There’s still five minutes left for us to get in our New Year wishes to our readers, so let’s do it: Happy Year of the Rabbit to you and everyone else. We hope the upcoming year is one that’s full of happiness, peace and endless good pick-up run. If you’re not into playing, then we hope all the hoops you’re able to watch is only of the great variety. And if you’re not into watching or playing, then why are you here?
The waning minutes also gives us an opportunity to dish out our Spring Festival Awards. Because of the New Year, the league has been off since January 28th and like the rest of the county, won’t get back to work until February 10th. We think the stoppage to spend quality holiday time with family is refreshing in the non-stop world of professional athletics, so to keep in the spirit of recharging and renewing, we’re satisfying our reader’s needs for mid-season awards by handing out an abbreviated set of unofficial hardware. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Foreign MVP: Quincy Douby, Xinjiang
With no disrespect to DonGuan’s Josh Akognon, Beijing’s Zaid Abbas, and our Chun Jie MVP’s teammate in Xinjiang, James Singleton, nobody is having a better or more impactful season than Douby, who’s arrival in Western China has not only transformed the identity of the repeat league runners-up, but the entire power balance of Chinese domestic basketball as a whole.
For the last seven years, its been Guangdong at the top followed by everyone else. The Southern Tigers have had two sets of three-peats, one from 2003-04 to 2005-06 and another from 2007-08 to 2009-10, with the Bayi Rockets stepping in in 2006-07 to prevent a potential Boston Celtics-esque seven-peat. Frustrated by coming up short the last two years at the hands of the Guangdong dynasty, Xinjiang, unrestricted by a foreign player salary cap that had limited the quality of offseason signings in years past, went out in the offseason to bring in Douby and Singleton, and the results have been impressive: a 17 game win-streak to start the year and an 18-1 record overall, including a thumping win over their rivals in Guangzhou back in December.
Singleton’s all-around play on both sides of the court has been huge (just check out his stats a little later), but it’s been Douby and his super efficient bulk scoring that has catapulted the Flying Tigers as the clear favorite to take home the crown this year. Averaging 28.6 points on 54% shooting alongside 4.7 assists and a league leading 3.6 steals, the ultra-quick Douby has turned into this year’s Smush Parker, an ungaurdable force in the backcourt that has been able to control the game by any means necessary, whether it’s repeatedly attacking the lane and getting to the free-throw line to convert at 92%, scoring on a variety of floaters and creative finishes at the rack, and/or driving and kicking to wide open teammates. Talk to any Chinese who follows the league about Douby and you’ll hear the same three words: Fang bu liao. There is no way to guard him.
That reality that has caused a westward power shift this season. Because the thing about the CBA, as one person connected to the league bluntly told me over the weekend, the dominant offensive strategy for almost every team has become “get the ball to the foreigner and get out of the way.” That shouldn’t come to most as advanced basketball trigonometry — anyone who has watched professional Chinese basketball for even five minutes knows that everything on offense goes through the wai yuan (foreign aid, what the Chinese call import players).
But this year the dependence on foreign players to shoulder the scoring load has become even more pronounced than in years past. Just one Chinese player, Bayi’s Wang Zhizhi, is in the the league’s top 25 scorers. Another four are within the top 40. For Chinese who view the development of their national team as more important than watching foreign players dominate the ball, the trend is obviously disappointing and the league’s struggle to balance the two sides will continue to be an ongoing issue in the future.
This year, though, the ongoing issue for opponents will continue to be Douby. Like the wai yuan conundrum that faces CBA officials, containing Douby is likely to remain an unresolved problem for defenses for the remainder of the year. Which is totally fine by Xinjiang.
Domestic MVP: Zhang Kai, DongGuan
Though Zhang Kai gets points for playing through a Randolph Morris elbow to the dome that resulted in ten stitches at the hospital on January 5th and a bleeding right eyebrow in DongGuan’s first game of the year that required heavy bandaging, the real reason why he’s taking home our Chinese MVP award is simple: Dude is the best local player on the second best team in the CBA.
Zhang’s 15.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and nearly a block and a steal per game has been a major reason why DongGuan has pretty much quieted all early season doubters who questioned their fast start to the year. Australian head coach, Brian Goorjian, has continually sung the praises of his star Chinese player on and off the court, singling him out as one of the hardest workers during practices and games.
