Tag Archives: Chen Jianghua

Panagiotis Giannakis hired as head coach of Chinese National Team; initial 24-man roster released

April 28, 2013

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In a country where the dragon holds significant cultural importance, perhaps its fitting that one will be the next head coach of the national team.

Ending a long search, the CBA announced the appointment of Panagiotis Giannakis as head coach of the Chinese men’s national team. Nicknamed “The Dragon” for his long reign of dominance over European and international basketball, the 56 year-old will become the fourth foreign head coach in Chinese basketball history.

According to reports, the contract is a four-year agreement that will take Giannakis all the way through the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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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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Grading Team China’s Olympics

August 16, 2012

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The United States 107-100 triumph against Spain in the gold medal match on Sunday marked both the end of Olympic basketball and the Olympics altogether, as the closing ceremony was held only a few hours after. Of course for China, basketball has been over for a while now after they went 0-5 in Group B.

Without a doubt, the winless finish will be viewed as a disappointment. But smearing blame across the entire team wouldn’t be fair. Who failed to play up to their standards, and who pulled their weight? We grade each player on a scale of 优 (excellent), 良 (good),中 (average), and 差 (bad), evaluating their performances with expected results in mind.

优- (Excellent) - Yi Jianlian

Key Statistic: 30 points (13/19 FG), 12 rebounds vs Spain

China was expected to rely heavily on their only NBA-level talent, Yi Jianlian and in the early going, Yi did not disappoint, notching a huge double-double against Spain in a respectable defeat. He followed up with another strong effort against Russia, putting up 16 points and 7 rebounds.

Photo: Getty Images

However, just as it looked as if Yi might singlehandedly lead China to some wins, he suffered an injury in the second half against Australia that severely limited him the last two games. Other teams started to focus their defenses upon him as the rest of Team China was not much of a threat, and in turn he made just 5 field goals. Yi was unable to shoulder the heavy burden placed upon him, even though he was the top rebounder at the Olympics with 10.2 a game and was one of only two players to average a double-double. It is difficult to evaluate Yi in light of his injury; if he was healthy throughout, perhaps the dominance he showed offensively early on would have continued. Though Yi Jianlian’s effort in the face of injury is commendable (14 rebounds against Great Britain), what China needed was points. Yi could not create enough offense by himself, and though that is a tall task with the support cast he has, we have to dock him a few points for his average finish to the Games.

良+ (Very good) — Wang Zhizhi

Key Statistic: 1 point (0/8 FG), 12 rebounds vs Australia

Photo: Getty Images

The longest-tenured member of the national team started his last   Olympics off strong, scoring an efficient 15 points against Spain. But, his minutes were limited against more athletic teams as his defense, never a strong point even when he was young, was too much of a liability. Against Australia, he had 12 rebounds, a career high, but fatigue and strong defensive pressure obviously had gotten to him, as he missed all eight of his shots and his rhythm was noticeably off. It is disappointing that China still has to rely on Wang to create offense, but when facing weaker defenses, the veteran was still able to put up big numbers. Wang averaged 6 points and 5.2 rebounds, showing he can still stroke the mid-range shot and rebound in short amounts of time. A great example for younger players, he suited up for the game against Brazil despite having five stitches on his face. Fatigue, age, and physicality caught up to him, though, and he was unable to sustain his quality production.

良+ (Very good) — Wang Shipeng

Key Statistic: 13/21 (61.9%) 3PT, highest in tournament

China eclipsed 60 points only two times in these Olympics, a testament to its anemic offense. Wang, though, wasn’t shabby on the offensive end, with very efficient games when he was given time on the court. Perhaps he could have been a little less turnover-prone, but on a team that frequently failed to get off shot attempts, the confident gunner was a much-needed shot creator. His unconscious shooting night against Australia will be one to remember; Wang hit 7 of 10 three pointers, and his 21 points kept China in the game for a while. He averaged 9.6 points, the second highest total on the team by quite a margin, which goes to show the dearth of a supporting cast behind Yi.

中- (Below average) — Liu Wei

Key Statistic: 1.3 assist to turnover ratio

When a team struggles as much as it does on offense as China did, a certain degree of blame must be put on the floor general of the team. Never known as an extraordinary playmaker, Liu Wei still could have done better than the two assists and 1.5 turnovers a game he averaged in the Olympics. Much of the time, it seemed that the only play the team had was to hand the ball to Yi, back off, and watch him from the perimeter, resulting in many 24 second violations, contested jumpers, and the lowest team assist average in all of the Olympics. Liu averaged 5.2 points a game on less than efficient shooting, the majority of which were mid-range jumpers. The point guard position has always been a headache for China, though Liu getting into foul trouble against Spain created playing time and much hope for…

良+ (Very good) — Chen Jianghua

Key Statistic: 12 points, 5 assists, 0 turnovers vs Spain

Perhaps Chen has become a step slower after his knee injury, but even with his reduced speed, he is still able to penetrate defenseseasily, and has developed a better feel for the game as well as nice passing instincts. Chen recorded an impressive performance against Spain with 12 points and five assists, then scored 10 points apiece against both Australia and Brazil. What is even more significant than those numbers is that China’s point guard position finally seems to be in decent hands. Chen is still blessed with much of the talent that made him such a prized prospect, and with experience, he can only improve as a playmaker.

差 (Bad) — Zhu Fangyu

Key Statistic: 8 points in 4 of 5 games, 4 total rebounds

Apart from netting 13 points on 6 shots against Brazil in garbage time, Zhu had a forgettable Olympics. Averaging a paltry 4.2 points and 0.8 rebounds (which China ranked last among all teams in), he was unable to contribute much in the areas that the team needed the most help. The leading scorer in CBA history didn’t get many minutes in London, and oftentimes he wasn’t able to stop his matchup on the defensive side. His performance is a glaring sign that China’s old rotation of players desperately needs some newcomers to step up.

差 (Bad) — Sun Yue

Key Statistic: 3/16 FG in 3 games

Many had high hopes for Sun Yue, one of the only NBA-caliber talents on the team, but London represented a far tougher competition than the guard was used to after yet another season playing against inferior competition with Beijing Aoshen. He was inefficient from the field, blowing layups and jumpers alike. Sun did showcase his physical toughness on defense, stopping multiple fast breaks against Russia that otherwise would have been easy points. Sun was sidelined for the last two games with an injury, a brutal end to a disappointing tournament.

中 (Average) — Zhou Peng, Yi Li

中- (Below average) — Ding Jinhui Guo Ailun, Zhang Zhaoxu

Key Statistic: First Olympics

Zhou played significant minutes in 3 games, and was a great energy guy off the bench, gathering rebounds and playing tough defense. He protected the post with Ding, who provided his trademark brand of aggression. Both are undersized and raw on defense, and could not make much impact on the offensive end (Ding was 2-9 from the field). Yi Li provided a remarkable first half against Russia, where he nailed a couple of important jumpers for 9 points, and in subsequent games flashed his confidence in his shot. Guo Ailun, often paired with Chen in a combo guard position, started for China against Brazil, logging 8 points, while Zhang Zhaoxu filled his role of a 12th man big body, and set a couple of nice screens. The two were prone to making mistakes, and Zhang found it hard to stay on the floor with fouls and turnovers. All in all, Coach Donewald played his youngsters sparingly. They gained much experience from these Games, but in a perfect world, these players would have been capable of playing big minutes in place of the veterans presently. Not many expected them to, though, and this group didn’t really prove the doubters wrong; other than Zhou and perhaps Yi, the youth movement was not able to contribute much.

