Yi Jianlian didn’t make it easy for the city of Milwaukee to immediately embrace him. More performances like his last one should help him start winning Bucks fans over.
Yi looks to follow up a strong effort in the Bucks’ home opener when Milwaukee hosts Toronto on Tuesday night.
The Bucks (1-2) chose the 6-foot-11 Chinese forward with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, but Yi expressed reservations about playing for the team and didn’t sign until Aug. 29. Even after earning a starting spot, he struggled in his first two games,with the Bucks losing both.
A 16-point, eight-rebound performance in Milwaukee’s 78-72 victory over Chicago on Saturday, however, should help him start to gain the support of the home crowd. Yi gets his next chance to impress the fans when Toronto (2-1) visits the Bradley Center.
“There’s been an awful lot of focus on this young man, and the whole process is a marathon,” Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said Saturday. “This is big for his confidence. … It’s only one game, but I’m really proud of him.”
Yi’s breakout game came after a dismal performance against Charlotte the night before, when foul trouble landed him on the bench and he finished with two points on 1-of-6 shooting in 15 minutes. The Bucks lost 102-99, and Yi fouled out with nine points in his NBA debut against Orlando on Wednesday, with Milwaukee falling 102-83.
Things were different against the Bulls. Yi was 6-of-15 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line, and grabbed four of his eight rebounds on the offensive end. He also chipped in two blocks and two steals.
“He took the challenge and made some huge shots and became a playmaker,” said Bucks guard Michael Redd, who scored a game-high 27 points. “I’m proud of his development. He’s growing.”
Following this contest, the Bucks travel to Houston on Friday for a much-anticipated battle with Yi’s countryman Yao Ming and the Rockets.
Despite Yi’s progress, Redd is still the key to a struggling Bucks offense that managed only 32 points in the first half against Chicago. The Bucks are tied with the Bulls for the second-worst offense in the league at 86.7 points per game.
Redd hasn’t performed well in 20 career games against Toronto, posting his second-lowest average (17.0 ppg) against any team.
Making matters worse, this Raptors club could be the best one Redd has faced. Toronto is second in the league with 88.0 points allowed per contest and has its own emerging big man in second-year 7-footer Andrea Bargnani, who’s averaging 16.7 points.
Ford, who played his first two seasons with the Bucks before being dealt to the Raptors in June 2006, is the oldest of the three at 24.
Toronto won the Atlantic Division last season, and after falling in the first round of the playoffs to New Jersey, exacted revenge Friday with a 106-69 rout of the Nets.
Coach Sam Mitchell’s team is starting a stretch of four games in five days - three on the road - and will be looking to bounce back from its first loss, 98-95 in overtime to revamped Boston on Sunday.
Ford scored 32 points against the Celtics, but Bosh and Bargnani went a combined 0-of-12 from the field in the first half.
“I knew tonight was going to be a night where I had to put up a lot of shots because they weren’t leaving our shooters,” said Ford, who had 12 assists in the season opener against Philadelphia.
Ford averaged 14.3 points and 9.8 assists in four games against the Bucks last season as Toronto went 3-1 versus Milwaukee.