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The definitive NiuBBall.com CBA preview

Stephon Marbury and the Beijing Ducks won the title last year… But will they have enough to repeat in 2012-13? (Photo: Osports)

Moreso than ever, the Chinese Basketball Association has become quite difficult to predict pre-season.

It’s hard to predict first of all because we generally stink at predictions, but more importantly that the league is as deep as its ever been top-to-bottom. There’s a more than a few reasons for that — more off-season player movement, more players going abroad to train in the summer, better coaching in-country, a commitment to strength and conditioning programs and better foreign players all round out the top of our list. But the end result of all that should be a very watchable and exciting league this season. Which is a good thing for us fans, of course.

Bad thing for NiuBBall’s annual predictions, however.

By our count, there’s 11 and possibly 12 teams (depending on how well you think Tracy McGrady is going to do in Qingdao) who have a shot at the playoffs. That’s well over half the league. If you think DongGuan is ready to make a jump (we do), then there are now four teams who could sport legitimate Finals cases. Building on Beijing’s buck-the-trend run to a championship last year, there appears to be a level of parody in the league. Pencilling in the top two, top four and top eight is no longer easy.

So as always, take what is about to come with a grain of salt and know that most likely this will all be very wrong.

The Bottom Four:

Tianjin: Sam Dahglas is a massive improvement over any point guard on the Gold Lions’ roster and Donnell Harvey is as solid as they come in the import big man department… but this is still Tianjin, folks. Other than Zhang Nan, a good but sometimes inconsistent shooter, there are no Chinese on this team capable of doing anything really useful. Which will come as frustrating to Dahglas, who has been the best natural playmaker in Asia the last few years. Hamady N’Diaye will block a lot of shots and put in a few stickbacks, but it’s hard to imagine him eclipsing anything meaningful in the scoring department. And with a team like this, you need your foreigners to score. With very little success going with two inside foreign players, it’s odd that they don’t switch it up and go with a wing.

Once hyped as the future of the point guard position in China, Yu Shulong (right) sat on the bench last year in Jilin and is now in DongGuan.

Jilin: Yu Shulong’s ugly season last year rotting on the bench, losing his spot on the National Team, followed by his transfer to DongGuan highlighted a strange and often illogical 2011-12 for the Northeast Tigers. What we learned from it all: Maybe it’s not a good idea to bench a young National Team player. The saga probably is a good indicator of a big drop in the standings. Further cause for concern, Cartier Martin, who kept this team in a lot of games with his scoring, is back in the NBA this year with the Washington Wizards. Dewarick Spencer and Sam Hoskin while fine players in their own right, but they probably won’t be enough.

Bayi: Wang Zhizhi is a year older, opposing teams’ foreign players are better, and the Rockets — after another failed off-season in attempting to acquire a top-flight Chinese player — are pretty much the same team as they were last year. Adijiang will likely continue to push the pace on offense and press on defense, which will bug out the odd team every so often, but even with the CBA trying to make things easier on their beloved PLA representatives, this is a squad that will still struggle to win games. Which means exactly what for next year?

Jiangsu: Last season’s 9-23 finish was the worst in Dragon history. Unfortunately for fans in Jiangsu, we just don’t see that record improving much. Even when in shape, Garret Siler has difficulty playing big minutes. That is problematic when you consider Jiangsu had nobody up front last season… and that was with javelin-thrower-turned-basketball-player, Song Kangming, who is now with Foshan. Mike Harris has as good a CBA resume as you can have, but hasn’t been a huge scorer over the last few years, not a great sign when you keep in mind that this particular Dragons team lacks players who can put the ball in the hole. Their success might come down to Iranian guard, Benny Koochoie, who at 6’3 will need to be the primary ball handler with Hu Xuefeng now on his last legs. There’s just not a lot of talent on this squad. Shoutout to Yi Li, who is a NiuBBall favorite.

The Bottom Half-ers:

Foshan: It’s certainly possible that the Long Lions finish back in their customary bottom four position because they’ve switched imports five times already this off-season and their Chinese players are still towards the bottom of the barrel… but for some reason, we’re sort of feeling this team. Four players from neighboring Guangdong signed two-year deals with the team in the summer, lead by former U-17 National Teammer, Zhu Xuhang, and the older brother of Ren Junfei, who played very well for Shanxi on loan last year, Ren Junwei. Former CUBA MVP, Zeng Lingxu, is in his second season and should be improved. Shavlik Randolph is as solid as they come for foreigners and Rashad McCants can score the heck out of the ball. Zheng Zhun is a seven footer with a real ability to drain jumpers off pick-and-pop. The point is: It’s an upgraded roster from last season. They’re by no means good, but in our opinion, they’re finally out of the depths of the CBA.