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China – Spain Recap

July 31, 2012

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Yi Jianlian’s game-high 30 points were the highlight of a very respectful performance from the Chinese against Spain. Photo: Sina Sports

China was always a longshot (if a shot at all) in their 2012 Olympics-opening match-up against Spain — also known as the rematch of the 2008 Beijing Olympics preliminary round game that China should have won, but coughed up at the end of regulation before eventually losing in overtime — so it’s tough to feel too down about the 97-81 loss that went down on Sunday night. In fact, people should feel quite the opposite. China played well throughout and kept the game competitive, never once looking overmatched or out of place. Just too much size and skill for Spain, who played tiki-taka in the half-court (an incredible 27 assists on 36 makes) en route to 57% shooting from the field and 11-19 from three.

But there were some positives for Big Red and if they continue to play at this level, they very may well come away with a win (or even two) in the group.  Yi Jianlian was sensational offensively with 30 points and 12 boards, and Chen Jianghua played 30 excellent minutes at the point guard spot. As a team, they only turned the ball over eight times and shot well from the field at nearly 52%.

China plays Russia next at 4:00pm local Beijing time today. If you’re going to miss it, this is your go-to tomorrow and everyday after that.
Here’s eight bullet points, because you know… eight is lucky and all.
  • Is there a guy in this tournament with more irrational confidence than Wang Shipeng? Dude hasn’t played a good stretch of basketball in about eight months, including the entire summer, and then he goes out guns blazing last night and drains every shot he takes in the first quarter (the best of which was a rediculous fadeaway on the left side over Rudy Fernandez that was just…  ridiculous). Good to see Wang back. They’ll need some more performances from him because…
  • Sun Yue did not enjoy one of his better nights. 1-9 from the field, three points and one rebound. He was active on D and came up with four steals, but China needs more from him. Starting with some made lay-ups.
  • If you’re wondering why, based on his performances internationally, why Yi Jianlian hasn’t carved out a niche for himself in the NBA yet, his closeout on Pau Gasol on the three-point line in the first quarter — and the ensuing blow-by that quickly followed it — should provide enough answers for now.
  • That being said though, Yi was great offensively: Perfect from the field in the first half and pretty much unguardable in isolations throughout. We would have liked to see him get to the line more when it mattered (there were a couple of times when he got his man up in the air on a pump fake and chose to fade away instead of drawing contact), but other than that it was pretty tough to come up with anything he could have done better on that end. 
  • How about five assists and zero turnovers for Chen Jianghua, who was thrust into big minutes because of Liu Wei’s foul trouble? We said it in the CBA Finals and during the summer, but it bears repeating now: This guy is the best pure point guard playing in China at the moment. Which is crazy to think about, considering he was once a lightning quick combo guard who couldn’t have played in the half-court at a China KFC 3-on-3 tournament. I don’t think massive knee injuries are ever a good thing, but I do strongly feel that the effects of Chen’s injuries and the quickness that they’ve deprived him of have been a big reason in his evolution from a guy with limited ability in running in an offense to a guy that’s making some really nice reads and decisions (his diagonal pass to Yi in the first half was something he couldn’t do a couple years ago). If he can stay healthy, the bridge from Liu Wei to whoever is next at that position might be sturdier than we once thought.
  • HoopsHype on “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu: “The tallest player of the tournament won’t make any difference. Slow and totally unskilled.” Tell us how you really feel, guys! NiuBBall vets know how we feel about the ever-improving Max, but as Serge Ibaka demonstrated with an emphatic block last night, that turnaround fadeaway needs to stay in Shanghai. He was also posterized by Pau Gasol in the first half off of a baseline reverse dunk.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

  • The Wang Zhizhi-Yi Jianlian front line is nice on offense; not only because of all of the high-low opportunities it can present, but also because it stretches the floor out and keeps the middle open for backcuts — a staple in the Donewald motion offense. Defensively, much different story. Still, I like it and I thought it was a key reason why China was able to play well in this game. But the other effect the lineup has is that it severely weakens China’s bench. When Wang starts, Zhang Zhaoxu is the first big off the bench (and we just saw how that ended up). It’s more necessity than anything when you’re playing against a team as big and as skilled as Spain. But with only three guys capable of playing center, I think Wang needs to stay on the bench against smaller teams.
  • Random thoughts… Always worth noting at the start of these tournaments that FIBA balls are abnormally bouncy… One of the worst non-calls you’ll ever see happened in the fourth quarter… Spain’s uniforms are made by Chinese company, Li-Ning… Yao Ming did a nice job alongside play-by-play guy, Yu Jia, on the CCTV broadcast… 
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Decision to cut Wang Zhelin makes sense when put into context

July 12, 2012

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To the disappointment of some, Wang Zhelin won’t be dunking in the Olympics. (Photo: Osports)

China has had a couple of nights to sleep on the as-of-Tuesday-released 12-man roster for the London Olympics and yet the primary debate remains the same today as it was when it was first announced: Should Wang Zhelin have been included on the team?

Public opinion is mixed, but a slight majority feels that the 18 year-old should have been brought along to London. On a poll on Sina.com, 59% percent of people felt that among all the players left off the roster, Wang was the one who should not have been cut.

It’s a sentiment that’s being shared by people in Chinese media, too. Longtime Chinese basketball commentator and journalist, Su Quan, writes in today’s Basketball Pioneers in a piece entitled “Wang Zhelin should not be abandoned:”

…But every team competing in the Olympics should include a young, promising player on the 12-man roster, especially a center who shows a lot of potential. You don’t need to hope for instant success, instead you can build him up for future success. The Olympics is the biggest international competition there is, every player is bound to feel nervous, excited and unfamiliar with everything their first time. If you can allow him to go through the process earlier, then when he’s 22 years old and back in the Olympics again, the experience will go much more smoothly. This kind of opportunity for a center is the absolute most important thing because the development of a center is a long-term process. It takes a while to grow into a full sized tree, but the earlier you plant the seed, the deeper the roots will grow and the stronger the tree will become.

Su then points to the history of the various Chinese teams who chose to put a young big man at the end of their bench during previous Olympics or Word Championships: 18 year-old Wang Haibo in the 1984, 19 year-old Wang Zhizhi in 1994, 20 year-old Yao Ming in 2000 and an “even younger” (Su doesn’t write his age… hmmm…) Yi Jianlian in 2004.

All valid points and I get all of them. Su’s argument is further enhance when you consider that neither Wang Haibo nor Wang Zhizhi had any prior experience at the senior international level before making their debuts.

But still, I disagree. And the reason is this: Letting Wang Zhelin sit on the end of the bench does not give China the best chance at winning games this Olympics.

First, let’s go across the Pacific Ocean to introduce my point. The United States, the best team in the world right now, could have brought recent No. 1 overall draft pick and one of the most promising big men to come out in years, Anthony Davis, onto a roster that arguably needs some depth at center. The fact that he sprained his ankle early in training camp certainly had something to do with him not making the roster, but so did another thing: The US wants to field the strongest roster possible so that it can win a gold medal. Ditto for Spain, who also didn’t bring along a young center.

For China, the goal is different — for them it’s to get past the group stage and then go through to the semi-finals for the first time in their country’s history — but the concept is the same: Put forth the best team possible. And with the current players available to Bob Donewald and the rest of the Chinese basketball powers from above, the best team is one full of versatile and more athletic players. If this was the Yao Ming era, when China had the luxury of a NBA All-Star center who could pass and score with equal adeptness and when the rotation was better  was shorter, then there’d be some room for Wang.

