WHILE much of the focus on the Los Angeles Lakers is on their young core, new acquisition Yi Jianlian might surprise fans of the storied franchise.
Fresh off an impressive showing in the Rio Olympics with the Chinese national team, Yi was presented before the media at the Lakers’ practice facility on Friday (Saturday, Manila time) where the 6-11 big man displayed his shooting prowess by hitting three-pointers and mid-range jumpers.
The 28-year old former NBA lottery pick said he has talked several times with new Lakers coach Luke Walton on his role in the team, although his position has yet to be determined in the team.
“I think I can still shoot the threes, space the floor, but I’m cool with playing four or five,” said Yi.
Yi said he always expected to return to the NBA despite having last played in the league four years ago. Since 2012, Yi played for the Guandong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association. Yi impressed scouts during the Rio Olympics where he posted per game averages of 20.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and shooting 46.7% from beyond the arc.
The rebuilding Lakers decided to take a chance on Yi and signed him to a one-year deal at the veteran minimum of $1.139 million
“I think I played a lot of games in China, in Asia, Olympics,” Yi told reporters. “It’s a lot of experience. For me I probably got stronger and more confidence.”
After being drafted as the sixth overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007, Yi became an NBA journeyman and played for three more teams in five seasons.
Playing for the Lakers, however, is a different experience for him.
“For Lakers it’s different, mostly for the history, the team, the fans. People all over the world [follow the Lakers], even China. So for me really, I feel pressure but I feel very excited for that,” he said.
In another development, don’t expect the Brandon Ingram to be a starter this season for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Walton said plans to bring along the No.2 overall pick slowly.
“We’re not going to throw him into the starting lineup right away,” said the Lakers coach.
Despite a promising upside, many observers have noted the 19-year old Ingram lacks the physicality to play in the NBA. Blessed with outside shooting and a 7-3 wingspan, Ingram only weighs 195 pounds and might be too slight to take on the rigors of an 82-game season.
The Lakers signed veteran forward Luol Deng to a $72 million contract and will likely ease Ingram’s transition as he adjusts to the NBA style of play.
Walton explained that the Lakers will develop their young core “by rewarding them when they play well.”
“If there’s 10 games left in the season and out of the playoffs and there’s some vets that played long minutes all season, maybe you play all your young guys to finish out the season. But when you’re going through the season, you’re not doing anyone any favors just by playing young guys so they can play if they’re not out there playing the right way,” he said.