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Tag Archives: Charles Gaines

2012-13 NiuBBall Awards

April 12, 2013

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Way to ruin the suspense, guys.

Why would we write a 2012-13 CBA Awards piece when we already wrote another one elsewhere on the internet?

Because one, there isn’t a word count around these parts. And secondly, it ain’t really a CBA Awards piece unless it’s a NiuBBall Awards piece.

Which are exactly the reasons why we’re busting out another set for the third straight year, written exclusively for you and the rest of our loyal band of supporters.

So enjoy and of course, if you have anything to say, get to posting in the comments section.

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Quincy Douby scores 75 to set CBA all-time single game points record

January 3, 2013

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Zhejiang Chouzhou’s Quincy Douby scored 75 points to break the CBA’s all-time single game scoring record. (Photo: Osports)

The already considerable legend of Quincy Douby in China just grew even larger.

The Zhejiang Chouzhou star scored an incredible 75 points tonight in a 154-129 win over visiting Shanxi Zhongyu to become the Chinese Basketball Association’s record holder for most points in a single game.

The previous record was held by Andre Emmett, who scored 71 in March 2010 while playing for Shandong Kingston.

Douby’s latest brush with Chinese basketball history is only his latest, however. With the CBA all-time single game record in hand, Douby now owns scoring records for the regular season, the finals (53) and the All-Star Game (44).

Douby reached his record on 23-38 shooting, including 9-15 from three and 16-20 from the free-throw line. Entering the fourth quarter, the 6-3 guard had amassed 47 points before going off for 28 points in the game’s final frame, which is now the third highest mark in league all-time single quarter scoring.

Douby surpassed Emmett’s record after hitting a free-throw on the end of an and-one late in the quarter.

But what’s even more incredible is that he could have scored more. With both the game and the record in hand, he was subbed out with a little over three minutes in the contest after logging just under 36 minutes of on-court time.

And yet, there’s even more. Charles Gaines, who played as Shanxi’s lone import after his teammate, Marcus Williams, was suspended by the league for testing positive for marijuana, recorded his own ridiculous stat line of 60 points and 29 rebounds.

With the win, Zhejiang is now in 10th place at 8-8 while Shanxi slips to 11-5.

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McGrady’s turnover, Gaines’ buzzer beater highlight CBA’s opening round

November 25, 2012

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The Chinese Basketball Association has officially started after Round 1 of the 2012-13 season wrapped up tonight.

And save for Gilbert Arenas’ untimely hip flexor last night, we don’t think it could have started any better.

There’s an overtime game in Shanxi to get to as well as Xinjiang’s impressive home win over Guangdong, but no doubt the game everyone wil be talking about will be Fujian’s dramatic buzzer beater to spoil Tracy McGrady’s debut with Qingdao.

Oh, and that turnover.

The script was set up for a storybook start to the season. T-Mac, who was excellent overall amassing 34 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, set up in an isolation with the game tied at 92 and the shot clock off. “The whole world is expecting McGrady to get the ball here,” the announcer said. And probably everyone watching was expecting that once he got the ball, he was going to send the Eagles home with a win.

But what happened instead, nobody could have predicted. Being pressured by his defender, Fujian’s Zhou Qixin, McGrady exposed the ball and got stripped before he could even get in range for a shot.

After a timeout to set up the last play, Fujian gave the ball to their American, Sundiata Gaines, whose first CBA debut finished in very simliar fashion to his first NBA game: A buzzer-beating three pointer to win the game. Video below.

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The definitive NiuBBall.com CBA preview

November 22, 2012

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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.

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Yang Xuezeng resigns from Shanxi, possibly headed to Zhejiang

May 10, 2012

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For Yang Xuezeng, one season in Shanxi was enough. (Photo: Osports)

After leading the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons to their most successful season ever, Yang Xuezeng is calling it quits.

Yang, who steered the Brave Dragons to a third-place regular season before getting the team through to the semi-finals, has officially resigned as head coach and will not be back with the team next season. Team president and owner, Wang Xingjiang, confirmed the news yesterday to the Shanxi Evening Post.

The subject of Yang’s future with the team was brought up by reporters last night during an exhibition game in Taiyuan between the Brave Dragons and the traveling NBA Legends Team, who have been touring the country since April 27. Yang was not on the bench and when a reporter asked Wang, he said Yang had decided to part ways with the team despite several attempts from Wang to convince him to stay.

Yang has not yet publicly commented as to the reasons behind his decision.

Although Yang is unemployed at present, it doesn’t look like he will remain so for long. An anonymous source speaking to Sina is saying that Yang will likely be heading to the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls, who is in the market for a new head coach after releasing Ding Wei in April. A Zhejiang spokesperson confirmed today that there is interest in bringing Yang to Yiwu, but stressed that there has been no official contact made between the two sides as of yet.

Zhejiang, who had J.R. Smith, went at 15-17 last season to finish in 11th place.

Before taking over at Shanxi last season, Yang had coached for six seasons with DongGuan New Century Leopards from 2004-10, the last four of which were spent as head coach. In those for years, DongGuan finished 14th, 12th, 4th and 5th.

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Shanxi re-ups Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines, Fujian to bring back Will McDonald

May 10, 2012

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Back for more: Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines will be teammates again in Shanxi next season. (Photo: Osports)

Great news if you liked watching the Chinese Basketball Association this year: Three of the league’s best import players are coming back next year.

Fujian SBS center, Will McDonald and Shanxi Zhongyu’s Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines have all signed new deals with their respective teams. Williams and Gaines have each signed two-year contracts, while McDonald has signed a contract for one.

Fresh off of a the most successful season in franchise history, the decision to bring back Williams and Gaines was a relatively simple one: Relying on arguably the best import combo in the league, Shanxi finished with a third place 20-12 regular season record, the best in franchise history, and their first ever playoff appearance. Once in the playoffs, they eliminated sixth-seeded Shanghai in four games in the first round before losing in five games to eventual CBA champions, Beijing, in the semi-finals.

Both playing in their first year with Shanxi, Gaines and Williams had extremely impressive numbers. Williams averaged 32 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.3 steals, while Gaines averaged 29.1 points and 14.3 rebounds en route to selections on the 2011-12 NiuBBall.com All-CBA First Team. It’s Williams’ second time achieving the honor and Gaines’ first.

Williams confirmed the news on his Sina Weibo account: “ITS OFFICIAL!!!!!! Im coming back the CBA and playing for Shanxi for 2 more seasons. It’s a honor to play for Shanxi and the city of Taiyuan once again. Thank you to the ownership and sponsors and for giving me the opportunity to play for the Club. #He’sBack”

Last year was Williams and Gaines’ third year in China. In 2009-10, Gaines debuted with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers before switching over to the Qingdao Double Star Eagles to play another full season n 2010-11. Williams’ first stint also came in 2009-10 with the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls. He then came back to Zhejiang mid-season in 2010-11 after the team cut ties with Mike James.

