NAS Awards: Most Frustrating – Yi Jianlian


When the team you follow can run out a guy who’s 7-feet tall, can stretch a defense by hitting a bunch of threes, and is long enough body-wise that he’s able to block some shots and grab rebounds, you want to believe this guy is capable of becoming a major player in the NBA. Unfortunately, that same player is maddeningly inconsistent offensively, is one of the worst defenders in the league, and seems to lack every other physical tool outside of length. What you get is the Nets’ “Most Frustrating” player in Yi Jianlian.

Perhaps problem number one for me was having any expectations at all for Yi headed into this season. But after seeing him bulk up and put together a strong showing in the Asia Cup games last summer, I allowed myself to believe that at the bare minimum, Yi could develop into a league average player at his position. After missing a majority of the first six weeks of the season with a knee injury – Yi proved me wrong – he looked like an even better than average player, scoring 22.5 points on 54 percent shooting in his first four games back from injury. What was even better was how Yi was doing it – an assortment of inside and outside moves. Kiki Vandeweghe immediately tried to instill a “twin towers” strategy on offense, with most plays running through Brook Lopez and Yi. The results were a disaster. Brook’s offensive production took a short-term hit, and Yi faded back to the player he was in his first two NBA seasons: 13.4 points per game with woeful 39 percent shooting in January. It’s also no coincidence that January was probably the most embarrassing month for the Nets last season, including back-to-back losses against the Warriors and the Jazz where the Nets were blown out by more than 30.

And Yi’s season continued to slide from there, as he average less than 10 points per game in Feburary and March. After missing some more time in March, he came back and outside of one game against the Pistons, was a non-factor. It was like 2008-09 all over again, when Yi flashed potential, only to miss some time with a wrist injury and never really be an impact player again.

Talking strictly as a fan, what frustrates me the most about Yi is from my vantage point, he’s come to represent all that the front office has done wrong with this organization the past few years. Yi was acquired in a salary dump for Richard Jefferson – and while the idea of having cap space this coming summer was nice, it was disingenuous for the front office to tell fans that this deal was made to make the Nets better in the long-term. Milwaukee, a team that has done a mighty good job rebuilding itself the past few years, was quite quick to dump Yi after only one season. That speaks volumes. There’s also the idea that Yi is solely on this roster as a marketing ploy – capitalizing on the world’s biggest market in China. Considering the desperate lengths the front office has gone to try and make money the past few seasons as their eyes were turned to Brooklyn, it’s not an outlandish Idea that Yi was seen as a cash cow and nothing more.

I wonder how much rope Mikhail Prokhorov will allow Yi this coming season. There are players out there that will improve the team at the PF position, but if the Nets are unable to lure any of them to Newark, this team is going to have to make a decision on Yi. I think he’s had ample opportunity to prove he’s not a starting caliber player in this league, not when he can’t give the team enough consistent offense to offset the fact that the opposing team’s PF is all but guaranteed to go 20 and 10 while Yi is on the floor.