But now? At the moment, China lacks one player who is currently signed to an NBA team. Key players like Liu Wei and Wang Zhizhi are all playing way past their primes, while Zhu Fangyu and Wang Shipeng are merely playing just past it. You could make the argument that talent wise, this is the weakest China’s been in over a decade. While there are guys Donewald will depend on heavily — Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, Zhou Peng, the aforementioned four guys — there’s other guys like Yi Li, Ding Jinhui and Chen Jianghua who very well could get into the rotation. And that may just be Donewald is counting on, here: Athleticism, depth, versatility and defense.

Let’s go beyond Donewald’s selection preferences, important as they are, and go to another extremely important point: The CBA values results over all else at the Olympics. Seen as the premier stage to show off their country’s ability to the world, the Olympics always have and always will be about proving China to the West. Ensuring its players can develop for Olympic play is the reason why its professional league only allows two imports per team, why those players have minute restrictions and why Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade weren’t allowed to sign here during the NBA lockout. Chinese players, Chinese teams and Chinese appearances — successful appearances — at major international competitions are what the CBA is concerned with.

S. Mageshwaran over at FIBA.com sums it up nicely: “China’s men are aiming to get past the Quarter-Finals for the first time in their history, while the women are looking for a medal. Therefore it is only logical that this pragmatism has stood up in the face of erroneous enthusiasm from certain quarters… the decision to leave [Wang Zhelin] out is one that has arisen out of common sense.”

Wang Zhelin isn’t being abandoned. Donewald has rightfully kept him along for the entire summertime ride and as a result, he’s improved his game immensely from being around the best coaches and best players China has to offer. And with the announcement that 15 players will be going to Poland on July 20th for China’s last set of warm-up games, he very well may stay until the last possible moment. Yet for the good of his team, his Olympic moment will have to wait for another four years. That’s not right or wrong. That’s just the way it is.

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China announces final 12-man roster for Olympics, wins gold at Stankovic

July 11, 2012

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Team China celebrates their first ever Stankovic Cup gold medal last night in Guangzhou. (Photo: Osports)

China finalized its 12-man roster for the 2012 London Olympics yesterday, then they proceeded to win the finals at the 2012 Stankovic Cup in Guangzhou.

The Chinese capped off their undefeated run to gold with a 70-51 win over Australia last night. It’s China’s first and only gold medal since the competition was first established in 2005. Yi Jianlian finished as the game’s top performer with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Yi Li pitched in with 12.

Although the level of competition at this year’s even wasn’t as strong as it has been in years past — Russia and Australia both sent younger teams — the achievement is still notable for China. Clearly better and more experienced, the Chinese suffered no letdowns and played well throughout the tournament. The win should give the team some momentum heading into their next set of pre-Olympic exhibition games, which start on July 20 in Poland against the Polish National Team.

But while the historic result was highly noteworthy, the real news came a few hours before tip-off when the 12-man roster was announced on Chinese media outlets. Five players will be making their Olympic debut in London: Center Zhang Zhaoxu, forwards Ding Jinhui, Yi Li and Zhou Peng, and point guard Guo Ailun.

Joining them will be the familiar faces of Chinese basketball over the last several years, Yi Jianlian, Wang Zhizhi, Zhu Fangyu, Wang Shipeng, Sun Yue, Liu Wei and Chen Jianghua.

CBA officials said the roster can change in the event of injuries.

Bob Donewald’s decision to carry only three centers on the roster speaks to the emphasis on versatility and defense that has been placed within the Chinese National Team since he took over the reigns in the spring of 2010. Whereas Chinese teams in the past relied on a slower pace that was designed to punish teams down low — i.e. get the ball into Yao Ming by any means necessary — China is now likely to go with rangier and more athletic lineups that will be better equipped to handle what is an extremely talented Group B.

So the exclusion of what is already being seen as China’s two biggest snubs, centers Su Wei and Wang Zhelin, shouldn’t really be considered as such. Though Su picked it up recent weeks, his confidence and overall play has taken a major hit since his disastrous showing in the CBA Finals last April against Beijing. Limited on offense even on a good day, Su’s ability to finish the simplest of plays around the hoop made him into a major liability on that end of the floor. And with Donewald’s commitment to fielding a more athletic lineup, there was no room in the end for the plodding former rower-turned-hoopster. After having played under Donewald in 2010 at the FIBA World Championship, missing out on the chance to play in his first Olympics will have to sting for Su because with a wealth of talented young Chinese centers primed to make the team in 2016, this may have been his last.

For Wang Zhelin, however, this will very likely be the last time he’s cut for any major international competition at the senior level. Though the 18 year-old performed very well in spots this summer, his inexperience and poor defensive play ultimately sealed his fate.  Though he was eligible to play for Fujian SBS last year in the top division in the CBA, Wang was held back and placed on the youth team to allow his body and game to develop. Not only does Wang not have any experience with the Senior China National Team, he’s never suited up against the top level domestically either. Added to that, Wang’s inability to either guard anybody on the ball or help off of it put him in a bad spot with the defensive-minded Donewald.

Another notable development is the inclusion of Guo Ailun. Guo, who played in Turkey two years ago, fell out of favor with the National Team setup last year after he lead a “blood letter” demanding the removal of China Olympic Team head coach, Fan Bin. Then he found himself off the roster for the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship. And this season, it looked like he’d be left in the cold once again when he was left off the preliminary roster in March. However, with limited options at the back-up point guard spit, he was called back up on April 14th. With injuries to Yang Ming and Zhang Bo, Guo will go to London. As the odds-on eventual short-term heir to Liu Wei, a trip to London bodes well for the future of Chinese basketball.

China plays its opening game in the Olympics against Spain on July 29.

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Has Chen Jianghua already booked a ticket to London?

May 25, 2012

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Chen Jianghua last played for the National Team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

There once was a time when the next big thing from China wasn’t so big at all. Listed at 6-2 and 165 pounds, Chen Jianghua was supposed to be the player to bust through the sealed vault of Chinese basketball and shine as the country’s rarest and most precious resource: An elite level point guard.

In 2003 at age 14, Chen, then on the Guangdong Hongyuan youth team, was the subject of a New York Times article that anointed him as a potential “world class” point guard and a key piece to a medal run in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In 2005, he wowed people at the Reebok ABCD camp with his creativity, hops and handles, and left shoe companies and China marketers salivating at the idea of an NBA-caliber streetball-inspired guard who would not only excite Chinese fans because of his nationality, but because of his ankle breaking crossovers and high flying dunks.

In 2006, the hype around Chen continued as he made the final roster for the FIBA World Championship at just 17 years of age, where he played solidly. Sure, he was still pretty raw. But with explosiveness and athleticism rarely seen not only in China, but in the rest of the non-North American world, Chen remained an intriguing prospect if he could improve upon his weaknesses, most notably his general lack of point guard skills.

Unfortunately for everyone, Chen never really improved. Labeled by many basketball-types as the dreaded L-word — lazy — Chen’s stock dropped dramatically as he got older. Although unquestionably quick and agile, Chen failed to get better in his decision making and ability play effectively in the half court. By the time the 2008 Beijing Olympics hit — the competition where he was supposed to be teaming up with Yao Ming to lead China to their first ever medal — Chen’s ship to the NBA had already sailed. A series of injuries from 2008 to 2010 compounded Chen’s problems during his first three seasons in the CBA, the worst of which was a right ACL tear in April 2010 that kept him out of the 2010 FIBA World Championship.