Meanwhile, Fujian will bring back its own NiuBBall.com All-CBA First Team performer of its own.

McDonald, who made his China debut this past season, showed little trouble of adapting to his new surrounds, averaging 27.6 points and 9.9 rebounds. The 6-11 center teamed up with Anthony Roberson and Asia import, Zaid Abbas, to bring Fujian back into the playoffs after they finished towards the bottom of the league the year before.

Before coming to China, McDonald spent several years playing in Spain with Gran Canaria, Student Asefa, Tau Ceramica and DKV Joventut.

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Du Feng to retire after 14 seasons

March 20, 2012

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One of the best all-around big men in CBA history, Du Feng is retiring after 14 seasons. (Photo: Osports)

Du Feng is officially retiring from basketball. To mark the end of his career, the 14 year veteran will hold a farewell game on April 6 in DongGuan featuring several current CBA stars, including Wang Zhizhi, Sun Yue, Mengke Bateer and Tang Zhengdong.

Over the course of an illustrious domestic career that saw him pull down seven CBA championships, From his debut season in 1997-98, Du amassed career totals of 6720 points, 2327 rebounds, 730 assists, 442 steals and 184 blocks. His point total is good for ninth on the CBA all-time rankings. In the 2004 Finals, he averaged 21 points and 8.7 rebounds en route to his first and only Finals MVP trophy.

Du also served for the Chinese National Team, playing in the Olympics in both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

After playing sparingly last season, Du gave up his spot on Guangdong’s 15-man roster this season to make way for younger players. He has instead been serving as an assistant coach for the team, a role that he is expected to continue for Guangdong next season and possibly beyond.

Casual and hardcore Western CBA fans alike will recognize Du Feng as the guy who was slapped to the ground by Charles Gaines, who played for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers at the time, after Du head-butted the American in the closing seconds of Game 2 of the 2010 CBA Finals. Motionless on the floor, Du was wrapped up in an Anta towel, carried off in a stretcher and given oxygen in the team’s locker room before being taken taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a mild concussion. No suspensions were given out by the league and both Du an Gaines played Game 3 in Urumqi.

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Marbury calls Game 5 win “best feeling I’ve ever had playing basketball”

March 19, 2012

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Stephon Marbury was visibly emotional after last night’s Game 5 win against Shanxi. (Photo: Osports)

New York State Mr. Basketball, McDonald’s All-American, NCAA All-American, NBA top four pick, NBA All-Star… say whatever you want about what happened between all of those accomplishments, but there’s no denying hat Stephon Marbury has a very impressive individual basketball resume.

So when he said “this is the best feeling I’ve ever had playing basketball” after last night’s Game 5 win against Shanxi, you have to take notice.

The video and pictures really say it all. Anthony Tao over at Beijing Cream has more post-Game 5 follow-up. He also live-blogged it, for anyone who’s interested.

Here’s some more stuff that we took in from last night’s game:

  • I’ve been to many CBA games over the last two years in many different cities, including the Finals last year in DongGuan between Xinjiang and Guangdong. I have never seen more security, maybe anywhere, than I saw last night. There were at least two policeman sitting in every section and one or two standing to the side of each section with 10 to 15 more standing in each corner. 15 minutes before tip, fans were lined up all the way out to the street waiting in line to go through security. At least four paddywagons were parked outside the north gate. A riot squad was outside the south gate.
  • All of that — and the fact that nobody was allowed to bring in anything throw-able — stopped anyone from having ideas of chucking stuff onto the court. It did not, however, deter anyone from yelling sha bi (stupid cunt) at the top of their lungs at: Marcus Williams, Makan, Zhang Xuewen, the referees and anything Shanxi in general. Several times, the entire stadium could be heard chanting it in unison. Even when standing policeman went over to some of the loudest sections to tell everyone to sit down and calm down, people were still standing, throwing up middle fingers and yelling obscenities.
  • And speaking of Makan, the kid did pretty well for himself considering every breath he took was met with a sha bi from nearby fans. Shanxi went away from Zhang Xuewen and used the rangy guard/forward almost exclusively to guard Marbury. He scored a career high 18 points and never once looked afraid, even when an enraged Charles Gaines was pushing him away after he rushed over to break-up an intense encounter between a referee and his American teammate during the second quarter. On a season-long loan from Xinjiang, he emerged as a key player for Shanxi during the playoffs and is reportedly working to make his move to Taiyuan permanent.
  • Chinese basketball has come a long way. Even in the three years I’ve been closely following it, the overall level of play and the individual play have all improved dramatically. But one thing that still needs work: Finishing lay-ups at the rim. Other than Chen Lei’s ridiculous one-in-a-million backwards flip lay-up, nobody Chinese could consistently make anything close to the rim in traffic. Beijing’s Ji Zhe even missed a wide-open dunk. Why that is, we still haven’t totally figured out. Now of course, all Chinese players don’t suck at finishing under pressure. Zhai Xiaochuan is actually pretty good, as are Liaoning’s Guo Ailun, Xinjiang’s Meng Duo and Jiangsu’s Yi Li. But it is a widespread problem.
  • Despite Stephon Marbury’s request, hardly anyone wore white. Tao, you know Chinese wardrobe too well.
  • Beijing’s offensive spacing is just so much better than Shanxi’s. While Marbury was finding open driving lanes and open passing lanes, Marcus Williams was finding his life to be much more congested in the three-second lane. Granted the Brave Dragons don’t have the shooters to space the floor like their opponents can, but if Boss Wang wants to find something to obsess over this summer, he should start with his team’s half-court offense.
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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals Game 5

March 19, 2012

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Shanxi – 98 @ Beijing – 110

Beijing, welcome to your first ever CBA Finals.

In the CBA’s first ever decisive semi-finals Game 5, Stephon Marbury was flawless in his 30 point, nine rebound, eight assist performance to lead the Ducks to a relatively comfortable victory. Randolph Morris had 27 and 10 boards to go along with his four assists, and Chen Lei and Zhu Yanxi chipped in with 16 and 13 each.

The Ducks came out in the first quarter and set the tone right from its outset. Playing suffocating, collapsing defense on Marcus Williams and attacking the offensive glass with reckless abandon, the Ducks were able to jump out to a 29-13 lead by the period’s final buzzer and would have been up more if they were able to finish consistently at the rim.

The intensity was there though for Beijing — and for Charles Gaines, who picked up a technical — and in the second quarter, they continued to play well enough with Morris on the floor to maintain a 17 point lead heading into half-time.

In the third quarter, Marbury returned to make all the right moves on offense, hitting open teammates off drives in between several tough finishes at the rim. Shanxi tried their best to mount a comeback in the fourth, but Beijing and Marbury always managed to keep the lead at nine points or above. Williams finished with 25 points, Gaines had 30 and 14 and Makan had 18.

