Dallas Mavericks: Yi Jianlian
The offseason plan Dallas Mavericks fans never envisioned has arrived with a thud.
The grand plan had its merits. Owner Mark Cuban saw the new collective bargaining agreement coming, understanding that significantly harsher tax penalties and more restrictive rules for luxury violators that void sign-and-trades and devalue exceptions would be the law of the land.
Cuban strategically organized his payroll to create cap space for this summer and beyond, the weapon needed to chase elite-level free agents like Deron Williams.
But what happens when the All-Star free-agent says no?
Mavs fans are finding out, and it isn't pretty. How can you not call the current state rebuilding? Meanwhile, around the league, money is being thrown around as if a bitter lockout never happened. Will the Nets, Knicks and Lakers get caught in an inflexible financial pickle in three or four years while the cautious Mavs have the last laugh?
Maybe. But Plan A was to land that star now to chase another title in the latter portion of Dirk Nowitzki's prime.
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Cuban is determined to keep cap space open for next summer when Chris Paul and Dwight Howard potentially hit the market. It's why he refused to engage in a bidding war for a player such as Goran Dragic, who signed a four-year, $34 million deal with Phoenix. Still, there are no guarantees that CP3 and D12 will ever reach free agency in '13. When Cuban decided not to re-sign Tyson Chandler after the 2011 title to pursue a star this summer, Paul and Howard were set to join Williams as free agents now.
Free agency now becomes a pursuit of young talent on the cheap, players the Mavs can sign for one season, maybe two depending on price, with an eye on next summer.
Dallas has interest in point guard Ramon Sessions, shooting guard and Dallas native C.J. Miles and small forward Anthony Randolph, among others. They have four of their own free agents still unsigned in Delonte West, who figures to be a strong candidate to return unless he gets the security of more years elsewhere, backup center Ian Mahinmi, Brian Cardinal and Yi Jianlian.
The Mavs have interest in claiming Philadelphia forward Elton Brand through the amnesty waiver process, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. Teams under the salary cap will have first shot to bid for Brand. The Sixers can't officially amnesty him until next Wednesday when the NBA resumes business operations.
It is indeed a new day for the Dallas Mavericks.
FRISCO, Texas -- Deron Williams is on the clock.
"It seemed like last December when we made the decision to let J.J. (Barea) and everybody go and Tyson (Chandler) that we’re putting basically all eggs in one basket, and we’ll see what happens here in the next couple days," Mavs face-of-the franchise Dirk Nowitzki said Saturday prior to his Heroes Charity baseball game. " I think it’s an exciting time for this organization, the fans, just being anxious and see what’s going to happen."
No one but Williams knows for sure, and who knows if he even knows at this moment?
What we do know is that Williams' decision will alter the fortunes of two franchises for years to come. The Nets are moving into a new arena in Brooklyn, a move that has been talked about since Jason Kidd led the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back Finals appearances. And now, Kidd, too, could be headed to Brooklyn as Williams' backup.
The Mavs are one year removed from winning it all and then dismantling a chunk of the title team to create the financial wherewithal needed to be prepared for this very moment.
"He’s got a big decision to make," Nowitzki said. "It’s been a decision that’s been brewing. Obviously it’s not like he found out he was a free agent yesterday, he’s been sitting on this for quite a while and I’m sure he has something already up in his mind. But I guess nobody knows but himself."
Nowitzki, who two summers ago took a hometown discount, saving Dallas $16 million over four years to help sign a top free agent, said he has recently communicated with Williams through text messages. But Nowitzki said he doesn't believe wooing Williams at this point will sway him one way or the other.
Heading into free agency, the Mavs have seven players under contract: Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Brendan Haywood, Shawn Marion, Brandan Wright, Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones, plus the three rookies they selected during Thursday's draft.
Haywood and Marion are amnesty and/or trade candidates to create necessary cap space, especially if Williams agrees to join the Mavs.
That's an answer we probably won't know until Monday evening at the earliest. His decision will also probably hold up other moves. Jason Terry -- who has spent the last eight seasons in Dallas -- is a free agent. So are Kidd, Delonte West, Ian Mahinmi, Brian Cardinal and Yi Jianlian.