Qingdao: When D.J. Mbenga was announced as the Eagles’ second import, what was a well-known fact inside of Chinese basketball circles became pretty apparent to the rest of the world: Tracy McGrady is literally going to have to do everything on offense for this team. With Li Gen no longer around, there are exactly zero players on this team at getting their own shot. And the addition of worst-hands-in-the-league Shang Ping lowers the team’s ability to catch the ball just by association. All of which doesn’t bode well for T-Mac in his first season. With his size, versatility and elite basketball IQ, Mai Di shouldn’t have an issue filling up the stat sheet and being effective in a variety of ways. But far past his prime athletically, is he going to have enough legs to carry the team’s scoring burden on his back every night? And moreso, how is the rest of the team going to handle all of the media and fan attention, nonetheless being absolutely mobbed by McCrowds everywhere they go? Too many questions, not enough good players to expect anything more than 12th place.

Shanxi Zhongyu owner, Wang Xingjiang, has so far failed in his quest to become the team’s head coach.

Shanxi: After a fantastic season in Taiyuan last year in which the Brave Dragons made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history before eventually losing in a deciding fifth game to the Beijing Ducks in the semi-finals, management made the smart decision to bring back the two biggest reasons for their success, Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines. So that’s good. But almost everything since then hasn’t been. Infamous team owner Wang Xingjiang, or “Boss Wang” as he his known to most, has apparently back to his old meddling ways. He’s already demoted new head coach, Spaniard Jesus Mateo, to assistant/consultant/whatever in favor of… himself. The CBA quickly responded in the media that Wang is unable to be a coach as he has not acquired official league certification, but it’s safe to say that things are already off to a rocky start this year. Throw in the fact that Kelan Makan and Ren Junfei, both of whom were with the team on loan last year, are now back with their original teams this year, and Shanxi looks due for a drop.

The Outsiders:

Fujian: Gong Songlin’s departure to Yiwu ended an era in Jinjiang, but with the younger and hungrier Zhao Tailong ready to assume the role of the team’s best backcourt Chinese player after an excellent summer season with the China Olympic National Team, one could argue that the Sturgeons are making an upgrade at that position. But of course, the big story here is Wang Zhelin’s CBA debut. Coming off a summer that saw good performances at the Nike Hoop Summit and the FIBA Asia u-18 Championship, all eyes will be on the 18 year-old center when he starts his professional career this Sunday. The question is, how will new head coach, Tab Baldwin, mix and match Wang with 2011-12 NiuBBall All-CBA First Teamer, Will McDonald? A twin tower setup sounds appealing, but in a league that generally plays at a very high pace and for a team that has been accustomed to playing fast in recent years, is that really going to be a viable option?

Guangsha: Another team that started off hot last year with their locked-out NBA player, Wilson Chandler, the Lions fizzled down the stretch once Chandler mailed it in after professional basketball in America started back up again in December. To be fair, the same could be said for last season’s head coach, Jim Cleamons, too. Familiar face Wang Fei returns to the bench and P.J. Ramos comes back too. The focus, however, will be on Al Thornton. He was held out of practices and games for a stretch due to injuries, but looked good in limited minutes in exhibition games. If fully healthy, he’ll put up huge numbers. If you’re into watching young point guards, Wang Zirui will be a guy worth tuning into. Former Guangdong center, Wang Zheng, gives the Lions some depth and size after signing with the team in the summer. A team who is very much in the playoff hunt, but with a lot of pressure on a banged-up Thornton, we just can’t lock them into a top eight spot at this moment.

Wang Zhelin is considered by many to be China’s next NBA prospect.

Playoff Teams:

Shandong: Some people will pick the Gold Lions purely based on the fact that Zaid Abbas has made the playoffs in each of his three seasons in China. There’s more than just that, though. According NiuBBall’s trusty network, Pooh Jeter looked outstanding in pre-season and the oozing-with-potential Ding Yanyuhang looks like he’s ready for a leap. We know what we’ll see out of Jackson Vroman (good team defense, excellent passing out of the post and solid scoring on the inside). Ditto for Abbas (hustle, defense, hustle, defense, hustle, defense), who as an Asian import will be under no time restrictions. Sun Jie should benefit from having Jeter drive and kick, and 2011-12 All-Star Wu Ke will provide good depth up front. Do we need to be any clearer? We really like Shandong this season.

Liu Wei and Gilbert Arenas are excited to be playing together this season in Shanghai.