Of course, like the throngs of Kobe admirers in Los Angeles and around the country who annually clamor for their beloved #24, Bayi Rockets fans in China will be demanding that Da Zhi (Wang Zhizhi) brings home the hardware, and Guangdong will likewise be demanding the same for Wang Shipeng or Zhu Fangyu. But, it’s Zhang’s improvement in all areas of the court coupled with his team’s record that gives a pretty big edge at this point of the year over the perennial candidates.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwyane Jones, Fujian SBS
It’s tough to single out anyone for defensive dominance in a country that seems to be completely allergic to the concept of bending knees and moving feet on defense for more than two seconds in a row (that includes most of the foreign players here, too). So we can’t help really but look to Jones, a guy who pretty much wins by default because a: he genuinely cares about defense because b: he can’t really play offense.
The latter has been a problem for second-to-last SBS, who like all teams in China, want their high-paid foreign player to earn his money by putting the ball in the hoop. As we’re pretty familiar with Jones’ game from his days St. Joe’s and his seasons in the NBA, even we could have told Fujian that expecting 25 points a night out of a guy who relies mostly on putbacks and hustle plays to get buckets wasn’t the soundest of plans.
On the defensive end, however, Jones has been excellent. He’s been cleaning up on the glass (17.2 a game) better than most aiyi’s do on windows, swatting a respectable 2.1 shots per contest and has been averaging about 4.5 sour looking faces after an opposing team scores (about 4.4 more than the next leading player). Putting up good stats and actually caring at the same time? In China, that’s good enough for us when we hand out DPOY awards.
Coach of the Year: Brian Goorjian, DongGuan
Dishing out awards have been pretty straightforward thus far in the eyes of this blog, and the trend continues with Goorjian, who has worked absolute wonders coaching in his first year in China. Brushed off as the younger, uglier baby brother to neighboring Guangdong since their promotion into the CBA in 2005-06, the 17-3 New Century Leopards have won dual bragging rights in the standings and in head-to-head matchups with DongGuan coming up win a Round 15 overtime win in the two teams only matchup of the year so far.
While the rest of the league’s potential playoff field was investing big money on big-name players, DongGuan went with the less heralded duo of Nigerian-American Akognon and Lebonese-American, Jackson Vroman. Most of those experiments failed miserably, yet the returns on the both of Akognon and Vroman have been through the roof — Akognon is on our MVP shortlist and Vroman has established himself as one of the most versatile and hardworking post players in the league. Outside of Singleton and Douby, you’d be hard pressed to find a better pair of imports.
Then there’s the vastly improved all-around play from domestic players Zhang and Qiu Biao. Like with Xinjiang, scoring is down for most of DongGuan’s local players as increased reliance on foreigners to carry offenses has had an effect on individual Chinese statistics, but efficiency is up across the board, especially for Biao, who is shooting 14% better from inside the three-point line and 4% better from outside.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s all due to Goorjian. He coerced the team’s Chinese roster into training together a whopping nine months before the start of the year, and got Akognon and Vroman to enter the country a lot sooner than other teams’ foreigners. The team is always well prepared and cares more on defense than other teams, and the chemistry that the team built up in 3/4 of a year practicing together has contributed greatly to their record.
That type of dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed by the CBA. We’re hearing loud whispers that Goorjian is next in line to replace Bob Donewald as head coach of the Chinese National Team, whenever that happens.
Like we said: Picking Goorjian is pretty straightfoward.
All-CBA 1st Team:
Guard: Douby, Xinjiang (28.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.7 apg, 3.6 spg, 54% fg, 39% 3pt, 92% ft)
Guard: Akognon, DongGuan (26.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.5 spg, 48% fg, 40% 3 pt, 85% ft)
Forward: Charles Gaines, Qingdao (32.1 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 2.5 spg, 60% fg)
Forward: Herve Laminzana, Tianjin (25.6 pgg, 10.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 3.9 bpg, 1.8 spg)
Center: Randolph Morris, Beijing (28.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.1 spg, 1.4 bpg)
All-CBA Second Team:
Guard: Stephon Marbury, Foshan (24.3 pgg, 6.6 apg, 1.6 spg, 56% fg)
Guard: Antoine Wright, Jiangsu (22.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.4 spg, 38% 3pt)
Forward: Singleton, Xinjiang (20.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 1.3 spg 70% fg)
Forward: Abbas, Beijing (16.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 1.5 spg, 57.7% fg)
Center: Wang, Bayi (21.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 1.3 spg, 84% ft)