There were many questions about Yi Jianlian's game entering the FIBA World Championships. Some critics questioned his shot selection, interior play and defense - to name a few. Well through three games, Yi has had three very solid performances. Currently he is averaging a very impressive 25 PPG and 10 RPG, but statistics alone do not tell the full story.
Previously, I suggested that Yi could struggle at the Worlds due to the relative inexperience of his team. Well, statistically speaking he has not struggled - he has excelled. Often facing double teams, Yi has managed to lead his team in both points and rebounds. And if his young guards were more proficient at getting him the ball in the paint, Yi could easily be averaging 30 PPG. There have been a number of possessions in which Yi was in great position with his defender sealed and his guard was too late with the pass (if he passed it at all), attempted to drive to the hope on his own, or took a bad jump shot (which is more often the case).
What I have found impressive is that Yi is generating his numbers while not taking a ton of shots. Through three games Yi is averaging nearly 18 shots per game which means that he is taking about 27% of the teams shots (approximately 62 total shots per game). Given that he, and Wang ZhiZhi, are the only players hitting shots at a respectable rate he may want to consider becoming even more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor.
During his three years in the NBA, some have knocked Yi for being too perimeter oriented. However, that criticism does not apply through his first three games. Forty-seven of Yi's fifty-three shots have come from inside the shorter international three point line. And while the official stat does not appear to be tracked, he has to be among the leaders in points off dunks. The point is that much of Yi's work is being done in the paint and around the rim.
Besides the shooting of the guards, China struggles most on the defensive end where its overall lack of speed has become its Achilles heal. Look no further than today's game against Puerto Rico, who drove China nuts when it switched to its smaller, quicker unit. In general, I have been impressed by Yi's defensive effort and intensity. When he has gotten exposed it has generally occurred when he was rotating to help out a teammate. And while he has not been known as a shot blocker, it is refreshing to see him change a few shots (and even pick up a goal-tending tor two).
I can hear some now wanting to point out the relative lack of competition that Yi is putting up these numbers against. And in some respect that is true. However, this tournament still provides a high level of competition. The teams currently playing in the FIBA tournament contain many of the best players their countries offer. And while this is not the depth of talent that is usually faced on a nightly basis in the NBA, it still isn't the local YMCA. Yi is playing against teams and individuals who have something to prove. You better believe that as there are teams who want to beat Team USA, there are also players who want to shine against NBA players. And we cannot forget that Yi also has the added pressure of "carrying" his National team - in this regard he is carrying a similar burden as Kevin Durant.
All things considered, Yi Jianlian is performing above expectations. Let's hope that he carries this momentum into the season for the Wizards.