Game 1 of the CBA Finals against Guangdong will be played on Wednesday night at Beijing’s Mastercard Center (Wukesong Arena). Plenty more to come later today…

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals – Game 4

March 12, 2012

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Beijing – 100 @ Shanxi – 102

An intense and hard fought Game 4 was won in Taiyuan by Shanxi, setting up a do-or-die Game 5 on Wednesday night in Beijing — the first time in CBA history that a semi-finals series has ever gone the distance.

However, Shanxi’s big win and the exciting development that it set up was marred by the behavior of their fans, both during and after the game. In the fourth quarter, Stephon Marbury drove hard to hoop against Shanxi’s guard/forward, Makan. On Marbury’s extension and follow through on the layup, his elbow hit his defender’s face, opening up a cut over his eyebrow. Makan, however, was called for the foul. Angered, Makan and his teammates started to yell at the referee, who promptly whistled a technical foul. With Makan bleeding, both the Brave Dragons and their fans went into a frenzy as Marbury stepped up and hit three of four free-throws.

With tensions running high and the game close late in the fourth, Marcus Williams drove hard left to the hole with 43 seconds left with the score 100-97 in favor of Beijing. Marbury swiped and missed at the ball before Randolph Morris came over for both the block and — William’s head — after the big center crashed over Williams under the basket. There was no foul called, and to show their thoughts on the matter, spectators starting throwing lighters, water bottles and other objects onto the court. Both benches cleared with several scuffles ensuing. By the time the dust had settled and the court cleaned up, no technicals had been called and the game resumed.

When it did, Charles Gaines stepped up with a huge and-one lay-up. After converting the free-throw to tie the game at 100, Marbury came down and missed a three with 26 seconds. Williams milked the clock and drove hard to the basket, where he was fouled. He converted the free-throws to make it 102-100. Beijing called time-out and Lee Hsueh-lin got a look at three, which came up short.

But apparently not satisfied by their bottle-tossing, Shanxi fans blocked Beijing’s bus from leaving the arena while hurling yet more objects at the vehicle. Beijing was eventually able to leave, but not without Brave Dragon fans leaving a black mark on their already notorious reputation within the CBA.

For Shanxi, Gaines lead the way with 39 points and 16 rebounds, Williams finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds and four assists and Lu Xiaoming had seven points and nine assists. Morris was huge in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter when Beijing practically went in to him on every possession to finish with 36 points and 13 rebounds. Marbury had 25.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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Marcus Williams Interview

March 10, 2012

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Thanks to slicing drives like this, Marcus Williams has been putting lots of numbers and wins in his first season for Shanxi. (Photo: Osports)

Sometimes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

After learning that lesson midway through last season, the Zhejiang Golden Bulls are having to re-learn it from the comfort of their home living rooms as they watch their former star, Marcus Williams, carry one of their rivals deep into the post-season. For Williams though, who is starring for the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons this season, the success in his new digs is just the continuation of the pattern he’s set for himself over the last three years: winning games, putting up huge numbers and establishing himself as one of the CBA’s best import players.

At 25 years of age, Williams has had a unique road to CBA stardom. A high school star in Seattle, Williams chose to attend the University of Arizona, where he spent two years before being drafted in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. After spending most of 2007-08 season in the D-League with the the Spurs’ affiliate, the Austin Toros, Williams was signed by the Los Angeles Clippers for the rest of the season in March 2008. Unable to secure a deal in the NBA, he spent the next season back with the Toros and earned himself All-NBDL First Team honors and an NBDL All-Star selection.

But feeling the need for a change, Williams went in a totally different direction with his career — he went across the Pacific Ocean to China where signed a contract with Zhejiang in the fall of 2010. Younger and less experienced than most of the league’s older import players, the then 23 year-old Williams bucked the trend and averaged 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists while nearly pushing the Golden Bulls into the playoffs.

That apparently wasn’t good enough in the eyes of Zhejiang management, however, and the team opted to bring in longtime NBA veteran Mike James to replace Williams. Like many NBA-to-CBAers last season, James didn’t last long and Williams was brought back a mere nine games into the season. With Williams in the lineup, Zhejiang erased their 2-7 start to finish the year 17-6. By year’s end, the Golden Bulls were back in the playoffs and Williams had amassed averages 29.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

After the mess that Williams cleaned up, you’d think the team would have learned their lesson by signing him in the off-season. They didn’t.

Despite two great seasons, Zhejiang felt once again that the grass was greener over by the NBA fence and elected to sign a locked-out J.R. Smith over Williams. No longer wanted in Yiwu, he skipped to Taiyuan to sign with the Brave Dragons. By the time the smoke cleared on the 2011-12 season, J.R. and the Golden Bulls went 15-17 and missed the post-season. Williams and the Brave Dragons went 20-12, made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and are now playing for a trip to the CBA Finals.

Not surprisingly, Williams has been a huge part of Shanxi’s historical season. Improving on what was already an extremely refined and versatile offensive game, Williams has become even more dominant than before to become arguably the best player in the entire league. A 6-7 walking triple-double, he averaged a CBA career high 31.9 points per game this season in addition to 4.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals. What he shoots from the field is somewhat of a mystery as different websites have listed his three point percentage anywhere from 50 to 90 percent. So while we don’t know the exact number, we do know this: Boasting excellent balance and shot selection, he doesn’t miss too much and his field goal percentage is definitely over 50 percent.

And in the post-season, he’s been missing even less. In Shanxi’s seven playoff games, he’s hit for 35 points in four of them. In the semi-finals alone, he’s averaging 38 points on over 60 percent from the field and 95 percent from the free-throw line. Down 2-1 against Beijing, Shanxi will need a win and some more of the same from Williams on Sunday night to force a deciding Wednesday Game 5 in Beijing.

Yet, his biggest bucket came off the court when the two-time NiuBBall All-CBA First Teamer sat down with NiuBBall to discuss the playoffs, his development as a player in the CBA, life in Taiyuan and more.

NiuBBall: Let’s talk first about your series with Beijing. In some leagues, the pace of the game really slows down in the playoffs in comparison to the regular season. But with you and Beijing, especially the last two games, it seems like the pace has actually gotten faster. What are some of the differences you’re noticing in this series versus the regular season or even your first round series against Shanghai?

Marcus Williams: Our first playoff series was against Shanghai, and they totally slowed the pace down. Once we were able to advance and get to Beijing, we were so anxious to speed the game up and play at a fast pace. I think everyone is being really aggressive, we’re shooting more free-throws. I just think that’s our style of play. But at the end of the day, we need to get stops, especially at the end of games, and I think that’s what hurt us in Game 2 and Game 3. We just weren’t able to focus on the defensive end and they had two big nights.

NiuBBall: You mentioned the defense already, what were some other differences between Game 1 and the last two games in Beijing?