Chen’s six month recovery marked the low point of his career. Staring at a the possibility of a future where neither his health or his National Team future was guaranteed, the man who was once called the Allen Iverson of China was now being called Mr. Glass. And at age 21, Chen’s career was at a breaking point.

The last two seasons though, Chen has bounced back from his ACL to play the first extended healthy stretch of basketball in his senior level career. He played a career high 41 games during Guangdong’s championship run in 2010-11 and this past year, he played in 37. What’s more, over the last two seasons he’s played what is without a doubt the best overall basketball of his life. Still quick, but not as quick pre-injury, Chen has almost had to learn how to play at a slower tempo by necessity. Once a peddle-to-the-metal Lamborghini V12 only capable of driving at high speeds, Chen has evolved into a far more practical BMW V8 — able to maneuver amongst everyday city traffic, yet still adept at turning on the jets when needed.

The analogy was best exemplified last March in the CBA Finals against Beijing. There, he showed his maturation from all glitz-and-go to a more mature player. Thrown out to start the first quarter in all five games, Chen caused the Ducks problems with his ability to both slice into the lane and score either off the pull-up or off of floaters, and draw defenders to dish off to open teammates. And though Guangdong was thoroughly outplayed by their opponents, some of Guangdong’s best looks on offense came with Chen running the show.

Surprising, given where he was at physically only two years ago, and unexpected given his lack of growth in the time before that. But not as surprising as to what the next chapter in Chen’s career likely will be: Representing China at the Olympics this summer in London.

That’s at least what I took away from Yang Ming’s recent departure from the National Team. Yang, who was cut because of injury, was considered to have a good chance to make the final roster as a backup for Liu Wei after having developed into one of the best playmaking point guards in China this season for Liaoning. With Xirelijiang having already been cut, that leaves two traditional point guards on the roster to fight for two backup point guard spots: Chen and Liaoning’s Guo Ailun.

Conventional thinking suggests that Chen and Guo have the job locked up. But that apparently is wrong, because at present only Chen is favored to be in London. According to reports, he’s been consistent in practices and played very well in the two exhibition games he played in last week in Qingdao against an American All-Star team. So well in fact, that a report in the Xinmin Evening News says Chen has earned a stamp of approval from head coach, Bob Donewald Jr., and that the battle for third guard will be against Guo and Bayi guard/forward, Zhang Bo.

NiuBBall veterans already know how much of a shot I gave Chen to make the team this summer. If you forgot or are new the site, click here and scroll all the way down to the end of the page below the heading, “No Shot.” Given the emergence of Yang, Chen’s injury history, the fact that he was cut very early from the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship roster, and his slender body, I figured his call-up would be short lived.

But if the news is indeed true, it makes sense. Picking two from Chen-Guo-Zhang opens up a spot for another wing or big, both of which are areas that have better players than those at the point guard spot. Put all three of them on, and there may be some unnecessary redundancies. Put two on, and you can bring in another player with a different position and skill set.

However, the jury remains as to whether Zhang can handle duties at the point full-time. He’s played there in spots both for Bayi and for Donewald, and if he’s on the court with other players who can also bring the ball up court, he can be an effective and versatile option. With Liu Wei likely to see little bench time in London, only bringing one true point guard to back him up could give Donewald that extra slot to bring in a more useful weapon onto the final roster.

If Chen is on the final roster, it would signal a remarkable turnaround in his career and a potential turning point towards greater things in the future. Now if only Li Chunjiang could get him some more minutes for Guangdong…

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Yang Ming, Zhu Yanxi cut from National Team roster

May 23, 2012

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Yang Ming and Zhu Yanxi have been cut from the National Team roster. (Photo: Sina)

True to their word, Bob Donewald and the Chinese Basketball Association have announced two cuts on the heels of the first three exhibition games of the Chinese National Team’s summer London warm-up schedule: Yang Ming and Zhu Yanxi.

They are the fourth and fifth players to be released from National Team duty this year. They join Xirelijiang, Duan Jiangpeng and Li Xiaoxu, all of whom were casualties from the team’s first round of cuts on May 8th.

Whereas Donewald’s cut downs earlier this month were met with a relatively high degree of controversy inside China, the decision to release Yang and Zhu will give critics little to complain about. Yang, a point guard who plays for Liaoning Hengye, was in serious contention to land a spot on the team as a back-up to longtime National Team point guard, Liu Wei. Hailed by some as the best Chinese point guard in the CBA this past season, Yang averaged  12.2 points and 6.5 assists for the Jaguars.

But Yang had been battling injury throughout training camp and did not play in any of Team China’s three exhibition games in Qingdao against an American All-Star team last week. Already behind the curve with the injury reportedly serious enough to keep him out for a further period of time, the decision to release Yang was a relatively easy as Donewald looks to clear up the team’s biggest position battle. The fact that Yang has never represented China on the senior level internationally also contributed to his dismissal.

Zhu, a power forward who played his first season for CBA champion Beijing Shougang last year, was never considered to have a realistic shot at London this summer. Known as a knockdown stretch-four shooter, Zhu failed to score a single point in any of the three games, going a combined 0-7 from the field in 15 total minutes.

China went 2-1 against the Americans, winning the first two games before losing the finale on May 20th.

The current roster stands at 17 players. The remaining players are as follows:

Center: Yi Jianlian, Han Dejun, Zhang Zhaoxu, Wang Zhelin, Wang Zhizhi, Su Wei

Forward: Yi Li, Sun Yue, Zhu Fangyu, Zhou Peng, Ding Jinhui, Zhai Xiaochuan, Zhang Bo

Guard: Guo Ailun, Wang Shipeng, Chen Jianghua, Liu Wei

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Change in plans: Donewald cuts three from Olympic roster

May 8, 2012

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Together for over a month, Bob Donewald Jr. has seen enough to know which players he can do without this August in London. So much in fact, that he doesn’t even need to watch them play a single warm-up game.

In a surprise move, Donewald announced three cuts from the National Team team today: Guards Xirelijiang and Duan Jiangpeng, and forward Li Xiaoxu.

At present, 19 players remain on the roster.

Originally, Donewald planned to make his first cuts after Team China’s set of three exhibition games against a United States All-Star team in mid-May. But talking to media today, Donewald said that it had become clear in recent practices which players were having trouble keeping up with the increased intensity and that a change in plan was needed.

The one player who’s dismissal comes as somewhat unexpected is Xirelijiang. The 6’0 guard from Xinjiang played under Donewald in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship and was expected to battle for a spot backing up long-time National Team stalwart, Liu Wei. Though far from a lock to make the final 12-man roster, many thought he’d last into the summer.

Instead, he won’t even last until China plays its first warm-up game. According to quotes from Donewald (translated by Chinese media into Chinese), Xirelijiang lacks the requisite point guard skills to be effective at the one, and is too short to play at the two. In the eyes of Donewald, those deficiencies were enough to overshadow his on-ball defense, which ranks among the best in China.

In three years with Team China, Donewald has overseen a 9th 16th place finish in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, a gold medal in the 2010 Asia Games and a gold medal at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, which automatically qualified China for the 2012 London Olympics.

In 38 games for Xinjiang this year, Xirelijiang averaged 33.7 minutes, 11.5 points, 2.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game on 39% shooting.

