Regarded as the best
Internationalplayer eligible for the 2007 NBA Draft, Jianlian led the Southern Tigers to the Chinese Basketball Association Finals in each of the last four seasons, as the team captured three titles (2004-06). Compared to Utah Jazz standout Andrei Kirilenko for his soft scoring touch and tremendous defensive skills, Jianlian was recently granted permission by team management to enter the 2007 draft after withdrawing from the process in '06.
Jianlian is still a bit of a mystery to many NBA scouts, much like the age on his birth certificate. When he first began competing for the Chinese senior men's national team in 2004, Yi was originally listed by the Chinese federation as being born October 27, 1984, but the federation later changed his year of birth to 1987.
A widespread belief exists that Jianlian is actually at least a couple of years older -- a mystery so deep that even fellow countryman and Houston Rockets standout Yao Ming has said publicly that he does not know Jianlian's true age. The Houston Chronicle reported that Jianlian told Shane Battier he was 24 in an exhibition game before the 2006 FIBA World Championship. However, Yi later denied the claim.
The Chinese Government and CBA likes to hold rights to their native players at least until they reach 21 or 22 years of age, and many feel this could have been a ploy to keep Jianlian from entertaining the thought of entering the draft prior to 2007. Jianlian is one of the biggest marketing icons in Asia for Nike, which is believed to have him under contract through 2012. The value of the contract is greater than his current annual basketball salary.
Jianlian's parents are both former professional handball players. He stood 6-foot-3 at age 13, and he could already touch 3.51 meters (11'6") by the time he joined the Guangdong Tigers in 2002-03, the same year he attended the Adidas ABCD camp in New Jersey. Jianlian was the only member from China and the trip was an eye-opener and helped him for the first time set the goal of playing basketball in NBA. He was also featured in TIME Magazine's August 24, 2003 article entitled, "The Next Yao Ming," an article that created worldwide recognition for the prodigy.
Jianlian, from Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, became a professional athlete in 1999. Generally people in the southern areas of China are relatively short, but Jianlian has been called a giant since he was very young. At the beginning, his parents didn't want him to be a professional for they thought professionals hold a job that lasts only as long as their youth, and so there's nothing for them to rely on after retirement.
"We are not the well-to-do now," Jianlian's mother said. "We didn't get good education when we were young, and we couldn't find a good job after we retired. Therefore, we expect our son to be a well-educated man, instead of a professional athlete. We don't want him to be the same as us."
Although the parents opposed their son being an athlete at that time, a senior coach known as Dai believed that Jianlian had an ideal physique with speed, flexibility, harmonization, fine jumping capacity as well as outstanding height. Furthermore, after a series of special examinations, Dai persuaded Jianlian's parents to let him go to the sports school.
However, the road to becoming a professional basketball player was not smooth. His career almost stopped at the beginning. In the first 400-meter running test in the school, Jianlian gave up when he only finished halfway. He felt very sick and was not able to overcome the physical limitation. He complained at the time, "I can't stand it any more. Before I came to the sports school, I'd never tried to leave home for a long time. I never dreamed of becoming a basketball player."
During his first season with Guandong, Jianlian saw limited action in 26 games, averaging 1.9 rebounds and 3.5 points per game. During the 2003-04 campaign, he was limited to 19 games, but increased his performance from the previous season, when he averaged 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game before leaving to join the Chinese National Team at the 2004 Olympics.
The highlight of his CBA career came in January of 2005, when Lianlian shot 16 of 16 from the field, scoring 34 points. He appeared in 53 games, leading the team to its second championship, as he poured in 15.8 points and grabbed 10.2 rebounds per game.
Jianlian came into his own in 2005-06, leading the Southern Tigers to another league title. In 33 games, he shot 57.4 percent from the field and 75.1 percent from the floor, averaged 20.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while blocking 43 shots. He also registered 20 double-doubles, scoring over 30 points in eight contests.
In International play, he averaged 13.5 points and eight rebounds a game against the USA in two games, playing against Dwight Howard, Elton Brand, and Chris Bosh at the 2006 FIBA World Championship with the Chinese national basketball team.