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"If you basically put it in your head saying he’s coming, he’s coming, then you set yourself up for being disappointed," Nowitzki said. "You put it in your head that, hey, it’s a 50/50 decision and we’ll see what decision he makes. Whatever happens, like I said, Donnie and Mark always are looking to make stuff happen and making this organization as competitive as they can. Hey, whatever happens here in the next couple of days, it should be exciting."
That could be the understatement of the year.
From the day Yi Jianlian stepped foot in the Dallas Mavericks' locker room, the 7-footer had his own Chinese media contingent following him at every home game and some road games, too. That's right, a small crew consisting of a couple of reporters and a videographer, all quite polite, courteous and friendly, were there to get Yi's perspective, and that was mostly from his spot on the bench.
It can't be an easy job to do day after day. After all, after Yi signed with the Mavs on Jan. 6, he played in just 30 games and averaged 6.8 minutes in those games. You try coming up with questions after every game when a guy doesn't take off his sweat suit.
The problem with Yi is that he doesn't play the game to his size. He's a perimeter shooter who doesn't shoot all that great (37.8 percent this season, 40.4 percent for his career) and he doesn't get dirty much defensively or on the boards. There's just not going to be many minutes for a guy like that behind Dirk Nowitzki, or really with most teams. It's obviously one of the reasons why Yi has played for four teams in five seasons.
And why he's probably headed for a fifth in six.
And so we roll on with the Countdown at No. 13 ...
Ht/Wt: 7-0, 250
Experience: 5 years
Age: 24 (Oct. 27, 1987)
2011-12 stats: 2.6 ppg (37.8 FG%), 1.6 rpg
Contract status: Free agent
2011-12 salary: $771,706
2012-13 salary: TBD
His story: The benchmark for Yi is the 2009-10 season when he averaged 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in 31.8 minutes a game for the New Jersey Nets. That was his last of two seasons with the Nets. He spent the next season with the Washington Wizards, averaging 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 17.7 minutes over 63 games. The Wizards then said no thanks. A knee injury while playing in China over the summer kept Yi on the market into January when the Mavs signed him to a one-year deal. He might have helped himself if he could have played center on this team, but at this point in his career he is purely a perimeter player.
His outlook: The Mavs seem to like Yi's potential so there's always a chance he could be back. He'll come cheap, which is important in this summer of roster upheaval and superstar pursuit, and Yi also has another thing going for him -- he doesn't turn 25 until October. Dallas could view him as a developmental player because 7-footers just don't fall off trees. It's just difficult to get excited about the prospect of Yi having much impact on a re-tooled roster next season.
No. 15 Lamar Odom
No. 14 Brian Cardinal
No. 13 Yi Jianlian
No. 12 Coming Thursday
But that depth is coming into serious question in the final weeks of the regular season.
In Monday's triple-overtime loss at Utah, coach Rick Carlisle mostly went with a three-man bench. In a game that spanned 63 minutes, Yi Jianlian got five minutes, Brandan Wright played six and Brian Cardinal subbed in for all of 19 seconds. Meanwhile, Ian Mahinmi, Vince Carter and Jason Terry all played between 36 and 54 minutes.
In Sunday's overtime loss at the Los Angeles Lakers, Carlisle shortened the bench to basically Carter and Terry with Mahinmi and Wright combining for less than 16 minutes.
"We know who the warriors are and the roles are defined," said Nowitzki, who logged a massive 96 minutes in the last two games. "Here and there it's going to be tossed up. Sometimes Haywood is going to play more at the 5, sometimes it's going to be B-Wright, tonight it was Mahinmi down the stretch getting all the minutes. Some things fluctuate from night in, night out, but everybody is going to compete. Whoever gets the minutes is going to play hard and that's the only way to go."
A healthy Rodrigue Beaubois would have helped alleviate some minutes in the backcourt, but even Beaubois' playing time can fluctuate greatly and his rotation role in the playoffs certainly isn't settled.
The bigger issue is the front court. As poorly as Lamar Odom performed, he did average 20 minutes a night with a large chunk at power forward. Shawn Marion will be called on take some of the those minutes because there are few options beyond him. Jianlian and Cardinal aren't consistent solutions in the postseason. Jianlian got into Monday's game in the first quarter because Nowitzki ran into early foul trouble.