The remaining 19 players are as follows:

Centers:

Wang Zhizhi (Bayi), Yi Jianlian (Dallas Mavericks), Zhang Zhaoxu (Shanghai), Su Wei (Guangdong), Han Dejun (Liaoning), Wang Zhelin (Fujian)

Forwards:

Zhou Peng (Guangdong), Yi Li (Jiangsu), Zhang Bo (Bayi), Zhu Fangyu (Guangdong), Ding Jinhui (Zhejiang), Zhu Yanxi (Beijing), Zhai Xiaochuan (Beijing)

Guards:

Liu Wei (Shanghai), Wang Shipeng (Guangdong), Chen Jianghua (Guangdong), Sun Yue (Beijing Aoshen), Guo Ailun (Liaoning), Yang Ming (Liaoning)

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Assessing China’s Olympic roster

May 8, 2012

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Confident, versatile and aggressive, Yi Jianlian is the unquestioned centerpiece of the post-Yao Ming Team China. (Photo: Xinhua)

Two.

That’s the amount of years its been since Team China improbably got out of the group stages in Turkey at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, thanks to, of all things, a last second three-point fling from Puerto Rico’s David Huertas against Cote d’Voire.

As China fans know, Huertas’ three caused Group C’s last game to end in a 88-79 win for Cote d’Voire, a score that proved to be significant for two reasons: First, it kept Puerto Rico from getting their second win of the group stage, which would have surpassed one-win China and qualified themselves for the knockout round. But second — and most memorable of all — the scoreline gave China the tie-break on point differential they needed to get past Cote d’Voire. Before the game, China needed the West Africans to win by less than 12 points, and up 88-76 with only seconds remaining, it looked as if the Chinese weren’t going to get their wish. Until, of course, the Huertas swish with just seconds left on the clock.

Unfortunately for China this summer in the 2012 Olympics in London, Cote d’Voire will not be in attendance and Puerto Rico, though still eligible as part of the 12-team Olympic Qualifiers Tournament, may not be there either. And with only two groups and 12 teams, compared to the four groups and 24 teams in the World Championship, the number two has a much greater — and more challenging — meaning.

It’s the number of wins China will require to get out of their group.

Since the Olympics expanded their basketball tournament to 12 teams in 1984, no team has ever made it out with less wins. And no team ever will; mathematically, its impossible. Which means, even if Puerto Rico does qualify for London at the FIBA World Qualifying Tournament, they’ll need more than just one win for a random buzzer-beating three to help push them through.

The good thing is, they’re very capable of that. China played Greece, Puerto Rico and Russia extremely tough in the group stages two years ago in Turkey. Much of that had to do with American head coach, Bob Donewald Jr., and his emphasis on defense. Now in 2012, China is even better on that end, arguably the best they’ve ever been. Whereas China once relied almost solely on Yao Ming to do everything, China now prides itself on helping the helper and quick rotations from all five guys. The belief is that though China doesn’t have the talent it did before, they can stay in games if they’re able to consistently limit opponents’ points. It’s worked both in Turkey and in Wuhan, and it’s something that Donewald has gotten the entire National Team roster to completely believe in heading into London.

Who that roster will be comprised of, however, isn’t exactly clear at this point. As it stands, 22 players are training with the National Team in Beijing, a number that is much smaller than the 37 players that were put on the roster in April 2011 in preparation for the FIBA Asia Championship. Zero play in Europe and only one, Yi Jianlian, plays in the NBA. Everyone else plays for teams in China.

Sounds like a good excuse to go on a 2,800 word tear. We go over every player’s chance at playing in London.

The Locks:

Sun Yue

Yi Jianlian (PF/C, Dallas Mavericks): Now two years past the Yao Ming era, Yi is the unquestioned centerpiece of Team China and will be depended on as their primary option on offense for London and beyond. He played extremely well in the 2010 FIBA World Championship and in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, where he helped China secure an automatic bid in this summer’s Olympics. He’ll probably have to play even better if China is to achieve their goal of making the quarter-finals.

Sun Yue (G/F, Beijing Aoshen Olympians): If Yi is the most important piece of the current National Team setup, then Sun comes in as the squad’s second most indispensable cog. The 6’8 lefty isn’t really a point guard, but he’s good enough with the ball in his hands to alleviate some of the pressure from Liu Wei and he’s skilled enough to create some offense for himself and others. He’s also becoming more reliable from the three-point line with every passing summer, making him arguably China’s second most dangerous offensive player. The problem with Sun, however, remains the same as it always has: Getting him some good reps against good competition so that he can hit his top gear by August. Wasting away with Beijing Aoshen for yet another season, Sun has been playing against fourth and fifth-rate competition in various invitational tournaments that result in nothing more than easy, meaningless wins. The good news is that Donewald has experience in getting Sun’s game where it needs to be, but we — like many others — only can shake our head as to why one of China’s best players is unable to play in China’s best league.

Wang Zhizhi (C, Bayi Fubang Rockets): Although old and creaky, Wang is China’s most experienced player. And he can still ball, too. The lefty may be past his prime, but at 7’1 with killer footwork and cash-money stroke from three, he’s still somebody that has to be accounted for on the offensive end. His minutes won’t be crazy, but like always, he’ll figure out a way to make his mark on at least one game, which may also double as his last.

Liu Wei (PG, Shanghai Dongfang Sharks): Like Da Zhi, Liu Wei is up there in age, but with nobody else even remotely capable of  taking the reigns at point guard, the longtime Team China vet will be playing a significant role for the third straight Olympics. Like Wang, this could very well be Liu’s last go around for the National Team.

Zhou Peng (SF, Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers): Long, versatile and young, Zhou has developed into China’s best perimeter defender and will be a key guy in August for Donewald. His offense is slowly improving and if he can ever consistently knock down an open jumper, watch out.

Not Locks, But Almost:

Ding Jinhui

Yi Li (F, Jiangsu Nangang Dragons): Even if he was a bit disappointing during the domestic season (then again, who on Jiangsu wasn’t?), he was fantastic for China off the bench during the FIBA Asia Championship, a fact that will be very fresh on Donewald’s mind. Like Zhou Peng, he’s young, long, athletic and can defend multiple positions. He won’t start, but I think he’ll get some very meaningful minutes in London.

Ding Jinhui (PF, Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls): There’s a reason why nobody in the CBA looks forward to playing this guy. “The Bulldog,” as he’s known around National Team parts, is a favorite of Donewald for his unmatched energy, physicality, toughness and intensity. He doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional Chinese four because he’s undersized, but he more than makes up for it with his non-stop motor and a decent spot up jumper. He should and will be on the final roster.

Wang Shipeng (SG, Guangdong): At one time considered a lock in the not so distant past, Wang has slipped due to his notable post-season struggles this year, especially in the Finals. In five games against Beijing, Wang averaged 4.4 points per game and looked like a completely different player than the cold-blooded assassin that tormented Xinjiang in the 2011 en route to a CBA Finals MVP. Is his spot in London at risk? We don’t think so. Though an unapologetic chucker on offense, he’s one of the only guys on the team who can get his own shot off the dribble. He has also shown on a number of occasions that he is unafraid to take and make big shots (just ask Slovenia and Iran). Unless he has a complete meltdown, 2012 will mark his third straight Olympics.

In The Hunt:

Zhang Bo (G/F, Bayi): He doesn’t do anything noticeably really well, but he also doesn’t do anything noticeably really bad either. Donewald likes him because of his versatility and his high IQ off the ball. He can also be a spot ball handler if the need ever arises. Most helpful to his cause is that he’s played on both the 2010 and 2011 editions of the National Team.