MW: Well, in Game 2 Stephon [Marbury] got going really early and I think that gave the rest of their team a lot of confidence. He got into the paint, he was able to kick to shooters and those guys were making shots. It makes it a lot harder because now instead of worrying about one player, you’re worrying about three or four players. Number #20 [Zhai Xiaochuan] had a good game. Stephon obviously had 25 in the first quarter and I think in our first game it was something like 12. So, that’s something that hurt us. He’s the leader of their team and when he goes, they go.

Game 3 was a tough game we fought back from down 15 points in the second quarter and it was a close game all the way until the fourth. I think we ran out of gas a little bit. Having to come back from 15 took a lot out of us. There is definitely some things we can improve for next game. We need to rotate on matter to their shooters and do a better job keep Stephon out of the paint. But, Game 4 is in Taiyuan and obviously it’s a win or go home for us, so I think we can bring it next game and send it back to Beijing. And in Game 5 anything can happen.

NiuBBall: Obviously he’s put two huge nights back-to-back on you guys. When you’re game planning for him, are you trying to limit him or limit his teammates? Or is it a combination of the two?

MW: It’s going to be more of keeping him out of the paint so that he has to do it more himself. He wants to get in there, draw the help and kick out. That’s what he prefers. I think he’d rather be a facilitator than go out and score 40 a night, so we definitely want to close out on their shooters. But if he’s being aggressive, then you have to focus on him because he can have big nights.

NiuBBall: A lot of your team’s offense is geared towards getting you and Charles [Gaines] the ball. It’s certainly worked, you guys scored the most points in the league this year, but do you ever see it as a challenge to get your teammates involved on that end of the floor?

MW: With me and Chuck playing together for a while, obviously we played all of this year and then we played some D-League together [in Austin], I’m real familiar with him. But, no I don’t really see it as hard to get our teammates involved. We have Lu Xiaoming at the point, he can run the show. I think it was hard at the beginning of the season. I think they hadn’t really gotten used to having us both there. But, as the season progressed and once the second-half of the season began, they got a lot more comfortable and started to trust us and I think that really helped our team, it allowed us finish up the regular season really strong.

NiuBBall: You first played with Chuck in the D-League with the Austin Toros, now you’re teammates again in Shanxi. What’s it been like reuniting with  him in China this year?

MW: It’s been great. Me and him both live in Houston back in the States, and I was talking with him this summer to figure out what he was going to do this season. It’s a big key to have an American on your team who’s game you’re at least a little bit familiar with. And he’s a good friend of mine, so it’s made it really easy just coming to Shanxi and having the quick transition, to be able to build a relationship with him and build an on-court chemistry with him. I know he’s the type of player who goes after it every night, so that makes my job a lot easier. If I have an off night, he can fill in for me and vice versa.

NiuBBall: Playing in China, how important do you feel that foreigner-foreigner relationship is?

MW: I think it’s really important, at least on the court. Obviously, you can’t control the other things, but on the court you have to have a foreigner who you can feed off of or at least you can play decently with because it’s just you two out there. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with him, he’s probably the only other guys on the team who can speak English, so you just need kind of a comfort level. Then, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on both of you to perform, so to be able to help each other is key.

NiuBBall: The last two years, you were with Zhejiang, now you’re almost done with your first year in Shanxi. Talk about both teams and how they differ from one another.

MW: In Zhejiang, we definitely played a slower game. As far as the basketball, it was all good. Obviously my first year, we weren’t able to get into the playoffs, but my second year we got better and advanced to the playoffs and we played really well. Shanxi is really fast paced. Both teams are really young, both had good players. In Zhejiang we had Ding [Jinhui] and Cao Fei, in Shanxi we have Lu Xiaoming, Duan [Jiangpeng], Zhang Xuewen and the kid from Guangdong [Ren Junhui]. So both teams are kind of similar as far as their makeup. That’s why I think it was a pretty easy adjustment.

NiuBBall: Shanxi is a little unique in the fact that the team hired a Chinese head coach at the beginning of the year and then brought in an American assistant, Beau Archibald. How has that dynamic worked and what’s it been like to have Coach Archibald around?

MW: It’s been great, Beau has really helped on the defense as far as picking up on the schemes and adjusting to what teams are doing. Also, it’s been good to talk to a coach who has his eyes out there on the floor, who can see something and come directly to talk to you and say “Hey, this is what I’m seeing out there.” And he’s familiar with the U.S. style of basketball, so the things I’m comfortable with he can help to put into the offense. It’s just been really good.

NiuBBall: You came to the CBA when you were pretty young. For various reasons, I think it’s tough for younger players to adjust to this league. How were you able to come in as 23 year-old and not only adjust, but play at a high level?

MW: I’m not going to lie, my first time here was hard. That first year I think is the one that’s going to tell you if you can make it here or not. My first year, I got really sick out here, I got some kind of virus. I think I missed two or three games. Then there’s the food. I just tried to tough it out because I think the basketball was good for me. I was able to come out and get a lot of minutes. Coming from the NBA and the D-League, in the D-League I was able to get a lot of minutes, but the money’s not there. In the NBA, I wasn’t really playing a lot. But to come here, you’re able to play your game freely and you can take that leadership role. For me, as long as the basketball is good, I’m good. That’s how I roll.

NiuBBall: This year, obviously the big story was all of the NBA guys coming to China during the lockout. What kind of impact do you think it had on the CBA this year, and how do you see it affecting the league’s development in the long-term?

MW: I think it was great. I think a lot of attention was brought to the CBA. Having guys like Aaron Brooks, Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, these aren’t small-time NBA players, these are legitimate NBA guys who have logged years and have had success. The talent level really went up this year. And I think it just brought a lot of eyes from really everywhere. I think some big time players in Europe might start coming over, like [Will] McDonald. I think a lot of players are really going to start wanting to come out here and play. There’s a lot of freedom out here. The CBA tries to mimic the NBA a little bit, so the basketball is not bad. So I think for guys who are similar to me, as long as the basketball is good they’ll be good. In Europe, it’s a slower game, you don’t get as many minutes and you don’t really get to shoot the ball as much. So, I think the CBA is only going to keep going up.

NiuBBall: You just mentioned the freedom and the minutes as some of the positives about playing in the CBA — your numbers have gotten better every year, do you think this league is a good place to come and improve? Do you feel like you’ve improved over the last three years?

MW: I do. I think the only way you get better is by playing. If you’re sitting on the bench and you’re not getting a lot of playing time, sure you can work on your game away from the court, but eventually it’s going to have to translate to game situations. Obviously, the competition level in the CBA is lower than the NBA, but if you’re a guy that wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, I think you can come here and play and you go on and play somewhere else, like the NBA, I think you’ll be more confident in your game and I guess just more tricks up your sleeve just because you’re able to show all of that in this league.

NiuBBall: One thing that you’ve improved on, at least on paper, is your three-point shooting. Every website has a different percentage, on the CBA official stat tracker you were shooting a perfect 100% for a while. So let me ask: Do you know what you’re shooting from the three point line this year?