The right-handed shooter continued to improve his offensive game during the 2006-07 campaign, but defensive deficiencies were evident. He averaged 25.5 points per game throughout the playoffs, as Guandong lost the league title to Bayi. He shot 57.0 percent from the floor and averaged 10.2 rebounds per game while blocking 45 shots.
Positives: Has the size of a center, but runs the court like a small forward...Has a good combination of size and athleticism (11'6" reach)...Looks comfortable facing the basket, showing the ball-handling ability to take his man off the dribble...Has an effective jump shot, especially turnaround jumper, but needs to improve his post game...Has the lower-body strength and speed to run the court on the fast break...Has a smooth shooting stroke and the ability to create his own shot...Can consistently hoist mid-range jumpers and shows good mechanics and great elevation releasing his shot, making it tough for the defender to block...Can step back and shoot off the dribble while creating separation from his opponent...Has a nice fade-away move, but his turnaround jumper is his go-to move...Shows consistency finishing from the low post in 2006-07 than in previous seasons, but it is still a work in progress...Has also improved his free-throw shooting ability and shows good court awareness, as he is rarely caught out of position...Looks balanced and in control when shooting, especially on the fade-away...Shows good creativity when driving to the basket and is a fiery competitor who can throw the elbow when necessary...Has a smooth stroke up to 20 feet to draw bigger opponents out of the lane...Does a nice job of turning, setting his feet and putting the ball in the net over smaller rivals...Is best when used as the offense's first option...Has the arm length and elevation to get up and time his leaps in attempts to block the shot...Shows good potential as a pick-and-roll finisher and has also shown the ability to dunk on the break...Efficient passing out of double-teams and has the hand quickness to create a fair share of steals...His leaping ability allows him to generate thunderous dunks in the transition game.
Negatives: Needs to add more bulk and drastically improve his upper-body strength, as opponents showed during the 2007 postseason that he can be easily handled and pushed out of the paint...Age is a question mark, and there is speculation that he might be closer to 23 than his reported age of 20...When operating under the basket, bigger, more mobile defenders have had good success recently in shutting down his right-hand jump-hook from short distance...Struggles to find space in the lane when double-teamed and will back off from the inside battles, reverting to shooting from the perimeter rather than attacking the basket...Has limitations finishing with his left hand when he plays from the post...Needs to use his body better and be more aggressive on the defensive end, especially when the opponent bangs in the low post, as Jianlian lacks the strength to move his opponent, even when he has position...Offers little, other than a turnaround jumper, when playing in the low post...Fails to get a high enough arc on his hook shots when challenged by bigger or more physical centers...Gets out of control at times when trying to take the baseline for a reverse layup...Needs to play within the team concept better, as he becomes so shot-block conscious that he gets into foul trouble with his over-aggressiveness...Might be a better fit as a small forward, as he lacks the upper-body strength to deal with the physicality underneath...Not comfortable with his back to the basket and gets taken out of his game too much by physical play in the post...Has improved his shooting mechanics, but his release is slow and deliberate...Must play with better intensity (consistency is not there)...Has had turnover issues, as his hands are a bit weak, leading to ball-security issues, especially when he puts the ball on the floor in traffic.
Compares To: ANDREI KIRILENKO, Utah. Jianlian is a forward with center size, but plays too soft under the basket to bang with the big boys. He is a fine free-throw shooter and has a good mid-range game. With his athleticism and reach, he might be a better fit at small forward. He is not going to have success blocking shots in the NBA like he did against smaller competition in China. He is an emotional type that can be taken out of his game by a physical defender. Look for him to need a season to acclimate to the NBA style of play. He is a fine pick-and-roll finisher who will need to be in motion to have the success he displayed the last two years, but he will have to drastically improve his upper-body strength before he can make an impact at the next level.
GUANGDONG SOUTHERN TIGERS
In 161 games with Guandong, Lianlian averaged 15.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game. He blocked 121 shots and registered 213 steals, shooting 57 percent from the field. Over his last two seasons, he scored 1,442 points (22.9 ppg), hauled down 623 rebounds (9.9 rpg) and blocked 88 shots (1.4 bpg).
Reportedly born 10/27/84...Resides in Shenzhen, China.
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