yi Jianlian, who’s expected to suit up for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, could play some role in improving the team’s offense.
A lot of it has to do with who’s been playing the bulk of power forward for the Nets this season since Yi went down with a knee sprain in early November. Josh Boone, who’s started 21 games at PF this season, may be a decent rebounder, and at times, an okay post defender, but looking at his shooting tendencies, he’s hardly an offensive option that opposing defenses need to keep an eye on. Of his 4.7 field goal attempts per game this season, 3.2 of them come at the rim. He averages another 1 attempt per game from between 10-feet and 23-feet and hasn’t attempted a single three-pointer this season (nor should he). So basically, opposing teams know if Boone gets the ball from outside 10-feet, he’s not going to do much, if anything with it because he can’t shoot, and he lacks the ability to put it on the floor and drive to the rim. So why bother getting a man on him? And that doesn’t even consider his horrid free throw shooting, which makes Boone a liability any time he gets hacked while shooting.
Yi, meanwhile, helps spread the floor for the Nets, and adds another desperately-needed outside shooter. Because Brook Lopez is attracting so many double teams in the post, the Nets need someone who can sneak into the corner and knock down a jumper. Devin Harris and Chris Douglas-Roberts are more slashers than jump shooters, and Courtney Lee’s jump shot is still lost somewhere at the airport in Orlando. While Yi struggled mightily on his long two’s last year, as you can see from his hotspots graph below, he was a decent corner three shooter. His 34 percent from threes overall last season aren’t half bad either. In addition, because Yi is known as a jump shooter, he’s going to command more attention on the perimeter than Josh Boone. If Yi maintains his aggressive streak that saw him take some more shots near the rim earlier this season, he really changes things up for how the Nets currently run their offense with Boone and Bobby Simmons off the bench.
Small sample size alert, but while Yi was on the floor earlier this season, the Nets had an offensive efficiency of 101.5 points per 100 possessions. That would currently rank the Nets 23rd in the league, compared with the 93.5 efficiency rating they are currently averaging, which is dead last in the league. So while Yi may not be a savior, he might bring just enough to the table to make a difference, and maybe give opposing defenses some different things to consider while playing the Nets.