MW: [Laughing] No, I really don’t. I know the last two years I was between 45 and 50 percent, so I would guess around there. I remember when they had me shooting 90 percent [earlier in the year] and people were calling me saying they couldn’t believe it. I missed two threes in 10 games. It was too unrealistic, but it gave us some good laughs though.

NiuBBall: Mike Harris said in a recent interview that he felt you are the best import in the league and that you have NBA talent. I know in talking with other players and coaches around the league, he’s not the only person who feels that way. Is the NBA on your radar at all, getting back a goal for you?

MW: I don’t really think about the NBA too much. I had times where I was in the NBA and tried it. But, I love playing basketball. I like to be out there and play, that’s what I’ve loved to do ever since I was a kid. I would obviously love, best case scenario, to be in the NBA playing minutes. But if that doesn’t happen I’d rather be playing somewhere else and getting minutes. That’s just who I am. Now if an opportunity came along, if I couldn’t pass it up, I have a son and a family and I’d love to be home, I’d take it. But until that happens, I’m happy in the CBA.

NiuBBall: You’re a China vet, what’s your favorite city in China?

MW: I like Hangzhou. While I’m in China, I definitely want to feel like I’m in China. In Shanghai or Beijing, you kind of get lost in the ambiance, it’s still kind of like the States. But Hangzhou, they have some pretty nice restaurants, the lake is real nice… It’s kind of between Beijing and a more traditional Chinese city.

NiuBBall: So you like to go out and go see the different cities.

MW: Yeah, I like to go out and see a city and explore a little bit. I don’t really go out, but while I’m out here I might as well.

NiuBBall: What do you do in Taiyuan?

MW: Well, we’ve been really busy during the season, but there’s a couple of restaurants I go to. Pizza Lovers and 1950 are two good restaurants. But as far as sight-seeing in Taiyuan, I haven’t really had the chance to go out and do that. I’ve heard of a couple of places, I think they have a real famous temple out there about an hour away, but we’ve been really busy once the season kicked off so I haven’t really had the time.

NiuBBall: Marcus, thanks for the chat and good luck with the rest of the playoffs.

MW: Thanks.

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals – Game 3

March 10, 2012

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Xinjiang – 102 @ Guangdong – 120

Four the fourth straight season, Guangdong has eliminated Xinjiang from the post-season.

Looking like they had already given up from the start, Xinjiang went down 11 in the first quarter before entering the locker room at half down 18. Five players for Guangdong finished in double figures: James Singleton (21 points and 16 rebounds), Zhu Fangyu (20 points), Zhou Peng (20), Aaron Brooks (16 and seven assists) and Wang Zheng (11). Guangdong is a perfect 6-0 this post-season and now enters the Finals for the eleventh time in their franchise’s history.

For Xinjiang, Xu Guochong finished with 23 points, while Ike Diogu and Meng Duo each scored 22.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Shanxi – 115 @ Beijing – 128

Two nights after scoring 52, Stephon Marbury scored 53 points as Beijing took pivotal Game 3 in front of their home crowd to take a 2-1 series lead.

Reverting to the strategy they used for part of the regular season, Shanxi opted to sit both Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines during the first quarter so that they could play the rest of the game together. Rudderless on offense and totally lost on defense, Shanxi gave up 35 points in the quarter and entered the games’s second frame down 15.

With Gaines and Williams on the court together in the second though, Shanxi made up some ground despite Randolph Morris’ solid offensive effort to cut the score at halftime to 61-55. In the third, Shanxi’s good run continued behind their foreigners and the scoring of Lu Xiaoming, taking the lead for a moment until Beijing grabbed it back to head into fourth quarter with Shanxi down two.

With Morris on the bench in foul trouble to start the quarter, it looked like Shanxi had the game for the taking. Then, Starbury hit. For Beijing’s first 13 points of the quarter. Hitting contested threes in between his forays into the paint, Marbury’s personal 13-2 run broke all of Shanxi’s momentum and turned the game permanently in the Ducks’ favor. He finished the game 7-8 from three and 14-15 from the free-throw line while also dishing out four assists. Morris finished with 31 points and seven rebounds, Zhai Xiaochuan had 11, and Lee Hsueh-lin and Zhu Yanxi each finished with 10.

For Shanxi, Charles Gaines finished with 34 points and 21 rebounds, Williams had 32 and nine boards and Lu Xiaoming had 17. Game 4 is in Taiyuan on Sunday.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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Boss Wang: I’m an assistant coach

March 10, 2012

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Basketball with Chinese characteristics is the motto of this website, and quite possibly there is no better example of someone who upholds those four words better than “Boss Wang,” the owner of the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons.

Luckily for you, Jim Yardley’s new book, Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing, covers Boss Wang and his basketball team in the fullest (and most entertaining) manner possible, so if you haven’t already go out and cop that. The gist is this: Super rich and super in love with basketball, Boss Wang wants nothing more than to put an NBA-modeled winning team out on the floor. He wants the best players, the best coaches and of course, the best results so that his dream of owning a championship squad can someday be realized.

Up until this year, however, he and his Brave Dragons have failed to even put together a .500 team.

There are a few reasons, but none perhaps are bigger than Boss Wang himself, who often decides to show his enthusiasm for the game by directly involving himself with the team’s day-to-day operations, acting in such positions as head coach, assistant coach, general manager, scout, strength and conditioning coach, doctor, sports psychologist and more.

This year, things have changed in Taiyuan. First, the team decided to erase one of their biggest problems over the years — the constant in-and-out of foreign players — by signing two talented CBA veterans, Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines. Together, they’ve combined to average more than 60 points a game. More importantly though, they’ve stayed with the team the whole season, building a level of chemistry and continuity with their Chinese players that had never existed before.

Then, for the first time in team history, the team brought back their head coach from the year before. Yang Xuezeng, who took over midway through last season, was re-signed in the off-season and has stayed on the bench the entire year — another first. Assisting him has been American Beau Archibald, a former assistant at the University of Connecticut who has also stayed on the entire year. Reportedly giving Yang and Archibald some freedom to coach, Boss Wang supposedly backed off from his usual meddling ways and allowed people to do their job. The result: A 20-12 regular season record, a first round series victory over Shanghai, and a semi-finals matchup against Beijing — all firsts in team history. And though he is still definitely involved with the team (he can be seen sitting on the bench during games), he’s not as involved.

Or so you thought, until you read this amazing interview he held with Titan Sports Weekly (via QQ.com), published on February 27:

“This season, I’ve kind of been like an assistant coach,” said Boss Wang to a reporter midway through Shanxi’s first round series with Shanghai. “The team has been playing well, I feel like I’ve made a bit of contribution.”

