This piece was originally posted on Shark Fin Hoops before Round 17.
Round 17 is in the books and just like that, the 2011-12 CBA season is at its half-way point. To mark the occasion, the NiuBBall duo of Andrew Crawford and Edward Bothfeld took some time out to chat about the year so far, including the Beijing Ducks’ surprising run to first place, the comings and goings of Crawford’s hometown Shanghai Sharks and Bothfeld’s hometown Guangsha Lions, the always relevant Stephon Marbury and a whole bunch of other stuff.
Andrew Crawford: Well, its been a pretty crazy first half of the season so let’s talk first about the league before we get into our teams; despite two loses in a row, Beijing are setting the pace with a 13-2 record- do you think they can go deep into the play-offs or is this two-game losing streak a sign that teams have started to figure them out?
Edward Bothfeld: Thirteen wins in a row is no joke. They have two important players who have more than a season of CBA experience each. One of which, Stephon Marbury, is a former NBA All-Star and is immensely talented. That being said, teams now have a lot of tape of the Ducks to look at, and can be more prepared. The season is long and pretty constant so nagging injuries and fatigue may be starting to rear their heads. Their remaining schedule is pretty friendly and they have almost twice as many home games as away game remaining so they will be a tough out in the playoffs.
AC: You might notice this when your Lions play the Ducks on Dec 28th but Marbury is a game changer in some unpredictable ways; at times he can nullify a home crowd. I mean, he was being cheered by the Shanghai crowd last night and he plays for Beijing!
EB: He attracts a lot of attention because of his name and history. Being cheered by the home crowd is just respect. There’s no doubt that the majority of the time, he’s the most talented player on the court. Also, not enough attention has been given to how well he has adapted to Chinese culture. If you remember, he didn’t have a good departure from the NBA – the strange videos he posted on the internet, failed playoff run with the Celtics and his time with the Knicks was an absolute disaster. Now it seems he is really happy [in Beijing], doing what he loves and serving as a role model for other foreign players — like J.R. Smith
AC: All very true. He certainly looks happier in Beijing; his company’s taking off and he’s a basketball hero out here. The days of being run out of New York must seem like a long way away. Anyway, let’s move on; what are your thoughts on Xinjiang Tigers; they’ve fired Bob Donewald and Kenyon Martin looks like he wants out; do you thing the Tigers are in trouble even at 9-5 or was this a knee jerk reaction?
EB: I don’t think the knee jerk reaction was wise and now they are in definite trouble. They had a very expensive offseason — and are already blowing it up before the season is halfway done! It takes time for coaches to put their systems in place and for players to get to know each other. What happened to Donewald wasn’t exactly fair. Sources have told me that the Xinjiang management puts a TON of pressure on its players; the expectations are so high there.
AC: Do you think things could get worse?
EB: They lost one game last year and have already dropped five this year. They’ve also fired their high profile coach and bought out Kenyon Martin; I don’t know how it can get any worse! That being said, I don’t know what Xinjiang were expecting from K-Mart- 30 point and 15 rebound performances? Those days are long behind him
AC: Strong stuff, sir. Finally, what’s your take on Jiangsu Dragons; NiuBBall had them 3rd in their preseason rankings and instead the boys from Nanjing find themselves bottom of the league, below even Tianjin Lions, who are historically terrible. What’s gone wrong there?
EB: I saw them play last night. Despite their history of success, they are very mediocre this year; they are already on their second set of imports and I don’t know if Marcus Williams is a long-term answer. To put it kindly, he looks very “muscular”; it looks like he has packed on a few pounds. Also, like Xinjiang, Jiangsu need time to work with one another so making so many changes makes it difficult to truly become a team. I have talked with [Guangsha Lion’s] Coach Jim Cleamons multiple times. As a rookie CBA coach, he always stresses to me that Guangsha is a work in process and they probably won’t be going on all cylinders until much later this year.
AC: Well, let’s talk about your boys, Guangsha; 11-4 after Round 16- would you have taken this at the start of the season?
EB: Yes. Having P.J. Ramos has really helped- he has taken some of the burden off Wilson Chandler and they have a very functional basketball team; everyone has a role.