Wright is not considered an optimum choice at power forward and Carlisle has made that rather clear.
Here's three more areas of consideration:
1. T'd off: Delonte West earned his technical foul in odd fashion by sticking his index finger in the ear of Jazz guard Gordon Hayward in the second quarter. But the Mavs also had a couple of their key veterans get technical fouls at crucial junctures of the game. Jason Terry picked one up in the fourth quarter when he argued a no-call on a drive to the basket on which he thought he was fouled and Dirk Nowitzki was hit with one at the 1:05 mark of the first overtime.
2. Rare triple OT: Monday's 3-hour, 17-minute game marked the first time the Mavs played a triple-overtime game in more than 20 years. On Dec. 29, 1989, the Portland Trail Blazers won in three overtimes in Dallas, 144-140.
3. Streak busters: Chalk up yet another streak that has come to and this season. Dallas had won the last seven meetings against the Jazz.
Rust? Forget that.
Rick Carlisle's second-quarter look at a lineup with Brandan Wright at power forward now that Lamar Odom is out of the picture and Ian Mahinmi at center was short-circuited thanks to Mahinmi's foul trouble. In stepped Yi at the 10:22 mark, and less than five minutes later the 7-footer from China had splashed four jumpers from 17 feet and deeper for eight points to quickly surpass Odom's average of 6.6.
"It was huge for us. It energized us and kept us going," Carlisle said. "Even though we didn't play a great first half because we were turning it over, his hoops made a big difference for us."
Yi played 5:43 in the first half and went to the locker room tied for the team scoring lead with Brendan Haywood, while Dirk Nowitzki was 1-of-6 for four points and the starting five managed just 23 points.
That's how impactful Yi's instant offense was to the cause. In fact, Odom had scored at least eight points in just three of his last 21 games.
"He was great, came in looking for his shot right away, made a couple, brought some energy, brought some toughness there on the post," Nowitzki said. "I've always liked him. I like what he brings to the team. Hopefully he can gain some momentum, some confidence and keep playing well."
What does this mean for Yi in upcoming games? That's hard to answer. But with four games in five nights coming up on a challenging road trip, Yi could be in line to see at least some spot minutes.
"I think the guys understand that there is some fluidity to our rotation, that everybody has to be ready," Carlisle said. "Yi gave the greatest example tonight of the importance of depth on this team in this season. What he did tonight was professional, I mean that's a pro. The guy has kept himself completely ready and to come in there and knock in four shots in a row, it's big time."
A member of the Chinese media contingent that follows Yi throughout the season enjoyed the Yi-Wright combination at the 4 and 5 so much during that second-quarter stretch that he asked Nowitzki if that pairing reminds him at all of a Nowitzki-Tyson Chandler pairing.
"That's stretching it a little bit, my friend," Nowitzki said.
Here's three more points to digest as the Mavs are already in San Francisco for Thursday's start to the four-game road trip at game at Golden State.
1. 100 and unbeateable?: The Mavs don't score 100 much these days. In fact, they don't even average 95 points a game. But when they do get the offense cranking and score at least 100 points, they're 17-1 and 17 for their last 17. They haven't lost a game scoring 100 points since the third game of the season at Oklahoma City when Kevin Durant's buzzer-beating 3-pointer did in Dallas, 104-102. When they score 110 or more, the Mavs are now 4-0.
2. Wright's right stuff: Brandan Wright has become a fan favorite because of his tremendous alley-oop dunks, mostly from Jason Terry, and lately he's been getting the largest share of minutes at the center position. Most impressive was his 36 minutes at Memphis with Ian Mahinmi away from the team to be with his fiancée for the birth of the their daughter. Wright put up 16 points and six rebounds. There was concern headed into that one that the lanky center wouldn't be able to hold his own against behemoth Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. Tuesday against the Kings, Wright logged 28 minutes, thanks in part to Mahinmi's foul trouble limiting him to eight minutes. Wright finished with nine points, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Starter Brendan Haywood, coming off just 11 minutes at Memphis, played 17 against the Kings with 11 points and five rebounds.