Of course technically, or at least officially, he’s not. In China, where stamped certificates that can (usually) only be obtained by completing some kind of training or course work, some kind of zigezheng are required in many different professions, basketball coaching very much included. According to the article, Boss Wang wanted one of those certificates so that he could officially place himself on the Brave Dragon’s staff as an assistant coach. But the process was too mafan or too much trouble, so he did the next best thing: Ignore all the official stuff and just declare himself assistant coach anyways.

“So what if I don’t have a coaching certificate? That means I can’t be a coach?”

According to Wang, this season’s unprecedented success is “…because I’m the one coming up with the ideas, Coach Yang lays everything out and the team goes out and implements everything.” He proves that point by bringing up a game against Bayi in where the team was down by double-digits.

“One time we were down 15, the team was following Coach Yang’s gameplan. We were running a lot of off-ball screens and getting a lot of shots from long range, but nothing was going in. I remember that at one point we had missed seven shots in a row. Once I looked at it, I knew right away we needed a change. So I told Coach Yang to call a time-out. I went into the huddle and drew some stuff up myself.”

According to the report, he told the team to abandon shooting from the outside and instead to focus on giving point guard Lu Xiaoming some freedom so that he could drive to the rim.

“Five minutes later, the game is tied up. We ended up winning that game. We were down and Lu Xiaoming was passing the ball. Lu Xiaoming is better than them. Our other domestic players aren’t as good as Bayi’s, so our offense was weak. Letting Lu Xiaoming have some offensive freedom really kick started our offense and we were better than them on that end.”

“[I told] Big Yang, you need to watch more NBA. All of the good teams rely on their point guard to ignite their offense.”

Boss Wang knows that his heavy involvement with his team has drawn a lot of opinion. All that talk, however, doesn’t concern him in the least. Because as owner, he can do whatever he wants. And he wants nothing more than to win and coach the game he loves.

“I know over the last few years I’ve been criticized by a lot of people, but I don’t care. When you have an owner and his team is winning, then his reputation is good. Wait until we’re making the Final Four every year. Even if I’m wearing rags, who will look down upon me?”

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals – Game 2

March 8, 2012

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Shanxi – 123 @ Beijing – 132

After delaying his own scoring until the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s Game 1 loss at Shanxi, Stephon Marbury made his point early and often in Game 2 to lead Beijing to a decisive victory that was much more dominant than the final score indicated. Aggressive from the start, Marbury scored 25 points in the first quarter as the Ducks scored 40 by the frame’s final buzzer. With Marbury on the bench for most of the second, the Ducks built off the momentum to build a 64-49 at half.

Playing at a frenetic pace on both ends, Beijing went out and pushed the lead out to almost 30 points behind a number of steals which lead to easy transition baskets. Mabury finished with 52 points, just short of his CBA career high, as well as 10 assists and seven steals. Randolph Morris had a double-double with 27 points and 10 boards, Zhai Xiaochuan was a perfect 8-8 from the field to hit for 20 and Ji Zhe had 17.

Though Charles Gaines finished with 27 and 15 rebounds, most of it came too late as the Ducks made an concerned effort to cut off his spin moves and force him into turnovers. Marcus Williams had 42 points and six rebounds, but didn’t get any help from his Chinese teammates — 10 points from Makan and 11 from Xing Zhiqiang.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Xinjiang – 92 @ Guangdong – 97

Zhu Fangyu scored a game high 25 points, Aaron Brooks added 21 points and Guangdong came away with a big Game 2 victory to put them one win away from punching their fifth straight ticket to the CBA Finals. Ike Diogu had 18 points and 9 rebounds and Tim Pickett scored 17. Xirelijiang, who re-injured his sprained ankle in Game 1, did not play.

Up 78-77 in the fourth quarter, Xinjiang let the game slip away after Guangdong grabbed multiple offensive rebounds on not one, but two possessions in the last three minutes. Wang Shipeng was the first to make them pay for their ineptitude on the defensive glass, cashing a three 93-88 with 2:48 left in the game. With 1:29 left and up two, Su Wei was the next to step in and extend Guangdong’s possession, pulling down the board and drawing the foul. He made one of two, Xinjiang couldn’t convert on the other end and for the second time in as many games, the defending champs beat their longtime rivals.

Game 3 is on Friday in DongGuan and a sweep is looking very likely.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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2011-12 NiuBBall Awards

March 7, 2012

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Stephon Marbury is understandably fired up upon being awarded as the 2011-12 NiuBBall CBA Most Valuable Player. (Photo: Osports)

It’s a most wonderful time to be a basketball fan in China: While the NBA season continues post-All Star break and the NCAA’s big boys are starting up their conference tournaments, we China folk are three weeks into our own Chinese Basketball Association’s post-season. With two excellent semi-finals match-ups getting ready for Game 2 tonight, we here have plenty to look forward to in the immediate while also knowing that our TVs will be flickering with March Madness (if you don’t mind staying out or getting up at insane hours) and the NBA Playoffs very shortly.

Call it an embarrassment of riches if you want — with Slingbox DVR coming soon to the NiuBBall residence, we’re just going to call it Niu Bi.

Since we’re always in the giving mood, we’re going to share the Niu Bi feeling with the release of our second annual NiuBBall CBA Awards. Please, do comment. But know that all selections were based solely on the regular season; whatever’s already happened in the post-season had nothing to do with anything written below.

Enjoy.

Most Valuable Player: Stephon Marbury, Beijing Shougang

It was close. As in really, really close. So close in fact, that we even debated calling it a tie.

There are, of course, no ties when declaring the highly prestigious NiuBBall Most Valuable Player award, so that inner-debate didn’t last too long.  But that we even considered calling it a split speaks to how painfully difficult the decision ultimately came.

More importantly, it speaks to the consistent excellence that Marcus Williams and Stephon Marbury displayed over the course of this season.

For a while, it was easy to put the two already been-there-done-that established Chinese Basketball Association stars out of mind — after all, the entire world’s eyes were completely fixed on the league’s shiny new box of locked-out NBA players who opted to seek refuge in cash-rich China. And though you won’t get us to deny that the NBA-to-CBA exodus was the hands-down story of the year, you will hear us say this:In the year that saw Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Aaron Brooks, Josh Powell, Rodney Carney, Dan Gadzuric, Cartier Martin and Mardy Collins all start the season in the Middle Kingdom, perhaps the just as big story that emerged was that Marbury and Williams have more than enough talent to follow them back to the League.

Yes, they’re that good.

Virtually everyone already knew that about Marbury, who after all spent 13 seasons in the NBA before making his trans-continental journey to China in 2010. (Likewise, virtually everyone knows that he has no desire to return.) Yet, there is something to be said about the now 35 year-old guard who just completed Beijing’s transformation from a fringe playoff squad into the second best team in the league.

