Post by Kenya Brown
December 4, 2012
NiuBBall has a new scribe. World, meet Kenya Brown. Currently based in Beijing, Kenya has spent 11 years in China, half of which has been spent in Baoding, Hebei province. With a bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Kent in England, Kenya is now a news editor with China Central Television News Content. He also contributes articles on sports-related issues involving China on the China Sports Review blog and covers soccer news for US-based Yanks Abroad website.
Kenya’s biggest basketball moment, playing-wise, was when he scored the game-winning basket for his junior varsity team in Germany back in 1991 in front of hostile crowd of 25 people. As he is usually busy with work, Kenya has yet to see a live CBA game. However, he considers seeing Guangdong Southern Tigers assistant coach Jason Dixon walking along Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong with his family as his biggest CBA moment so far.
For his opening piece, Kenya discusses China’s young generation of back-to-the-basket centers and wonders how well their games could translate in today’s NBA.
With the new National Basketball Association season well underway in the United States and the Chinese Basketball Association getting its first four rounds of games under their belt, I guess it would be no better time than to start throwing in my two cents on basketball in the Middle Kingdom.
If you have not been sleeping under a rock in the past month or so, you probably have heard that the NBA has decided to do away with voting for the center position in this season’s All-Star Game which is scheduled to take place in Houston, Texas. In its place fans will select their three preferred front court players as well as two guards.
There is no doubt that this is a sign that the league has evolved over time with such seven footers as Dirk Nowitzki showing their offensive prowess facing the basket and shooting from mid or long-range rather than with their backs to it.
This also shows that the back-to-basket center is a dying breed as most teams have utilized power forwards in the five spot. Just reading an ESPN article in which Abdul-Jabbar expressed his opinion on the declining trend shows how much the position is on the verge of extinction.
The days when great centers like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon dominated the game in the paint are gradually fading away.
With Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez and possibly a few others being considered the only pure centers in the league these days, there is one question I have had in my mind since the NBA made its announcement about the alteration to the All-Star Game ballot: Could China’s up and coming centers thrive in a league that seems to be drifting away from using a traditional center?
Most media and scouts have focused their attention on the duo of Wang Zhelin (Fujian SBS Sturgeons) and Li Muhao (DongGuan Leopards) as two future prospects for the NBA in the future.
Wang, the 18-year-old who is starting his rookie season in the CBA, has already impressed many with his exploits at the Nike Hoop Summit and the FIBA Asia U-18 Championship this year with his athleticism and shooting touch. However, he is still a raw talent that needs to be molded into the center that he can be.
Sturgeons head coach Tab Baldwin and coaches at the national level should provide the necessary guidance to push Wang to the level he can reach. In addition, with the improved competition in the CBA, Wang should be getting challenged by some quality big men in the post, which could only help to improve his strength.
If the future Chinese national team center plays well in his maiden CBA season and continues to improve, in four or five years time his name could be heard at the top of the list of NBA draft picks.
Like Wang, Li Muhao continues to be a work in progress as he develops his game with the Leopards and head coach Brian Goorjian. Having played with the Chinese youth national teams and participating in the 2009 Nike Global Challenge, many scouts see a lot of potential in the big man.
One of Li’s advantages is that he is being nurtured along slowly by Goorjian so that he can improve the weak parts of his game while enhancing his strengths. A lot is expected of him this CBA season. He may not be a dominant player as he is still very young, but he should make an impact for the Leopards as they try to continue their progression into becoming a contender for the CBA crown.
While both players possess considerable upsides and have the strong possibility of being top back-to-basket centers in the years to come for the Chinese national team and the NBA in the future, the one area both need to work in is there overall strength.
This has got to be a major concern for coaches at the national team level as Wang and Li progress because the opposition will have big men that can outmuscle them in the post for easy buckets and just knock them out of the way for rebounds.
It may not be much of a concern at youth level as other players are developing as well, but at the senior level it is entirely another story.
Yao Ming can certainly attest to how strength training helped him when he had to battle in the paint with the likes of Shaq and other big men. By adding more bulk to his body he was able to absorb much of the punishment he was going through in the paint.
While Wang and Li do not have to spend every hour in the weight room trying to build themselves up for a Mr. Universe bodybuilding competition, adding a bit more mass to could help them to become more dominant in their positions scrap with the best of them around the rim. However, it should not be too much mass that they put on as it may affect them getting up and down the court.
No doubt the two young centers have the potential to play in the NBA like many others and they could be the catalyst in the re-emergence of the back-to-basket center. The most important this is that they are given the time to develop and the necessary training and games to make them the finished product.