3. Dirk's cool hand: Nowitzki has had two poor shooting games in a row, which might be of some concern if it wasn't for his five previous games of shooting 50 percent or better in four and one made bucket away from 50 percent in the other. On the other hand, Nowitzki has scored fewer than 20 points three times, including the last two. He was 5-of-16 for 17 points at Memphis and followed up Tuesday against the Kings by going 4-of-14 for 15 points.
DALLAS – At long last, Lamar Odom is gone. Now what do the Dallas Mavericks do when Dirk Nowitzki needs to rest?
Shawn Marion essentially served as the backup power forward during the Mavs’ championship season, and that’s a possibility again, especially if Vince Carter logs significant minutes at small forward. Brian Cardinal’s playing time could increase dramatically, but “The Custodian” has struggled mightily in limited minutes this season. You can count on the Chinese media that has hung around all season to inquire about the potential for Yi Jianlian to crack the rotation.
But the best answer might be Brandan Wright, a former lottery pick whose NBA minimum salary has been a remarkable bargain for the Mavs but has rarely played power forward this season.
Coach Rick Carlisle has been hesitant to play the high-flying, 6-foot-10, 210-pounder at power forward because Wright doesn’t have the shooting range to be a perfect fit at that position in the Mavs’ scheme. But this is far from a perfect situation, and Carlisle said Monday that he plans to use Wright at power forward.
According to 82games.com, only five percent of Wright’s minutes with the Mavs have come at power forward.
“We’ve done it in certain stretches this year,” Carlisle said. “This morning we looked at the film of those stretches. There’s some adjustment, but we’re not going to reinvent our style of play. There’s got to be a few tweaks if he plays that position and we’ll go from there.”
Wright has performed well in his few stints at power forward, his primary position until this season, averaging 24.5 points and 14.0 rebounds per 48 minutes. That’s an extremely small sample size, but those numbers compare favorably to his per-48 production at center (20.5 points, 9.7 rebounds).
Regardless of position, Wright tends to give the Mavs a spark with his athleticism and energy. He has flaws, such as his limited shooting range and lack of strength, but the Mavs never have to wonder whether he’ll play hard.
That alone makes Wright an upgrade over Odom.
The backup center who has more or less lost his job to Brandan Wright is suddenly being thrust into a starting job with few options to back him up. Brendan Haywood is out tonight with a sprained left ankle he sustained Monday at Oklahoma City. He will travel with the team Wednesday for their lone back-to-back-to-back of the season.
Also out tonight is Wright, whose concussion symptoms have not completely subsided. Wright will not make the three-game swing out west to Phoenix, Sacramento and Golden State.
Without the two centers that are logging the most minutes, Mahinmi becomes the center of attention. He took over Monday night at Oklahoma City after Haywood left the game just 31 seconds in. Mahinmi had a strong performance with 13 points and five rebounds before fouling out on a controversial call with 46 seconds to play.
"He was terrific [Monday] night. He did what he does," coach Rick Carlisle said. "He was terrific the first month of the season, and as Brandan Wright sort of came into the picture his minutes got cut a little bit and it got tougher for him. Right now we don't have neither Haywood nor Wright, so we're going to have to figure out who backs up Ian."
Behind Mahinmi things do get tricky. Sean Williams was recalled from the D-League on Sunday, but he logged less than four minutes at Oklahoma City, coming in only after Mahinmi picked up his fifth foul in the fourth quarter. Seven-foot forward Yi Jianlian also played a few minutes at center and could again tonight.
Before tonight's game, Tyson Chandler, the Mavs' defensive anchor and vocal leader on last season's title team, will collect his championship ring in a brief ceremony with Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban.
He started the second quarter, but quickly came out and headed straight for the locker room with head athletic trainer Casey Smith.
Nowitzki was 0-of-1 from the floor with one point, four rebounds and two turnovers in 10 minutes.
With Lamar Odom still away from the team for personal reasons, the Mavs are extremely shallow at power forward. Brian Cardinal replaced Nowitzki. Yi Jianlian was first to replace Nowitzki off the bench in the first quarter.
“We want him to contribute,” Cuban said. “We want him to help. What’s the point? That doesn’t do us any good if he’s gone. It doesn’t buy us anything if we buy him out.”
