Supposing the roster can hold the weight of collective expectation, can a team ever really have too many project big men?
Apparently not. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Dallas will soon sign wayward forward Yi Jianlian to a one-year contract, filling out their 15-man roster and completing a trinity of low-cost gambles for a rotation big man.
There’s not much harm in having another mobile big man around, but the addition of Jianlian seems like even more of a longshot than the Sean Williams reclamation project or the slow development of Brandan Wright. Jianlian has had his chances; he’s averaged 24 minutes per game in 242 career games, and has yet to demonstrate the production or efficiency that’s demanded of a solid reserve, much less a former No. 6 overall pick.
But Dallas will be — by far — the best team and most functional organization Yi jas ever been a part of. These things matter. Coaching savvy, teammate quality, systemic structure, and organizational leadership all contribute to the development and success of NBA players, and the Mavericks easily dwarf the Bucks, Nets, and Wizards in each of those capacities. Each of those factors can only take Yi so far, but the environment in Dallas will certainly give him the framework for properly structuring his NBA career.
Those efforts, per Stein’s report, will begin in the D-League. Yi will be one of the first beneficiaries from the league’s new, less restrictive assignment rules, as he’ll use a stint with the Maverick-affiliated Texas Legends to fully recover from a knee injury he suffered playing in the Chinese Basketball Association. Even beyond injury rehabilitation, though, the Legends provide an early in-game audition. Donnie Nelson is clearly high enough on Yi that he doesn’t have to prove anything in Frisco, but strong play against D-League competition could make acquiring minutes with the Mavs a bit easier.