Su Wei (C, Guangdong): Beijing fans will be calling on Donewald to huan Su Wei, but in all likeliness he’ll be included in the final 12-man roster. Increasingly inept offensively, Su is part in the Team Setup for one reason: The man is freaking huge and he plays with a mean streak. With Spain and their huge front line placed with China in Group B, Su could be called on to repeatedly smash his chest into one of the Gasol brothers. Unless Donewald goes with the even more massive Han Dejun (and we doubt he will, more on that later), Su is the guy to fill the defensive enforcer role China needs on the interior — assuming Donewald wants a defensive enforcer, that is.

Zhang Zhaoxu (C, Shanghai): Since signing professionally with Shanghai in 2010, “Max” has gotten noticeably better over the last 18 months and its in no small part to Donewald and the patient work he’s put in with the 7’3 center during his time with the Sharks and the National Team. A walking foul machine in the early stages of his professional career, Zhang has improved his defensive footwork and timing, the latter of which has helped him become an effective rebounder and shot blocker. He’s gaining more confidence with his offense as well, flashing a nice turnaround jumper and jump hook, moves that are both on their way to becoming at least somewhat dependable. Zhang will be with the National Team for a long time this summer, but whether he makes the final cut will depend on how Donewald wants to the shape the roster (i.e. small or big) in response to his group’s opponents.

Zhu Fangyu (SF, Guangdong): The CBA’s all-time leading scorer is a beast during the domestic season, but in international competition Zhu’s game doesn’t translate so well. He’s heavy and slow, which makes him a defensive liability and on the other side of the ball he can’t create his own shot. He can, however, shoot the heck out of the ball, which is always a useful skill. And depending on the match-up, he can occasionally go on the block to outmuscle smaller players. With Sun Yue, Zhou Peng, Yi Li and very possibly Wang Shipeng as well, China is pretty set on the wing so it’s tough to say whether Zhu will be there in London.

Guo Ailun

Guo Ailun (PG, Liaoning Hengye Jaguars): Included on the World Championship roster in 2010, Guo was universally considered China’s most promising prospect at the point guardposition and the virtual heir apparent to Liu Wei. Then, he organized a blood letter against his U-23 head coach, Fan Bin and set his development back a year after he was banned from the senior team for a year. Originally left off the initial 19-man roster in March, Guo got on in April. He didn’t go down with the team on their recent trip to Sanya, instead staying in Beijing to work individually with assistant coach, Li Nan. What all of that means is anyone’s guess, but obviously there is definitely more than just basketball in Guo’s summer equation. He still struggles with his decision making and his shot is a mess, but he’s good at getting into the paint off the bounce and is a solid finisher around the basket. Adding to his cause is his enthusiasm for on-ball defense and occasional ability to pressure guards full court depending on the matchup. He’s got the talent, but with his well-known disciplinary issues, his fate for London might be out of his hands.

Yang Ming (PG, Liaoning): Donewald has gone on the record saying that he’ll take two from the Guo Ailun-Xirelijiang-Yang Ming-Chen Jianghua quartet of guards to backup Liu Wei, but which ones? If we had to predict, we’d say Guo should be one of them. Nobody among the four is the sure-handed, sure-headed point guard that China needs, but Guo is probably the closest guy available.Finishing with averages of 6.4 assists and just 1.5 turnovers this year in Liaoning, the 26 year-old Yang is one of the best playmakers in National Team camp and because of that, is also likely the front runner to spell Liu.

Xirelijiang (G, Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers): The Xinjiang born-and-bred guard made his debut on Team China last summer in Wuhan because he is the best defender at the guard position in all of China and one of few domestic players who can effectively guard imports. But will that be enough this time around in London? Though he lead the league this season in awkward-footed three-point makes, he’s still not a knockdown shooter from the outside (37.5% from three) and as one of the few players in the world who prefers to use his right hand when driving left, he is going to struggle mightily against pressure from longer and more athletic defenders. Of the four previously mentioned guards, Xire has the best singular skill of anyone, but at the same time he also probably has the weakest all-around game. A definite guy to follow this summer and someone who is definitely on the selection fence.

The Longshots:

Han Dejun (C, Liaoning): Han is surprisingly light on his feet, surprisingly athletic and surprisingly pretty consistent with his face-up jumper. Not surprisingly, he’s still fat and poorly conditioned, none of which will sit too well with the defensive-minded Donewald. If the selection process was based on skill alone, Han would be the pick. But given his weight problems and his absence from the National Team last year and in 2010, Han is not going to surpass Su Wei or Zhang Zhaoxu, both of whom are guys Donewald knows and trusts.

Zhu Yanxi (PF/C Beijing Shougang Ducks): The 2012 NiuBBall CBA Rookie of the Year, Zhu endeared himself in these parts due to his out-of-nowhere Chongqing-to-Beijing-to-NBL-to-CBA champion story and his Euro-styled game at the center position — even if he did lose serious points for being stretchered into an ambulance for what amounted to be nothing more than bruised ribs, an injury that didn’t even prevent him from missing practice the next day. Although he’s one of our favorite CBA players, we’ll have to wait labeling him as one of our favorite Chinese National Team players until another year as he’s too young and too inexperienced to be called upon for Olympic service.

Li Xiaoxu (PF, Liaoning): Li rebounds and has a decent spot-up jumper, but he’s not going to London unless there are injuries. He didn’t play in the World Championship or Asia Championship, which hurts his cause.

The No Shots:

Wang Zhelin (C, Fujian SBS Sturgeons): He’s going to be dominant in the CBA and he’s going to be a big part of the National Team, but just not this year. For all the hype surrounding the kid, he’s just 18 years-old and has yet to play a single minute professionally. With China gunning for the best result possible in August, there’s no room for developing young guys, so Wang will have no choice but get up super early and watch Big Red on television like everyone else in China.

Zhai Xiaochuan (F, Beijing): Can’t shoot, can’t play in the half court, can’t play in London. If Stephon Marbury was running point for China, he could reprise his role this season for the Ducks running the wings and finishing in transition. By FIBA rule, Steph can’t, so he won’t. He shouldn’t fret too much, though. He’ll get a major look in 2016 when his skills are more refined.

Duan Jiangpeng (SG, Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons): Duan is a specialist who’s speciality — shooting — shouldn’t really be considered that special. Adding to things, he can’t get by anybody off the bounce and he can’t defend. He got cooking a few times this year for Shanxi, but more often than not he disappeared from games. Likely to be among the first cuts in May.

Chen Jianghua (PG, Guangdong): Before we go on further, allow us to say this: Chen should have played more in the Finals against Beijing. He was consistently Guangdong’s best player at the point, and caused problems for Beijing with his ability to set his team’s offense and get good looks for everyone. Instead, Li Chunjiang made it a zero-sum game between Chen and Aaron Brooks, and refused to put the two of them on the floor together for any meaningful period of time. So when Chen gets cut (which he will, he’s been ravaged by injuries over the years and is just not a very good international player with his super slight frame), that’s what we’ll be thinking about.

Prediction: Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, Wang Zhizhi, Liu Wei, Zhou Peng, Ding Jinhui, Yi Li, Wang Shipeng, Zhang Bo, Su Wei, Yang Ming, Guo Ailun

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Guo Ailun back on senior squad, Sun Yue finally reports and other National Team goodies

April 26, 2012

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To the chagrin of a vacationing tourist, Zhou Peng and Yang Ming run on the beach in Sanya. (Photo: Osports)

Sanya: For most, the most southern city in China, located on China’s tropical Hainan island, serves as a holiday getaway for beach-minded tourists looking to get away from the monotony of the Monday-to-Friday workweek.