Well, it could create a little more salary cap space for this summer. Odom has one year at a salary of $8.2 million remaining on his contract, but he can be bought out for $2.4 million this summer. Say the rumors really are true and Odom really wants out of Dallas – maybe the Mavs can give him $1 million to go away. That cap hit would be split between this season and next season, meaning in this instance, the Mavs would have created an additional $1.9 million in cap space for their offseason shopping with Odom on the books for only half a million bucks.
“That’s not enough of a reason,” Cuban said as he sweated on his stairmaster before the Mavs’ loss Tuesday night. “I like what he can do for the team a lot more than I like that money.”
As awful as Odom has been – and it’s hard to find bigger underachiever in the NBA this season – Cuban has a point. Just look at the lack of production at backup power forward for proof.
The Mavs are lost without Khloe’s little Lam Lam. At least, they lose without Odom.
OK, it’s a small sample size, but the Mavs are 0-3 in games Odom has missed, losing to the Thunder, Lakers and Nets. Third- and fourth-string power forwards Yi Jianlian and Brian Cardinal combined for 12 points and seven rebounds in those three games, in which Dirk Nowitzki logged 38, 36 and 36 minutes.
Coach Rick Carlisle doesn’t intend to use Brandan Wright as a power forward, because the Mavs need a shooter in that position to properly space the floor in their system. Shawn Marion, who played many of the power forward minutes when Nowitzki wasn’t on the floor last season, isn’t a feasible option because his plate is overflowing with his point guard-chasing duties.
The Mavs cling to the hope that Odom flips the switch at some point this season and resembles the dude who has been a high-quality NBA player for the last dozen seasons. But even a mediocre Odom helps the Mavs, because it allows Carlisle to manage Nowitzki’s minutes, preventing the lockout-compressed season from killing the 33-year-old superstar’s legs.
That makes this nine-game-in-12-nights stretch the worst possible time in the regular season for this Odom mystery to be unfolding. At this point, he’ll miss at least one more game.
“It’s tough. It’s tough,” Nowitzki said. “He’s going through some stuff, I guess. We’ve just got to wait and see what happens.”
The one thing that won’t happen, Cuban insists, is a midseason buyout. Saving a few dollars by cutting ties with Dirk’s disappointing backup doesn’t make sense to Cuban.
Bryant is leading the NBA at 29.0 points a game, yet he can't get going against Marion and the Mavs. He had 14 in the first meeting in L.A., and now he'll have to do work in the fourth quarter just to match that.
With 5:12 left in the quarter, Kobe dribbled on the perimeter with the shot clock ticking down. Marion stripped him and it lead to a Dirk Nowitzki 3-pointer to cut L.A.'s lead to 63-62. With 2:47 to go, Kobe again had nowhere to go with Marion on him and he clanked a long baseline jumper that led to a Yi Jianlian dunk for a 68-66 lead.
Jianlian, playing for the absent Lamar Odom (family matter), also hit a step-back jumper just inside the 3-point line.
Kobe finally got his highlight play with Jason Kidd on him with just more than a minute to go. Driving, Kobe banked in a circus shot, got fouled, but missed the free throw, still giving L.A. the lead back at 72-70.
Jason Terry, cold all night, hit a short jumper to tie it.
Dirk is 6-of-16 for 15 points. Pau Gasol and Vince Carter still lead all scorers with 20 each.
President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson recently spoke of three young big men the organization is excited about during an appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's Ben & Skin Show.
All three were acquired in the past few months. The first of the three signed, Brandan Wright, is currently showing the most promise. A career power forward, the 24-year-old North Carolina product is adjusting to playing the center position and is pushing the struggling Ian Mahinmi for minutes behind Brendan Haywood. In his fourth season and finally healthy, Wright's minutes remain sporadic, but he's become a favorite of coach Rick Carlisle's because of the energy and enthusiasm he brings. He's become a fan favorite because of his propensity to throw down roof-scrapping two-handed dunks.