Though he came up just short in his bid for NiuBBall MVP, Marcus Williams had a dominant season in Shanxi. (Photo: Osports)

At that age, most players would be allowed to take a more secondary role and allow their younger teammates to do most of the heavy-lifting. Not in China though, where foreigners, both young and old, are depended to put up big numbers with a win every game. He’s done just that, averaging 24.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists. The well-rounded numbers and the 21 wins add up to his finest season in China.

After spending his debut half-season in Shanxi followed by a full one in talent-bereft Foshan without any taste of the post-season, Steph came to the capital city this season with the all-around expectations that the Ducks were going to be a top-tier team. And as we all know, he didn’t disappoint in delivering. Finding the perfect balance between calling his teammates’ number and calling his own, Marbury has reinvigorated a perennially mediocre franchise while simultaneously embedding himself and every Beijing game into the city’s culture. Already a favorite for his well-documented affinity for China and its people, he’s endeared himself even more to fans by playing with pedal-to-the-medal maximum effort in every game — which in this league, isn’t always a given when it comes to foreigners.

His adeptness at balancing the two responsibilities have had positive effects on more than just his own personal popularity, however. Steph gets love from just about everyone in Beijing, but the two guys who should be showing the most are Zhu Yanxi and Zhai Xiaochuan, who before teaming up with their Coney Island point guard were two relatively unknown and unproven first year CBA players. Now, after a season running the floor and spotting up for open shots alongside him, both are very likely to be invited to National Team camp this spring.

Couple that with Ma Bu Li’s counseling of J.R. Smith, keeping up with a weekly China Daily column, running a shoe business and coping with injuries to key players Lee Hsueh-lin and Chen Lei, and you can really understand that he pretty much did it all and then some the Ducks this season.

To Williams’ credit, he’s done more than his fair share in Taiyuan as well. In his junior season in China, the silky point-forward had an even better campaign in Shanxi than he did with Zhejiang Chouzhou last year when he was throwing up triple-doubles on the regular. Showing almost no weaknesses in his offensive game, Williams put up 32-5-4 while shooting a staggering 60% from inside the three-point line and somewhere between 40-100% from outside it. Previously famous for their eccentric owner and object-throwing fans, the 6-7 former Arizona product now has people talking about the Brave Dragons’ first ever post-season berth. After scoring 40 points to pace Shanxi’s Game One semi-finals win over Marbury and the Ducks, he has them only two games away from an even bigger first — a trip to the Finals.

In the end, it’s Marbury with the slight edge. Even if the Ducks’ 13 game win streak to start the season — the best start in franchise history, we add — was somewhat soured by their late season swoon, we’ll push it aside for all of the things Marbury has sweetened in Beijing this season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Zaid Abbas, Fujian SBS

On Sina and hoopCHINA, Zaid Abbas is the league’s leading rebounder. On NetEase and Sohu, he’s second behind Donnell Harvey. The lesson: No matter how mundane the question, there is hardly an easy answer in China.

The CBA’s best defensive player, though? An exception to the rule.

You can say xie xie to Abbas for that, who either averaged 14.5 or 14.9 rebounds per game this season in Fujian, the highest of his three year career. Relentless, tireless and tough on the defensive end of the floor, Abbas is a perpetually in-motion nightmare that opponents have to live with for close to 41 minutes per game. His teammates and coaches on the other hand can’t live without him — he does the defensive dirty work (actually guarding opposing imports, sprinting back on D, diving for loose balls) that nobody else wants to get close to.

Sure, maybe he gambles a bit too much for some people’s tastes. For us though, even if he misses a wild steal or falls for a pump fake, his always running motor means he’s getting right back into the play. And in a league where good defense is still pretty hard to find, that’s more than good enough for us.

Coach of the Year: Dan Panaggio, Shanghai Dongfang

No matter who thought what about the triangle offense coming to Shanghai this season (or Guangsha and Fujian for that matter), one thing was always going to be certain: Dan Pannagio was going to teach it and he was going to stick with it, no matter how bumpy the initial process was going to be.

And oh, were there bumps. Seven of them in the Sharks’ first nine games, to be exact. Not deterred by a slow start, however, Panaggio remained patient and maintained his faith in his players and his three-sided offense. The long-term approach paid off. By season’s end, Shanghai had an 18-14 record and was in the playoffs as a No. 6 seed after missing out the year prior.

Despite a number of obstacles, Dan Panaggio successfully installed the triangle in Shanghai. (Photo: Osports)

Though people point to their big away win at Bayi as the turning point in the season, the improvement within the team didn’t happen overnight. Pannagio’s hard work in establishing an offense that demands high-IQ spacing and reads started well before the season in the long months of September and October, when he went to work teaching the basic principles of the offense. To assist in the process, he brought in Phil Jackson disciple, Kurt Rambis, in pre-season to help lay the groundwork. As the record indicated, it wasn’t pretty in the beginning, but as anyone who watched Shanghai-Shanxi last week can attest to, the Sharks can and do run the triangle effectively as their primary offense.

Getting his players comfortable and successful enough in the offense was just one part of the challenge this season, however. Arguably just as tough was convincing his very much set-in-his-ways team captain/National Team starting point guard, Liu Wei, to buy into an equal opportunity offense that basically takes the ball out of his hands for most of the shot clock. On top of that, a season ending injury to Ryan Forehan-Kelly in January, whose leadership, knowledge of the triangle and fourth quarter clutchness were all major factors in Shanghai’s progression, had the potential to totally ruin the Sharks’ year.

Though some adjusting on both parts, Liu Wei was eventually brought around. Due to some solid homework on RFK’s replacement, Marcus Landry, Shanghai never missed a beat after the injury. And thanks to Panaggio’s other main point, Shanghai’s lead leading defense, the team was able to build an identity that they’ll continue to develop next season when he comes back to take the reigns for a second year. With the already noticeable improvement in Shanghai’s Chinese players from Year One, it’s tough not to feel good abou what may come in Year Two.

Panaggio’s not the only coach with a long-term vision on our mind, though. Brian Goorjian deserves serious props for the job he did this in DonGuan. Picked by some idiot to finish out of the playoffs before the season started, Goorjian righted a potentially disastrous 0-4 start to the season to steer the Leopards to a 19-13 record. A coach who is completely committed to developing Chinese players, he’s doing wonders down in Guangdong province with an improving young core that will likely comprise a good chunk of the Senior National Team later this decade.

For a country that likes to talk about developing its own players, but still hasn’t found a way to successfully find a way to do it yet, the Shanghai-Panaggio and DongGuan-Goorjian combos are two examples that the CBA should look to if they are indeed truly serious about improving Chinese basketball.

Most Improved Player: Zhang Zhaoxu, Shanghai Dongfang

This award didn’t exist last year, simply because in our first season of really following the league, we didn’t really know the players well enough to confidently declare someone “most improved.” Upon completing our second season, however, our feeling on that matter has changed quite drastically. As has our opinion of the guy who’s taking away this award, Zhang Zhaoxu.

