What The Mavs See In Yi: In Mix At Center?

As reported by DB.com, Yi Jianlian is being called up and will join the Mavs for Tuesday in Detroit. Can Yi, China's greatest active player, excel at this level? What do the advanced metrics tell us? What does Del Harris tell us? 'He can be a rotation player on a good team,' says Del. 'I think he'll be part of the Mavs three-man rotation at center.'

Who is Yi Jianlian as an NBA player?

"If he had an entire training camp, I'd be even more hopeful,'' Legends coach Del Harris tells DB.com. "But I think he is going to have a long NBA career. I think he can be a rotation player on a good team. I think they (the Mavs) are looking at him as part of the three-man rotation at center.''

We're dubious about Yi actually being a center at all. ... but we'll get to that.''

DallasBasketball.com learned on Monday morning that the Dallas Mavericks are calling him up from the D-League in Frisco (where he'd been a double-double guy in his two games there, averaging 23.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 36.5 minutes per game.) to the big club.

Who is he exactly? In some cases, not even the measurables are completely measurable ... starting with his age.

Age 24.2 or 27.2

Ht w/o shoes 6' 11"

Ht w/ shoes 7' 0.25"

Wt 246

Wingspan 7' 3.5"

Max Vertical 38.0"

Yi is either 24 or 27. There has been some controversy regarding his actual birthday, but it seems that at oldest he is 27 even though the official claim is that he is merely 24. Yi is a legit seven-footer in shoes, with a great wingspan and remarkable athleticism. His 38" vertical for a seven-footer is rare if not unheard of.

Here are Yi's stats from his first four seasons in the NBA:

10-11 09-10 08-09 07-08

+/- -4.15 +2.76 -2.09 -1.07

Off P/M -1.38 +3.75 -0.83 -4.08

Def P/M -2.76 -0.99 -1.26 +3.01

Adj P/M +1.55 -0.42 -2.49 -5.99

PER 10.1 12.3 10.9 11.3

Pts/36 11.5 13.6 13.3 12.4

Rbds/36 8.0 8.1 8.3 7.5

Asts/36 0.8 1.0 1.5 1.2

Stls/36 0.9 0.8 0.7 0.8

Blks/36 1.0 1.1 0.9 1.2

TO/36 1.7 1.7 1.8 2.0

FG% 0.418 0.403 0.382 0.421

3P% 0.231 0.366 0.343 0.286

FT% 0.681 0.798 0.772 0.841

FTA/36 2.9 4.2 3.1 3.2

Yi is a good rebounder who has struggled with FG% against NBA competition. He shot the three-ball pretty well in 09-10 and 08-09 but has never had an overall good shooting year. There is promise though because in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship this past year he shot a very good 47.9% while winning MVP honors, averaging 16.6 pts, 10.8 rbds, and 1.4 blks. He also has shot 47.4% from the floor in his two games with the Legends, averaging 23.0 pts, 12.0 rbds, and 2.0 blks.

As an NBA player, the 2007 first-round pick of the Bucks has career averages of 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds. His skills have translated better one level down, inclyding in the 2004 Olympics, when now-Legends boss Del Harris coached China to an eighth-place finish in Athens. In 2011 with the Chinese national team, Yi averaged 16.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

"Athletically, he fits,'' Del tells DB.com. "He can run incredibly well for a man his size. He's got 3-point shooting range. I'm a believer. I'm a believer that with time and the right situation, he can help you. A big part of it is knowing that his team has confidence in him.''

Worth noting: Harris made Yi an Olympic starter in '04 when he hadn't even been a starter on his club team. Harris was also on the Nets staff when Yi experienced a mini-breakout, averaging about 14 points and seven rebounds during a two-week span before Harris left NJ.

Thanks to GM Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks long ago forged a relationship with China. It's taken for granted now in a post-Yao era, but Donnie worked tirelessly to create a bridge between China and the NBA. Dallas was the first NBA team to successfully sign a Chinese player, drafting Wang Zhi Zhi with the 36th overall pick in 1999 before bringing him to the U.S. during the 2001-02 season. The Mavs know how pronounce his name. You should, too.

Yao was a success. Wang, not so much. Where does Yi fit?

In regard to advanced metrics, Yi has not performed very consistently in the NBA. His PER efficiency numbers have been below average his whole career mostly due to his poor shooting. His plus/minus numbers have been all over the place, seemingly pointing to the fact that he has been somewhat lost as he adjusts to the NBA game (showing flashes of brilliance coupled with ineptitude).

From our seat it seems that Yi has the potential to be a consistent NBA rebounder, a solid defender (has all the tools), and a contributing offensive force. ... as a backup 4.

Of his minutes last year with the Wizards, he played center exactly 1 percent of the time. Yi talks about his ability to play both positions. But we've always thought projecting him as a center is wrong. Projecting him as a starter is wrong. The Mavs view him as what we call a LIBB -- a Lightning in a Bottle Boy, a guy with a one-year contract who is zero risk/some reward. ... so while he might be a change-up at the 5, his skill set does not include great interior play at either end.

Said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle: "He's a young, athletic big guy who, we believe, still hasn't shown everybody what he can do. He doesn't need to be thrown into the fray right away. We can work with him."

But then there is Harris' view, and it's as valuable as there is in the bunch.

"He's got skills that Haywood and Mahinmi don't have,'' Del says. "He can catch the ball well, and he can create. He's an offensive threat away from the basket. Now, he can't muscle in down low. So in that regard, his body is more like Dirk's. But he does some different things than the other guys, so I think he'll be part of the (center) mix, yes.''

Will Yi ever put all his natural talents together consistently? Only time will tell, but whether he is 24 or 27 he deserves another chance in a healthy environment ... which we believe the Mavericks can provide.

Highlight reels can be deceptive because ... well, because they're all highlights. But you can understand the intrigue, especially based on the raw running and jumping in this top 10 package ...

For his part, Yi sounds humbled by comparisons to Dirk as a 7-footer who can shoot. "Talking about shooting skills, Dirk is the top level,'' Yi told NBA.com this weekend. "He is MVP of last Finals. I have a huge distance compared to him. But as a teammate, I believe I can learn from him a lot.''

He also said, when asked for his thoughts on Chinese New Year (Jan. 23), "I hope everybody will have an enriching, perfect new year. Let us make the dream come true together!''

Yes. Let's do. ... while hoping that Del Harris and the Mavs are more accurate about Yi than the advanced metrics.

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