Shanghai: Even without the recent signing of Gilbert Arenas, the Sharks were a safe pre-season pick to make the playoffs this season. Dan Pannagio has done a fantastic job in getting the Sharks to defend at the league’s highest level and in forcing opposing teams to play at the slower tempo that gives his team the best chance at winning. Now in their second season under the triangle offense, they should be even better. So how much better exactly does Arenas make them? He’s played several years under the Princeton in Washington with Eddie Jordan, so the three-sided offense shouldn’t be much of an adjustment. And living in Shanghai, he shouldn’t have trouble adapting to life in China. If he’s healthy and able to get to the basket consistently (as opposed to jacking up a ton of threes), it should open things up for the already-up-there-in-age Liu Wei, who could do well being off the ball more. D.J. White should be solid in his first year, “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu has improved every year and is one of the best rim protectors in the league, and the rest of the roster, though not the most talented, all play hard and know their roles. A team that could jump up a bit in the standings, but it will depend on Arenas’ effectiveness.


Zhejiang Chouzhou: After suffering an extremely dissapointing and drama filled season, Golden Bulls fans have multiple reasons to celebrate going into this weekend: One, J.R. Smith is several thousands of miles away in New York City and two, the all-scoring, no-fuss Quincy Douby is coming in as his replacement. One year removed from breaking his wrist in the pre-season last year, Douby is back in China, this time with a different team. Opting not to go back to Xinjiang, Douby signed with the Golden Bulls in the summer to start a new chapter in his career. Hands down the best scorer in the league two seasons ago when he almost lead the Flying Tigers to their first ever championship, the 6’3 guard should have no problem picking up where he left off. The man with the V-12 motor, Ding Jinhui, will pair up with Josh Boone down low for the third straight season to give the team a nice defensive front line. One thing to keep an eye on is the health of Gong Songlin, who when right can get some offense for himself and splash threes. There might be cause for concern here as Douby won’t have the same amount of talent around him here that he did in Xinjiang, but this still looks like a playoff team.

Liaoning: It’s not very often that anybody gets to say, “Wow, I really liked what Liaoning did this summer.” So the fact that we’re talking positively about the Jaguars heading into the season should speak nicely about their prospects. They started by getting rid of a lot of the old, dead wood that’s been junking up their roster for the past few seasons, a decision that was (hopefully) made to give their young core (Guo Ailun, Yang Ming, Han Dejun) more minutes. Then they went out and got two extremely dependable imports, Josh Akognon and Alexander Johnson. Akognon frustrates some people with his volume shooting, but is a fearsome scorer when he gets cooking from the perimeter. Johnson, who was a beast for Shanxi two seasons ago when he joined late in the year, is reportedly looking very good and his strength and physicality should be a real problem for opposing teams on the inside. How big Han looks after going home from the National Team this summer with a heart condition is something that warrants your attention. Liaoning is as dysfunctional as it gets, so anything is possible, but we’re sipping the kool-aid up north and predicting a return to the post-season.

The Top Four:

By all accounts, Li Muhao is due for a breakout season in DongGuan.

DongGuan: If you haven’t already, go ahead and check out our two-part interview with Leopards head coach, Brian Goorjian (part one, part two). One thing of many to take away from that: Li Muhao is primed to have a fantastic season. If that indeed holds up to be true, Goorjian’s team will be in business. Lester Hudson is a bigger, better version of Akognon. Marcus Haislip is a very solid stretch four who is also quite fine with using his athleticism to face-up and get by guys. Yu Shulong is an upgrade at the point guard position over what they’ve had previously. Sun Zhe, Sun Tonglin and Zhang Kai can all play good minutes up front. Gu Quan and Qiu Biao are nice options on the wing, and if wild-card Zhao Jie, who was a nice up-and-coming player before tearing up his knee, can contribute, it will only add to one of the deepest rosters in the league. A lock for a top-four spot with possible room for more. This is always a team people talk about in the context of the future, but this season could be a big step forward for the Goorjian and his guys.

Xinjiang: Sometimes change isn’t good. Spending unprecedented amounts of money to shake up their bench and their roster, the Flying Tigers’ 2011-12 campaign could best be summed up as an unequivocal disaster. The man who is now in charge of cleaning all that up is Cui Wanjun, who lead Jiangsu Tongxi to an NBL title two years ago and has spent time in the States with John Calipari while he was in Memphis. The more open-minded and relaxed Cui has for the moment calmed things down in the always-tense Urumqi and the team should benefit from the change in attitude. They’ll also benefit from the return of the best all-around big man in the league, James Singleton, who is back once again after leaving the team last year for Guangdong. There’s no issue there. His teammate though, Von Wafer, is in for some more questions, mostly about his ability to get his teammates involved. If he can find a balance between scoring and distributing, Xinjiang will be for the better as they still have a great lineup of Chinese players around him. If not… well, Xinjiang switched their imports five four times last year.

