Posted by Kelly Dwyer
Ric Bucher is always to be trusted, and his sources are telling him that Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl has promised significant playing time to rookie forward Yi Jianlian, a stipulation that Yi's handlers demanded as the Bucks attempted to sign the forward. According to Bucher, Bucks fans should prepare to see Yi "averaging more than 20 minutes per game and possibly as many as 25" in 2007-08, and I ... I don't have a problem with this.
Sure, the idea of an owner instructing a rookie coach (Larry Krystkowiak) to dole out minutes to an rookie player regardless of proven ability seems a little skeevy (it is), and it sets a pretty gnarly precedent; but I like the sense of responsibility that comes with it. I almost wrote something about "the buck stopping here," seriously, but then I remembered what team I was writing about and that puns are the devil's tool. Rhymes are OK.
Think about it. If Yi stinks, then Larry Harris is held accountable for the waste of a sixth overall pick. It will quickly become apparent just how old the Chinese forward is, Yi's domestic and international representatives will have egg on their faces -- and Krystkowiak will look like a hoop martyr. He can then parlay that into an extended turn with the Bucks post-Yi/Harris, or another chance with another team -- not unlike the chance Terry Stotts received with the Bucks after a worthy excuse-laden turn with the Hawks.
If Yi plays well, even if he is 23, then the Bucks have a solid forward prospect who can score and should get better.
If Yi bombs, then he has a tradeable contract (starting at a little under $2.5-million a year) to pass off on some other sucker.
Most stateside semi-observers like yours truly who have watched Yi over the last few years have come away with the same thought: "if he's 19, he'll be pretty darn good, eventually. If he's 23, uh oh." Imagine if Brandan Wright played the way he did last season with North Carolina at age 22 or 23. He wouldn't have even been drafted. That's what you have to remember when taking these things into account, and I think Wright's lanky frame and sometimes-there game is a good comparison.
There aren't many "late-bloomers" floating around the annals of NBA history. Just players who came into the league at a certain age, improved exponentially, and possibly received a status boost due to an increase in minutes -- while the per-minute numbers stayed right where you'd expect them to.
The biggest obstacle, to me? How to explain to Yi's handlers when Tyrus Thomas baits him into three fouls by the 10:00 mark of the second quarter, and he only plays 16 minutes.