Sean Williams, whose contract was fully guaranteed last week, is in true developmental mode. He was assigned to D-League affiliate Texas Legends in Frisco early on and with virtually no opportunity to crack the Mavs' rotation he's remained there. The former Mansfield High star had his share of troubles when at Boston College and in his previous NBA stint, but Williams, 25, seems determined to do what it takes to stick. He's started 16 of 17 games for the Legends and is averaging 16.0 points on 54.4 percent shooting and 8.6 rebounds in 28.4 minutes. He leads in blocks with 41.
And then there's the man with the contingent of Chinese press that surrounds his locker whether he plays or not. And lately the soft-shooting, 7-foot Yi Jianlian, 24, hasn't seen much action. Since logging 37 minutes in consecutive games on Jan. 25 and 27, he's played a total of 19 minutes in the last nine games and three minutes in the last five.
As for the team's main youngster in the backcourt, Rodrigue Beaubois' season and career remain a roller coaster. Hopes were raised once again for a sustained breakthrough from the soft-spoken 23-year-old early in Jason Kidd's latest injury absence. But, his performances waned and with Kidd back in the lineup, Beaubois has not gotten off the bench in three consecutive games.
What can he do to get back in?
Carlisle had a familiar answer to that question the other night: Just be ready.
He made the most of his 29 total minutes in that game, with 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. While he played and played, backup center Ian Mahinmi, who has had an impressive season, sat and sat, registering his lone DNP-CD of the season.
It makes for an interesting situation entering Wednesday's game at Denver as to how coach Rick Carlisle will handle the center rotation.
If it were up to Jason Terry, Wright -- who has played in 14 of 25 games and has averaged 10.5 minutes a game -- would be in the rotation.
"I’ve already put my bid in for Brandan Wright," Terry said. "I’ve already expressed that he should play every night, whether it’s five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, but he has to play. I mean just because he’s an energy guy. For me, off the bench, he’s good with that unit that I have. He automatically gets the ball." Many on alley-oops from Terry.
Mahinmi's hot start (which has hit a bit of a wall over the last week) kept Wright, who has played mostly power foward and not center in his career, on the bench. Then the addition of Yi Jianlian added more competition.
But Wright has continually produced when given the opportunity.
"I appreciate Jet saying that," Wright said. "Jet is one of the guys that has taken me under his wing, trying to show me everything, trying to build something so we can do something special this year."
With really no minutes available at power forward, it's going to have to be center or bust for Wright and Yi on most nights. With Brendan Haywood seemingly entrenched as the starter and Mahinmi surely not on the outs as the primary backup, the competition for minutes at the 5 should be intense.
"I’m comfortable [at the 5] because one of my best strengths is I can finish around the basket," Wright said. "My length, jumping ability, athletic ability, I can jump over guys. That’s one of my best assets even though I like to play the 4, but playing the 5 is fine. You get good matchups, guys have trouble covering me and then on the defensive end I can block a lot of shots also."
Whether Jason Kidd's second injury of the season is truly a blessing in disguise, as Jason Terry put it, might have to be answered by Kidd. Yet, even he acknowledged that being forced to the sideline will give Rodrigue Beaubois a chance to play prime point guard minutes he might otherwise not be afforded.
That is true. Beaubois has logged 24, 36 and 36 minutes in the last three games, respectively with Kidd nursing a strained left calf. Prior to Kidd's injury that took him out of Friday's game barely two minutes into it, Beaubois, averaging 16.9 minutes, had logged 20 or more minutes three times all season. He's getting valuable court time in a variety of pressure situations, such as Sunday's overtime win against the Spurs in which he made crucial plays late at both ends.
"It was great for Roddy Beaubois to be in the situation he was [Sunday night], a playoff-type atmosphere," Terry said. "Those are experiences you're only going to get in a game. He'll learn and grow from it."
Beaubois passed a tough test against the Spurs' Tony Parker and tonight he gets Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, arguably the game's most explosive guard at getting to the rack.
As for the other member of the French Connection, center Ian Mahinmi, could he be slowing down just a tad? Since his 17-point, nine-rebound game against Phoenix on January 23, he has matched his longest streak of the season, four games, without scoring in double figures. His minutes are right about at his season average, but he's averaged just five points in those four games with a field-goal percentage of just 42.1 (8-of-19), well below his 62.1 percent season average. And, he's made just 4-of-10 free throws.
