NBA (National Basketball Association)

On point: China’s Yi Jianlian is giving it a real shot for the Los Angeles Lakers

He signed a one-year deal that could be worth up to US$8 million having last played in the NBA in 2012

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 October, 2016, 12:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 October, 2016, 12:40pm

Training camp isn’t, and it isn’t supposed to be easy. Neither is making an NBA roster after four years out of the league. But there is a difference from his first attempt in the NBA, nine years ago.

“I just feel more comfortable,” said Yi Jianlian, still sweating from some extra shooting after the Los Angeles Lakers’ fourth day of training camp at UC Santa Barbara.

His comfort level is showing. Yi’s athleticism and shooting have aided his quest to make the Lakers’ roster.

Last month the Lakers signed Yi to a one-year deal that could be worth up to US$8 million if he hits certain incentives. He’ll have to play his way onto the team, and might be doing just that.

“He’s been really good,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “He’s been shooting the heck out of the ball, which is obviously something we can use.

“A big man that can step behind the three-point line and help space the floor. I’m a big believer in an open-space style of game. He’s probably our best three-point shooter out of the bigs.”

Watch: Yi Jianlian

Yi began his first NBA stint as a lottery pick in 2007 when the Milwaukee Bucks took him sixth overall, but the transition proved difficult.

“It’s tough for me that time,” Yi said. “That time I was not able to speak a lot of English. First time overseas. Not really knowing the American culture at the time. There was a lot of new stuff to pick up. It was tough for me, but it’s a great experience.”

A year later he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, and two years after that, the Nets traded him to the Washington Wizards. He played 30 games for the Dallas Mavericks in 2012, and that stint seemed to be the end of his NBA career.

The Lakers, though, kept an eye on Yi. For the past two seasons, they worked him out occasionally.

Olympic springboard: China basketball star Yi Jianlian signs up with NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers

When their salary cap situation allowed it, they recruited him to return from China.

“He’s not been in the NBA for four or five years, but we know he has NBA size and athleticism,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said.

“Certainly he can hold his own physically. He’s got a great skill.”

As the Lakers saw it, they took a low risk in signing Yi and had the length of the preseason to evaluate his ability and his fit on the roster.

While Yi always believed in his ability to fit the Lakers’ system at either power forward or centre, he had to show that to his new team, and as training camp progresses, he’s doing that.

“It’s just basketball,” Yi said. “Nothing different than basketball. The new thing is just different coaches right now, we have a lot of new stuff, lot of new defence rules, we’ve got to pay attention on that and put it in the game.”