For the Chinese Men’s Basketball Team, however, Sanya’s relaxing innocence is completely lost on the set of grueling four-a-days — as in, four practices a day – they’re being forced to go through during the one week they’ll be there as they prepare for the 2012 London Olympics and the long set of exhibition games that will precede them.

The China NT in Hainan is nothing new and actually, neither is the intense practice schedule, which went down last year as well under the direction of head coach, Bob Donewald Jr. According to Chinese media, the days are comparable to a 24 Hour Fitness Center: Running, swimming, weights, individual skills work, full-team practices and recovery are all on the docket until the 29th, when they’ll get on a plane and come back to Beijing.

Liu Wei’s said he’s never felt this tired in four years, Wang Zhizhi says the hard work is only made harder by the four showers and four changes of clothes he’s taking each day. We say: We’ve never felt more dissapointed to see professional athletes running on the beach in shoes. Honestly, we don’t know what’s worse — knowing that those nice Nike’s are going be scuffed up and dirty after about 30 seconds, or that little specs of sand are going to permanently lodged inside the shoe no matter how hard or how long they shake them out once their run is over. Please, somebody make these guys run barefoot. (Which someone apparently did. That’s more like it!)

We’ll ignore the poor choice in beachwear and instead focus on the sweat being poured in Southern China. So in honor of Team Big Red and all of their hard work though these unenviable four-a-days, here’s four National Team bullets that should keep everyone up to date on what’s been going on during the last month of closed-door practices.

  • The best player not playing in the CBA, Sun Yue, is now officially with the National Team after he reported from Beijing Aoshen on the 24th. That means the team is short only one player, Yi Jianlian, who is with the Dallas Mavericks getting ready for their NBA title defense. Before getting into Hainan, Sun was with the Olympians as they toured Hunan province playing nine games against fifth-rate competition against teams like the San Diego Surf. Wang Shipeng is also now with the team; according to hoopCHINA (or are we supposed to call it HuPu now?) Wang was in Hong Kong undergoing treatment for an undisclosed injury.
  • Guo Ailun, who was originally put on the China Olympic National Team (which is just a fancy way of saying the Junior National Team), is now with the Senior squad after he was called up by the CBA powers-that-be on April 14th. Guo had a troubled year with the National Team set-up last year; first, he was cut early from Donewald’s FIBA Asia Championship roster and then followed that up by organizing a blood letter in an effort to removes Olympic National Team head coach, Fan Bin. Guo’s inclusion in the National Team set-up means there are now four young point-guards vying for spots on the final 12-man roster, Guo, Yang Ming, Xirelijiang and Chen Jianghua. Donewald has gone on the record saying that he’ll take two of the four to London; which ones will depend on who can defend and take care of the ball, the two attributes Donewald has historically looked for in his Team China point guards. Guo did not make the trip to Sanya.
  • Another addition: Du Feng, who is now working as an assistant after former assistant, Selcuk Ernak, left the team to pursue coaching opportunities in his native Turkey. Du recently retired from the CBA after spending 14 years with the Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers and acted as an assistant on the team’s bench this past season. He joins Li Nan to form what is for now, an all Chinese assistant staff.
  • Before the team went to Sanya, they were surprised by the visit of one Yao Ming, who took in practice from the sidelines in a black pants-white button up shirt combo. He declined interviews. But media, inspired by Big Yao’s appearance, went right to work on Donewald, asking him if he thought young Wang Zhelin could be China’s next Yao Ming. His answer: No. The question marked the 782nd time in the last month that a member of the media has made the Yao-Wang comparison, which puts everything on course for the golden 1,000-mark sometime by the end of May.
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2012 CBA Finals Preview

March 21, 2012

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Considered underdogs against seven-time champions Guangdong, Beijing will be looking to Stephon Marbury even more in the Finals. (Photo: cfp.cn)

The best CBA Finals ever?

With two hours away from Game 1′s tip-off, it’s obviously tough to answer that question.

Most anticipated CBA Finals ever?

Now that’s something we can answer more definitively.

Yes, yes and yes. Yes, 18,000 times over. With tickets in such high demand this Beijing-Guangdong match-up, the league agreed to take tonight’s opening game out of dumpy Shougang Gymnasium and into the world-class 18,000 seat MasterCard Center (formerly Wukesong Arena). Given that some CBA games sometimes struggle to draw 18,000 television viewers, everybody figured the arena would offer plenty of room.

At 8:00pm tonight, however, there will hardly be any room to put your elbows. On Monday, tickets sold out in eight minutes.

Outside China-United States’ opening group stage game during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Game 1 of the 2012 CBA Finals will undoubtedly be the most electric atmosphere in Chinese basketball history. And the series itself, despite its end result, will be the most talked about and watched CBA Finals of all time.

Since things in China come in threes, we thought we’d add to the most in-depth English language preview on the CBA Finals to make a nice trio of “best ofs.”

#1 Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers vs. #2 Beijing Shougang Ducks

Regular Season Series:
(1/4) Beijing – 104 @ Guangdong – 92
(2/10) Guangdong – 112 @ Beijing – 99

How They Got Here:
#1 Guangdong over #8 Fujian, 3-0
#1 Guangdong over #4 Xinjiang, 3-0
#2 Beijing over #7 Guangsha, 3-0
#2 Beijing over #3 Shanxi, 3-2

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 8:00 pm, @ Beijing
Game 2: Friday (3/23) 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 3: Sunday (3/25) 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 4: Wednesday (3/28), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 5: Friday (4/30), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing (if necessary)
Game 6: Sunday (4/1) 7:30pm, @ Guangdong (if necessary)
Game 7: Wednesday (4/4) ) 7:30pm, @ Guangdong (if necessary)

In seven game series, Game 1 is always an important game. So

But in the CBA, the 1-2-2-2 Finals format puts even more importance on Game 1. As in must-win importance. A win tonight by Beijing would not only put them up 1-0, it would ensure two more home games, which would be good consolation in the likely event they’re heading back for Game 4 down 2-1. A loss, however, and Beijing is looking at a potential 0-3 hole and the end of their title dreams.

So while Beijing can talk all they want about having nothing to lose and being the underdogs, there is considerable pressure tonight. In front of 18,000 of their fans, they’ll have literally the biggest home court advantage anyone’s ever had. What they’ll do with it remains a mystery: Not only is it Beijing’s first time in the Finals, it’s the first time for most of their players playing in this big of an arena. Will they freeze up under the bright lights? Or will they feed off the energy and play better as a result?

There is one thing that’s not a mystery, however — Guangdong has been to the Finals eight times and they’ve won it seven times. They’re not scared of this stage. And with their stable of National Team players, they won’t be scared of playing in Wukesong. Beijing will have to go out and win this one, because Guangdong certainly isn’t going to play like it’s their first time doing this.

Winning will be tough, not just because this is Guangdong, but because this is the best Guangdong team ever. Their regular season doesn’t indicate how good they really are, but when does it ever? Aaron Brooks is a legit NBA player and James Singleton is too. Wang Shipeng, Zhu Fangyu, Su Wei, Zhou Peng and Chen Jianghua are all going to be in Beijing in a few weeks for National Team training camp. There simply has never been a more talented roster in Southern Tiger history.