Known to many by his English name “Max,” the 7-3 center’s biggest claim to fame where the three years he spent in the Bay Area playing for Cal. Last season, with his eye on a National Team spot for the 2012 London Olympics, he decided to forego his senior season and sign in the CBA with the Sharks, who at the time were coached up by Team China’s head coach, Bob Donewald. Expected to come in and be a presence in the paint, Max was slow to adjust from college to the pros.

Based on what we saw from last season and this summer, it was tough to really be excited about him this year.In his second season though, Max has improved in every facet of the game to become one of the best domestic big men in the PRC. Defensively, he was good at protecting the basket and discouraging easy looks around the basket — one of the reasons behind Shanghai’s league leading defense. Now a nightly double-double threat, he’s improved his numbers almost across the board, including his free throw percentage which jumped up from 60% to 72%. And though his hands are still a major work in progress in addition to his offense which remains a bit rough around the edges, he’s developing a solid jump hook to go along with a useful turnaround jumper that is practically unblockable.

And if he can continue his development this summer, his dream of playing in London will become a reality.

Rookie of the Year: Zhu Yanxi, Beijing Shougang

It was a long, strange road to the CBA for Zhu Yanxi, but his rookie season for the Ducks was well worth the wait. (Photo: Osports)

If you like Jeremy Lin’s overnight sensation story in New York, then we’ve got a feeling you’re going to like Zhu Yanxi’s very similar tale here in Beijing.

Originally a soccer player as a youngster growing up in Chongqing, Zhu Yanxi was pushed towards basketball by his mother at the age of seven after she realized he was growing faster than his classmates. After showing a lot of promise at youth summer and winter camps, Zhu pulled out of school at 13 to board a train to Beijing with the intention of signing professionally. His first tryout was with Bayi, but due to the team’s already fulfilled quota for youth players, they declined to put him on their youth team and told him to come back next year. Already in Beijing, Zhu went to go see the Ducks who quickly snapped him up after seeing him and his sharp shooting from the perimeter.

By the time he was eligible for Beijing’s senior team, though, management felt that he was too raw and sent him down to China’s second-tier professional league, the NBL, to hone his skills. Known and liked by Jiangsu Tongxi head coach, Cui Wanjun, who had coached him during a national training camp earlier that year, Cui rented him out for the season as his ideal stretch big man. Cui’s scouting was on point — playing for Tongxi last season, Zhu lead the team to a championship and also earned himself an NBL All-Star selection.

Satisfied with his performance with Jiangsu, the 6-10 power forward got the call up this year and simply exploded onto the CBA scene, putting up 23 points, three rebounds and four assists on 4-5 from three in his debut game against Jilin. He’d go on to score double-figures in Beijing’s next seven, including 18 against Guangdong and 15 against Xinjiang, both wins.

Zhu ended the regular season with averages of 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds on 36% from three, all of which were good enough to earn him another All-Star selection, this one being the CBA variety. And here’s another honor for his troubles: NiuBBall Rookie of the Year.

All-CBA First Team:

Guard: Stephon Marbury, Beijing Shougang
Guard: Aaron Brooks, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Marcus Williams, Shanxi Zhongyu
Forward: Charles Gaines, Shanxi Zhongyu
Center: Will McDonald, Fujian SBS

All-CBA Second Team:

Guard: Lester Hudson, Qingdao Double Star
Guard: J.R. Smith, Zhejiang Chouzhou
Forward: Mike Harris, Shanghai Dongfang
Forward: Zaid Abbas, Fujian SBS
Center: P.J. Ramos, Zhejiang Guangsha

If Steph and Marcus’ MVP race was a struggle, the First Team selection was a cool breeze. Like almost every high scoring guard that comes into Guangdong, Brooks initially had trouble meshing with his high scoring Chinese teammates before figuring it out by January. By far the most talented player they’ve ever had, this year’s Guangdong team is hands down the best Guangdong team ever and will win yet another title at the end of this month. Williams’ foreign teammate in Shanxi, Gaines, was just as dominant statistically — no surprise to anyone who’s kept up with the league over the past three seasons. McDonald, in his first year in China, took his highly skilled, highly versatile inside-outside game from Spain and pretty much abused everyone who was thrown his way. If he opts to come back next year, he’ll be in high demand.

From start to finish, Aaron Brooks was the best NBA-to-CBA import in 2011-12. (Photo: Osports)

On the Second Team, Smith and Hudson, the league’s number one and two leading scorers, round out the backcourt while Abbas and Harris comprise the two forward spots. Initially on the bubble, Harris nudged out a couple of competitors he after tore it up with some huge performances during Shanghai’s regular season stretch run. One of those guys who was bumped out, Donnell Harvey, another player who runs through brick walls every game, deserves special mention for the 24-14 he threw down in Tianjin.

The most noticeable name left off these two teams is Wilson Chandler, who couldn’t get his name up above despite averaging 26.6 points and 11.5 rebounds. Why, you ask? Once the NBA resumed and it became clear that he potentially had a potential $30-40 million contract waiting for him when he got back, Chandler pretty much shut it down in order to prevent an injury. Once in second place at 13-4, Guangsha went 2-9 over their next 11 before squeaking into the playoffs as a No. 7 seed at 18-14. His overall unwillingness to get into the paint during that stretch wasn’t the only reason why the Lions slipped down the standings, but it certainly played a role. And to be honest, we don’t really blame him. If we had that much loot back in the States, we’d probably have done the same.

NiuBBall adheres to the laws of Sir Issac Newton, however: Actions have reactions. So while his conservative on-court approach may have guaranteed him a big payday, it did cost him a NiuBBall All-CBA selection.

All-CBA Chinese Team:

Guard: Lu Xiaoming, Shanxi Zhongyu
Guard: Wang Shipeng, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Zhu Fangyu, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Li Gen, Qingdao Double Star
Center: Wang Zhizhi, Bayi Fubang

Williams and Gaines have had a lot to do with Shanxi’s great season, but Lu Xiaoming’s steadiness at a position that has plagued the team in years past has been another key element to their historic season. Thought to be too old after a few lackluster seasons in Fujian, Lu was released by the team he spent the last five years with in the off-season. At the invitation of Shanxi’s infamous owner, Boss Wang, he ended up in Taiyuan as the squad’s starting point guard. Responsible for pushing the ball out after both makes and misses, the 33 year-old Lu had a resurrection this season averaging 8.4 points, 5.9 assists and only 1.9 turnovers. Without his frenetic pace, Shanxi wouldn’t have averaged a league leading 110.3 points per game, nor would they have won 20 games.

Li Gen, who lead all Chinese players with 17.5 ppg, gets on here too, as do Wang Zhizhi, Wang Shipeng and Zhu Fangyu who despite their advancing years are still among the CBA’s best domestic players. We’ll see how long that lasts, especially for Da Zhi, who has Liaoning’s Han Dejun breathing down his neck for best center in the country.

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