The Contenders:

Beijing: The honeymoon is over the Ducks and now its time to get back to work. The big news in the off-season was the addition of 2012 CBA All-Star Game MVP, Li Gen. He was second in the league last year in points per game and can score in a variety of ways. What Min decides to do with Beijing’s crunch time lineup will be interesting to see (does Lee Hsueh-lin go to the bench?) as the Ducks’ fourth-quarter chemistry was a big reason why they were able to upset Guangdong last year. But like Marlo from The Wire says: That’s one of those good problems. Stephon Marbury will still be running the show and will have plenty of room to operate with Zhu Yanxi and Zhai Xiaochuan spacing the floor. Randolph Morris will still be creating problems on the interior with his size and soft touch, and will continue to be a good pick-and-roll partner for Steph. They’ve got the talent and have the trophy, but will the expectations of repeating be too much for this team to bear?

Guangdong: What happens when you get upset in dominating fashion to a team that had previously never been to the CBA Finals? If you’re a seven-time champ, you apparently go out and acquire three former NBA lottery picks. No longer a desired player in the NBA, Yi Jianlian turned away from offers in Europe to return to his old romping grounds in Guangdong. He’ll form a trio with Terrence Williams and Ike Diogu, the former of which has the potential to be a walking triple-double on this level. Registerd as a Chinese, Yi will be under no restrictions and should absolutely dominate given the fact that he’ll be matched up against a Chinese on most nights. The same National Team guys are still here: Chen Jianghua, Wang Shipeng, Zhu Fangyu, Zhou Peng, etc. etc. Boasting their best roster ever, will the Southern Tigers go undefeated? Unlikely, but they’re certainly a shoe-in for the Finals and arguably the favorite to lift the trophy in April.


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9 Responses to “The definitive NiuBBall.com CBA preview”

  1. Mike Says:

    Yi will destroy duck’s front court, but if Chang Lin, Morris, Ji Zhe even Li Gen can get together to slow him down, duck still has chance. They certainly don’t want champ to be taken back. After all, last year is only their first year.


  2. Mike Says:

    It’s also the battle between current and future CNT rosters. Zhu, Zhai, Li and Chang all have potentials to enter the CNT for 2016 Olympics. They want to beat Wang, Zhu, Chen, Yi and Zhou as they are getting old.


  3. EYS Says:

    Shandong can possibly be the first team that fails to make the playoffs with Zaid Abbas. They have one of the worst coaches in the entire CBA who runs two plays throughout the entire season. Of course, they will probably blame it on the fact that they will only have six homes games in the first half of the season, this organization is full of excuses.

    They blamed last season on Alan Anderson, who had to single-hand carry the squad on most nights (50 points vs Jilin, 54 vs Chouzhou, 14 assists vs Guandong). Sun Jie was a non-factor past round three after teams figure out he can’t do anything but catch and shoot. Of all of the non locked out players in China last year only Anderson and Cartier Martin are now back in the NBA. Anderson is now in Toronto, and up until his recent injury was the first wing off the bench and a starter when Kyle Lowry got hurt. Apparently CBA teams are better than NBA teams when it comes to personnel…

    If this team is coached by anyone else with any slight knowledge of basketball, they will be in the top four with three imports and probably the top three young domestic players in the league. However, Gong Xiao Bing is the proud native Shandong son and will never be fired.

    This team’s young corps remind me of the young Guandong team ten years ago except their talents will most likely go untapped because of poor coaching. Din Yan Yu-hang can be lethal on the wing if he learns to drive away from the crowd than into tripl-teams all the time (which he still manages to finish with a bucket at times!). Wu Ke lacks any lift in his game but should be a force on the defensive end ala Su Wei if he just learns to put his hands up, not to mention he is way more efficient on the offensive end than the aforementioned Su (see numbers from last year in wins vs Shanxi and OT loss vs Chouzhou), Tao Hanlin can be a great spark plug off the bench if he starts watching film on Kenneth Faried (he needs to learn he can’t dunk everything and then celebrate while the other team goes 5 on 4 in transition). Sui Ran needs a more defined role and focus on being a defensive wing since he is not a pass-first PG or has a respectable shot to be a scoring PG, with his size at 6″4′, that’s plenty of length to be an effective wing defender in the CBA. The trio of young PGs (Wang Rui Hen, Xu Jia Han, and Yang Yue) all were given chances to run the team last year, each had their flashes but all lacked consistency. Neither of them will get much time this year with Jeter on the roster, which is a shame because Xu Jia Han reminds me of a young Chen Jia Hua without the unnecessary flash.

