(Juan Ocampo/Getty Images)
Latest Laker: Yi Jianlian
Following an impressive individual performance at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Chinese power forward Yi Jianlian has inked a deal for a return to the NBA with the Lakers.
The 6-foot-11 Heshan native averaged 20.4 points in five games in Rio, ranking third behind only Bojan Bogdanovic (25.3) and Patty Mills (21.3).
Clearly the best player on his team, he was seventh among all players in rebounds (6.6), steals (1.4) and blocks (1.0), while playing the third-most minutes (32.8). But his personal success was for naught on a team that had no other consistent scoring option, as China went winless in Brazil.
Yi has spent the last four seasons with the Chinese Basketball Association’s Guangdong Southern Tigers, whom he also played for from 2002-07 and during the 2011 lockout.
He began his career there when he was just 15 and has since compiled a decorated resume that includes eight All-Star selections, four championships, two Domestic MVPs and two Finals MVPs.
Since returning to China, Yi has averaged more than 23 points in each season, including last year when he put up 26.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks per night.
However, the CBA is known for a lack of defense and inflated statistics, so it remains to be seen exactly how much he has developed overseas.
Yi — who shot 54.9 percent in China last year — began his NBA career as a superstar hopeful when he was drafted sixth overall by Milwaukee in 2007.
Across five NBA seasons with the Bucks, New Jersey, Washington and Dallas, he averaged 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting just 40.9 percent.
While he was still raw at the time of his first NBA stint, Yi was able to play to his strengths on the Chinese National Team, delivering his country gold a the FIBA Asia Championship in 2005, 2011 and 2015 — the latter two of which included MVP honors for himself.
One of only six Chinese-born players in NBA history, he helped his nation to another gold medal at the 2006 Asian Games and has competed at every Olympics since Athens in 2004 when he played under former Lakers head coach Del Harris.
His Olympic success began long before Rio, as he was fourth in rebounds (7.5) at the Beijing Games in 2008. Four years later, he led the London Olympics in rebounding (10.2) and placed second in blocks (2.2) during a brief run that included a 30-point, 12-rebound outburst in a loss to Spain.
“We’re excited to have a player of his worldwide accomplishments,” General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “We look forward to bringing him to training camp and hopefully having him make an impact on our team.”
Still surprisingly young at 28-years-old, Yi may not shoulder lottery-pick expectations anymore, but he hopes to contribute to a team that may just be a good fit for his offensive skill set.
A mobile big with the ability to shoot from mid-range, Yi could be a nice floor-stretcher if he is able to hit consistently.
It will need to be seen if he can knock down the 3-ball, as he averaged just 0.3 3-pointers in the NBA and shot 37.4 percent from deep last year.
He did hit a strong 46.7 percent in the Olympics, but the 3-point line is moved closer under FIBA rules.
Though not known for his defense, Yi flashed his capabilities on the other end and the glass with the Nets back in 2009-10, when he averaged 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds.
Now, as China’s only active NBA player, it is Yi’s turn to play the veteran role on a Lakers roster already packed with bigs, including Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Ivica Zubac, Timofey Mozgov and Tarik Black.
Inking the deal ✍ pic.twitter.com/xo7w0JeL3v— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) August 22, 2016