With nobody else able to help Stephon Marbury run the show, Beijing’s Lee Hsueh-lin has played 238 out of a possible 240 minutes the last five games. (Photo: Osports)
Quick, other than Stephon Marbury and Randolph Morris, who has been Beijing’s most valuable player this season?
If you took a poll, either of the Ducks’ rookie soon-to-be National Team training camp combo, Zhai Xiaochuan and Zhu Yanxi, would likely receive some votes. And maybe out of respect to longtime team captain and CBA laotou, Chen Lei would get some too. And that’d all be fine.
As long as they were all second-place votes.
You can try to make the case all you want, but if you’ve come up with someone other than Lee Hsueh-lin, then you’re just plain wrong.
(My) case in point: So important is Lee to the Ducks cause against Guangdong, that coach Min Lulei has called on the Taiwanese point-guard to play 142 out of a 144 possible minutes over the Finals’ first three games. And so important was he against Shanxi in the semi-finals, that Min played him every minute of Games 4 and 5.
Let that register for a second. Five games, two whole minutes of rest.
“Mr. 48 Minutes,” as he’s recently been called by Chinese media after playing every minute for four games in a row (he was on the court or all 48 in Games 1 and 2 of the Finals), has simply been an iron man and an indispensable player for the Ducks during their playoff run.
A former star in Taiwan for the SBL’s Yulon Dinos, where he won three SBL championships in a row from 2004-2006, Lee made the jump to the CBA in September 2010 when he signed a for the Ducks, and immediately jumped into the starting lineup at point guard. Considered as one of the best guards in Taiwan when he was in high school, the 27 year-old has been a part of the Taiwanese National Team setup for the last ten years, most recently at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship last summer in Wuhan.
After a solid debut season last year in where the Ducks made the playoffs, Lee came back even better and saw increases in steals and assists though his first eight games — all wins — while also keeping his turnovers at his usual low rate. But during that eighth game, he suffered a serious back injury that would keep him out for a little over two months. Beijing would go onto win their next five without him, but as Beijing’s thin group of guards tired as the season progressed, the team struggled to win games. After going 13-0, Beijing went just 7-10 over their next 17 games.
Lee came back for the team’s last two regular season games of the season against Shanghai and Guangsha, and his minutes had been steadily increasing throughout the first-round and semis until his recent string of 48 minute games. If you watch games, it’s hard not to see why Min feels he needs to be on the court at all times: Other than Marbury, Beijing has nobody who can handle the ball and organize the offense. He doesn’t turn the ball over, he can pressure opposing guards full-court (just ask Aaron Brooks) and he nails open threes pretty regularly. Once dubbed “the Allen Iverson of Taiwan,” Lee should really be called “the Earl Watson of Taiwan.” He may not be flashy, but he’s a solid starting point guard who generally knows what to do.
And luckily for the long-term future of Lee and of the Ducks, it looks as if Coach Min has seen why playing a dude with a bad back 48 minutes a night is probably a bad idea. Lee’s been receiving treatment immediately after every game, and with his back not completely healed and maybe getting worse, the coach has vowed that he’ll get some in-game rest from now on.
How much rest exactly, is in serious question because unless Xie Libin magically wakes up and is able to throw the ball to his teammates without an opponent getting a hand on it, Beijing still doesn’t have any other options. When at their best, Beijing goes seven deep. Guangdong of course, goes much deeper, meaning if Lee is in fact exhausted, this series is far from over; no matter where the next two games are being played.