AC: I’ve noticed you’ve been very big on the form of P.J. Ramos; has anyone else stood out for you so far besides him and Chandler?
EB: Jin Lipeng gets points. He is only playing 17 minutes a game, but is fourth on the team with 11.3 points. Lin Chih Chieh is our glue guy. He is incredibly scrappy and although he can be too cute sometimes (making fancy passes etc), he gets it done. Some games, he will go off for 20, sometimes he will only get 4 points but he always leaves an impression on the game. If Lipeng and Lin are on their games, Guangsha is hard to beat
AC: Yeah, when Guangsha came to Shanghai last month, I could see Lin had some sparkle to him and Chandler seems to enjoy playing with him. We’ve obviously got to talk about Chandler when we talk about Guangsha; how do you feel he’s been used in that team and do you feel that Coach Cleamons is under pressure to use him as much as possible?
EB: Having worked with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, etc., Coach Cleamons is no spring chicken when it comes to using star players effectively. Guangsha’s GM sits on the bench with the team during games (you might notice her as she is the only female and looks like one tough cookie) so everyone is on the same page in terms of when Chandler is playing, etc.
AC: This could essentially be a league-wide question, but how do you think CBA teams like Guangsha will be able to build on their post-Chandler season in 2012-13? I’ve met people who argue that bringing in big names creates a ‘pass-to-the-superstar’ mentality and a team’s progression gets stunted as a result
EB: Before it was Wilson Chandler, it was Rodney White; a team will always have a go-to player and they will most likely be the import players. If you look at most CBA rosters, teams have two imports, one big man and one back court player. If you bring in players with the same skill-sets each season, the role players don’t have as much difficulty adjusting.
AC: Do you think teams like Jiangsu and Xinjiang have had weaker seasons because they hadn’t scouted players with the same skill sets as the guys who were there during the previous season?
EB: Losing Quincy Douby really hurt Xinjiang. He was their team last year so they were going to have a different dynamic once he was lost, but Jiangsu had Antoine Wright last year- he has a different style than Marcus Williams, not to mention plays a different position.
AC: All very true. Well seeing as I write for a website about the Shanghai Sharks, we should probably talk about them as well. The Sharks appear to have hit form at the right time and have won five out of their last six games; do you think they can squeak into the play-offs or is their bad start too much to overcome?
EB: Why not? At 7-8, they are only a few games out of fourth place; suddenly games against the likes of Xinjiang and Jiangsu are winnable when in the past you could mark those up as losses. The Sharks absolutely have a shot to be in the playoffs despite a slow start.
AC: Journalistic integrity aside, I would love to see them make it but their away form has been so bad until the last couple of games that I wonder if it will be too much to overcome. We’re 5-1 at home but on the road, it’s not been anywhere near as stellar and going to Xinjiang and Beijing so late in the season is still a big ask in my books, even if we continue to grow in confidence.
EB: Yep, times are always tough on the road.
AC: Indeed. Any Shanghai players you expect to see in the All-Star game come March?
EB: Mike Harris can fill it up. If Shanghai continues on their current run, Harris or Ryan Forehan-Kelly could warrant an All-Star bid.
AC: Absolutely. For my money, Forehan-Kelly has been the star of that team. Harris has got the big dunks and gets the crowd going but RFK has been consistently clutch throughout the season. Okay, last question; like me, you probably have a fantasy basketball team. Should I be picking up a Chandler or a J.R. Smith and storing him for when they return to America in March/April time or will their impact be negligible after playing one intense season already?
EB: I would say the chances are high that one of the high-profile Americans over here will be playing in the NBA Finals.
AC: You buying Bill Simmons’ theory that a returning K-Mart is the Heat’s missing piece to all but confirm the 2012 championship?
EB: He could be- there are always veterans like K-Mart that championship contenders add to push them over the top. I mean, Marbury was supposed to be that player with the Celtics a few years ago
AC: Alright; we should probably call it quits but thanks for your thoughts. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff here and I hope we can do this again sometime
EB: For sure, Any time. I enjoyed it.
AC: Excellent stuff. I’ll let you get back to the daily grid but there’s a beer waiting for you when we next come face to face.