Then again, his rebounds are up a tick to 6.0 a game in the last four-game stretch.
Other Mavs youngsters such as Brandan Wright and Yi Jianlian received some extra minutes during Dirk Nowitzki's four-game absence, but since then neither has found much of place in hearty matchups against the likes of the Spurs, and that would likely include little to no playing time -- unless foul trouble dictates otherwise -- tonight against the Thunder.
DALLAS -- One side benefit to Dirk Nowitkzi missing the last four games was it provided opportunity at power forward for Brandan Wright and Yi Jianlian.
Wright has displayed some ridiculous skywalking ability, while Yi has shown a soft mid-range jumper. But the 7-footer from China also revealed that he can get up -- or at least get up as much as a 7-footer needs to to throw down a slam. Late in the fourth quarter with the Mavs pulling away from Utah in Friday's 15-point win, Yi faced up Jazz rookie big man Enes Kanter on the baseline, drove by him and finished with a two-hand slam.
"That felt great," Yi said. "To get a dunk and win the game is exciting."
He drained a 15-foot jumper soon after to give him eight points for the game on 4-of-9 shooting. He also had four points in the second quarter on a pair of arching jumpers and pulled down five rebounds, two on the offensive glass. The shot that has been most available for Yi is the 18-to-20-foot jumper from the top or side of the circle, the shot that he and the coaching staff work on most, the elbow jumper.
Yi was 4-of-11 from the floor in Wednesday's game, but many of those shots he missed were clean looks that could have gone down. As the last addition to the team, Yi has had to learn everything on the fly, and that included a brief stop with the D-League Texas Legends before officially joining the big club.
"The first couple weeks I was learning the team and running the plays, offensive and defensive things," said Yi, whose English is not half bad. "The players and coaches have really been helping me. This season with the schedule you don’t have real practice time, so for me it’s just watching and watching."
With Nowitzki expected to return to the starting lineup tonight, which would push Lamar Odom back to a reserve role, it's uncertain how much time will be available for Yi and Wright. Carlisle called it a coin flip over the last four games as to which big man would get more run with Dirk out.
Carlisle said he likes the way Yi is coming along in a short period of time.
"We’re spending a lot of time with him on his shooting and there’s some things I really like about him," Carlisle said. "I love his size, his aggression. He really understands what we’re doing defensively. He’s physical and puts his body on people and he’s working hard on the midrange shots. Those are the shots that are going to be there for him."
With Dirk set to return, now we'll just have to see how many minutes are going to be there.
Then, every time the 7-foot Chinese center/forward touched the ball, the sellout crowd at the American Airlines Center went nuts.
"It felt great," Yi said. "I’m really excited to be on a championship team."
Yi scored his first points as a Maverick on 16-foot jumper with 4:27 left. It made the score 99-69 and the crowd practically went into hysterics.
He finished the game 1-of-3 from the floor and 1-of-2 at the free throw line for three points. He also managed a steal, a turnover and two fouls as the Mavs' reserves closed out the 102-76 victory.
Yi is more accustomed to playing forward, but Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said he will play more center. Yi, more of a perimeter shooter and a physical, inside presence, said that's fine by him.
"For me, it doesn’t matter, I can play both positions," Yi said. "I’m just going to go do my thing."
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Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss Mark Cuban's comments from Las Vegas about the Mavericks' offseason, how he sees the team without Dwight Howard and more.
Play Podcast Marc Stein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why the Mavericks didn't want to match Cleveland's offer to Andrew Bynum, what's next for the Mavs and the possibility of Dirk Nowitzki ending his career elsewhere.
Play Podcast Jeff Platt fires quick-hitters at Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon in the weekly sports standoff about Andrew Bynum, the Mavs' current backcourt, a potential Nelson Cruz suspension and more.
Play Podcast ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why she thinks Andrew Bynum got a bad rap in Los Angeles and how he would fit in with the Mavericks.
Play Podcast Buy, sell or hold? If Dwight Howard goes to another team, what are the Mavs' options? The guys take a look at a list of potential fallback options.
Play Podcast ESPN's Marc Stein joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the latest news on the Mavericks' meeting with Dwight Howard.