    They are losing Liu JiuLong this year which I believe will be bigger than they thought. Liu was the calming veteran presence on the roster that affected the game outside the box score. He is not very fast nor can he jump every high, but he was smart enough to be an effective defender against foreigners and steady at point forward every time the coach decides to run Anderson off the same floppy play off the wing.

    Highest finish for team: 7th, lowest finish: tied for 11/12, which is very underachieving with Abbas and two imports on your roster.

    Team finishes top four with ease if they hire a real coach with non-puppets on his coaching staff.


    • Mike Says:

      Why are you so interested about Shandong? Are you from Shandong?


      • EYS Says:

        No Mike, I am not from Shandong, I am an American that splits my time in the US and China during the year.

        I used to coach basketball and I watch a lot of CBA basketball. I can probably write up a similar analysis for every team, but decided to focus on Shandong because there is plenty of reading/writing on Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Xinjiang, and etc.

        I watched a lot of Shandong’s games last year and I cannot understand how this team does not win more games with that roster. I really like their young corp as it reminds me of the golden Guangdong generation 10 years ago when they were just little puppies (no pun intended). However I cringe at how bad and unenthusiastic the coaching is, this guy just expects all these kids to know how to do everything on their own. During timeouts, you can hear him telling the players “go fast, and force turnovers so we can score in transition”, but the faces on these kids tells me he probably never taught them how to do that in practice.

        The CBA is a lot like the NCAA where coaches should be constantly involved on the sideline. It’s no coincidence that the better teams in the league (records wise) often would have a coach that has no voice left at the end of the game. Watching Brian Goorjian coach is a joy because he knows he has a young team and he enjoys teaching them what to do throughout the game. These are kids, they are not Phil Jackson’s bulls, they are not going to figure it out on their own! Another quirky indicator I’ve picked up regarding CBA teams and the correlation of their record is the translator, who is very important during the game as he needs to get messages across from Chinese coaches to imports or American coaches to Chinese players. The translators on these following teams work their butts off and their throats are also shut at the end of the game: Dongguan, Shanghai, Beijing, Shanxi, Fujian, Guangsha, these teams all made the playoffs last year. I don’t see the same enthusiasm in the translators on these following teams that didn’t make the playoffs: Shandong, Jilin, Qingdao, Liaoning… When players can’t understand what their coach is saying because the translator is not as professional, they start playing “there is no tomorrow jungle ball”.

        I am sorry I digressed, but as a former coach, I pay attention to the little things that matter and separates winners and losers.


        • Mike Says:

          What do you think of Beijing ducks? My uncle is the current GM of them.


        • Mike Says:

          I agree that translator is important. Marbury calls the translator of Beijing Mr. Everything. Translator takes a crucial role at clutch moment. I was thinking about applying the position for Ducks before. I agree that the level of CBA is like NCAA. It’s still a very young and unprofessional league.


  4. EYS Says:

    Two clarifications in my previous post:

    1) End of second paragraph. It is supposed to be sarcastic as a well-traveled Euroleague veteran on constant NBA radar was deemed worthless in the great CBA. Every management in the league besides Shanghai and Dongguan are clueless when it comes to talent evaluation and scouting. Guandong built its roster all these years for the sheer reason that they were willing to pay more for domestic players while other clubs are how would you put nicely… frugal.

    2) Please refer to Wu Ke’s numbers from the buzzer beating loss by Jin Lipeng @ Guangsha, not the OT loss @ Chouzhou.

    Happy thanksgiving to all expats living in the middle kingdom!



  1. » Friday Links: On censorship and China’s fading ability to speak, CBA season preview, and My Little Airport’s Beijing show tonight Beijing Cream - November 23, 2012

    […] Could Guangdong go undefeated this year? “If you’re a seven-time champ, you apparently go out and acquire three former NBA lottery picks. No longer a desired player in the NBA, Yi Jianlian turned away from offers in Europe to return to his old romping grounds in Guangdong. He’ll form a trio with Terrence Williams and Ike Diogu, the former of which has the potential to be a walking triple-double on this level. Registerd as a Chinese, Yi will be under no restrictions and should absolutely dominate given the fact that he’ll be matched up against a Chinese on most nights. The same National Team guys are still here: Chen Jianghua, Wang Shipeng, Zhu Fangyu, Zhou Peng, etc. etc. Boasting their best roster ever, will the Southern Tigers go undefeated? Unlikely, but they’re certainly a shoe-in for the Finals and arguably the favorite to lift the trophy in April.” [Jon Pastuszek, NiuBBall] […]

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