Chinese basketball fans held their collective breath this morning as the NBA draft took place a full 12 time-zones away.
22-year old 19-year old Yi Jianlian slipped past his projected spot at the number 5 pick when the Boston Celtics signed a draft-and-trade agreement with the Seattle Supersonics involving 7-time all-star Ray Allen.
Yi was selected the very next pick by the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that might not please the 7-footer from China too greatly. Yi previously expressed a desire to play in a “big market” NBA city–a category under which (despite its obvious [?] upside) Milwaukee certainly does not fall.
ESPN.com’s coverage of the draft lottery selections describes the situation like so:
The Milwaukee Bucks took a chance at No. 6 on the draft’s mystery player, Chinese forward Yi Jianlian. Though Yi was getting plenty of attention — half of the record 60 international media members were from China — he came with plenty of question marks. He hasn’t played against top competition in the Chinese leagues, and he is rumored to be older than the 19 he is listed.
Milwaukee also ignored concerns that Yi only wanted to play in a major market with a large Asian population. He didn’t even work out for the Bucks.
“It’s a surprise to me as well, because when I was in China, Milwaukee didn’t come to watch me play or work out,” Yi said. “Myself, I’m not really familiar with the city, but I’m happy with the team and I’m happy to play in the NBA.”
Whether Yi is lying through his teeth about being happy with the team remains to be seen. Thankfully the young Chinese centre has avoided comparisons to Yao Ming throughout the draft process–comparisons in which he would likely fall woefully short of the high bar set by Yao in his first half-decade with the Houston Rockets.
To tell you the truth, Shanghaiist thinks Yi Jianlian looks a little soft. The NBA has a way of breaking soft big men down, especially foreign-born players that must adjust to the nuanced lifestyle associated with the US game. It could get real ugly, real fast if the Bucks continue to struggle and Yi has trouble finding his rhythm during his rookie contract. It certainly doesn’t bode well that, of his top-10 dunks embedded in this post, one of them is cut from a commercial and a majority of the rest are unspectacular at best.
Also on Shanghaiist::
Get to know Yi Jianlian