The counter to that is that Beijing has never had a more talented import than Stephon Marbury. Wins for Beijing start and end with him, and he’ll to play just as well if not better than he did against Shanxi for his team to have any shot at pulling this off. Seeing how he was near perfect, it’s difficult to see how that’s possible. It’s even more difficult when you consider the waves of defenders that come his way this series. Guangdong can throw Wang Shipeng, Chen Jianghua, Aaron Brooks and even Zhou Peng at him if he really starts to go off. Heck, they might even throw Zhou Peng at him right away and deploy him in the same defensive-stopper role Coach Li Chunjiang used him at against Xinjiang’s Quincy Douby last year. 50+ points will be tougher for Steph to come by in this series.

Life will be a a lot little easier for Brooks, however. Lee Hsueh-lin and Marbury are the only two who will be considered to check him and both will have a tough time of executing their assignment. Nobody can stay in front of in the NBA; nobody can stay in front of him in China. He’ll get into the lane whenever he wants and once he’s there, it’s pick your poison for Beijing.

The 12 day layover may be a factor tonight for Guangdong, which is why I see a Game 1 win for Beijing. But, I don’t see them winning four against the champs.

Prediction: Guangdong in 6

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Senior and Olympic National Team Rosters announced

March 16, 2012

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After starring at the youth international level, Wang Zhelin has been selected for the Senior National Team, despite never playing at the top level in the CBA.

The CBA Playoffs are approaching its end and spring is coming to Beijing, which means soon we’ll be able to sit outside and engage in our favorite warm-weather pastime, beer and chuanr. Oh, and it also means that the National Team season is about to kick off.

Yesterday, the official rosters for both the Men’s Senior National Team and the Men’s Olympic National Team were announced. 21 players were selected for the Senior Team, while 19 were picked for the Olympic Team.

To answer some people’s question: No, the Olympic Team doesn’t actually play in the Olympics. I know, it’s strange. Just roll with it. According to the CBA, the goal of the Olympic Team is to ”prepare for the 2012 Asia Stankovic Cup, to be played this September in Japan, and the 2013 East Asia Games in Tianjin. To select the best players for the 2016 Olympics and develop high level backup players.”

The Senior Team, however, does play in the Olympics. And with the Olympics coming up in August, this is a huge summer for Chinese basketball. The CBA considers the Olympics as the most important international competition, and views the tournament as the best way for China to showcase themselves to the rest of the world.

In order to space everything out and give players some rest, the Senior team roster has been split up into three groups, with players whose season ended at the end of the regular season to report first, while players who are in the midst of deep playoff runs to report last.

The usual suspects are all on there, but the big story are the three players making their National Team debut, including one who doesn’t even play in the CBA yet. If you’ve been paying attention, you shouldn’t be shocked by the inclusion of Beijing’s young duo of Zhai Xiaochuan and Zhu Yanxi, who’s selection into Bob Donewald’s roster was basically assured by midseason.

The real shocker is Wang Zhelin, Fujian’s long hyped 18 year-old seven-foot center. One of the brightest prospects in China, Wang nabbed tournament MVP in China’s gold medal run FIBA Asia U-18 Championship in 2010 and was a key member in the FIBA World U-19 Championship last year where China finished 13th. Wang did not play top level CBA ball this year, as the team opted to keep him with the second team in order to improve his body and conditioning. One of the key long-term pieces for China, his entrance onto the team says a lot about the expectations the CBA has for him going forward.

He is widely expected to make his CBA debut next season.

Notable omissions from the Senior squad include 2010 FIBA World Championship and 2011 FIBA Asia Championship backup guard, Yu Shulong, who plays domestically for Jilin and Qingdao’s Li Gen. With Osama Dahglas getting most of the minutes at point guard in Jilin this year, the 22 year-old Yu averaged a career low 15.5 minutes per game. Li Gen, who played under Donewald in Shanghai in 2008-09, missed the cut despite averaging 17.5 points per game, the most of any Chinese player in the CBA this season.

For the Olympic squad, Guo Ailun and Fan Bin come back together for the first time since Guo reportedly lead a U-19 player rebellion against their head coach last year, demanding that he be removed due to his repeated physical and verbal abuse. Guo and most of the team signed a ”blood letter” to show the seriousness of the situation. Fan was suspended in April before finally being reinstated in May, promising to be more sensitive to his players emotions.

The entire rosters are listed below. The Senior team will eventually be cut down to 12, the timeline of which has yet to be publicly announced.

Men’s Senior National Team

Head Coach: Bob Donewald Jr. (USA)
Assistant Coaches: Li Nan (China), Selcuk Ernak (Turkey)

Group 1 (to report on March 20th)

Yang Ming, Han Dejun, Li Xiaoxu (Liaoning Hengye); Wang Zhizhi, Zhang Bo (Bayi Fubang); Zhang Zhaoxu (Shanghai Dongfang); Ding Jinhui (Zhejiang Chouzhou); Yi Li (Jiangsu Nangang); Wang Zhelin (Fujian SBS)

Group 2 (to report on April 8th)

Liu Wei (Shanghai Dongfang); Xirelijiang (Xinjiang Guanghui)

Group 3 (to report 15 days after each player’s respective season)

Wang Shipeng, Chen Jianghua, Zhou Peng, Zhu Fangyu, Su Wei (Guangdong Hongyuan); Sun Yue (Beijing Aoshen); Zhai Xiaochuan, Zhu Yanxi (Beijing Shougang); Duan Jiangpeng (Shanxi Zhongyu); Yi Jianlian (Dallas Mavericks)

Men’s Olympic National Team

Head Coach: Fan Bin (China)
Assistant Coaches: Du Feng, Wu Naiqun (China)

Li Muhao, He Zhongmian (DongGuan New Century); He Tianju, Guo Ailun (Liaoning Hengye); Wang Zirui (Zhejiang Guangsha); Dong Hanlin (Guangdong Hongyuan); Xu Zhonghao, Cao Yan, Tian Yuxiang (Bayi Fubang); Ge Zhaobao, Yan Pengfei, Xing Zhiqiang (Shanxi Zhongyu); Ding Yanyuhan, Sui Ran (Shandong Kingston); Yu Changdong (Xinjiang Guanghui); Zhang Zhihan (Tianjin Ronggang); Zhao Tailong (Fujian SBS) Yu Shulong (Jilin SBT); Li Gen (Qingdao Double Star)

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It’s here! The official 2012 NiuBBall CBA Playoff Extravaganza!

February 22, 2012

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(Graphic via China Daily)

We have a saying over at NiuBBall: There is no parity in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Understand: Since the CBA went to a best-of-five format for the first round and semis in 2005, never has there been a do-or-die Game 5. Since the CBA went to a best-of-seven format for the finals a year later, only two teams – Bayi and Guangdong, both seeded 2nd, in 2007 and 2011 – have upset the regular season’s best team. Only one series has gone past Game 5 – last year, when Guangdong beat Xinjiang in six. In that same span, only three lower seeds have upset the higher seed.

The CBA is entertaining for many reasons, but the playoffs is definitely not one of them.

Its predictability has affected even the postseason schedule makers: best-of-five first round series take the 1-2-1-1 format in which the lower-seeded team hosts Game 1, based off the reasoning that attendance will be higher if a fan base’s optimism hasn’t been completely dashed by their team being in a 0-2 hole.

This year, though, we’re guaranteed at least this bit of variety: for the first time in three years, there will be at least one new team in the finals. That’s because Xinjiang and Guangdong are on the same side of the bracket, which means if everything goes to plan, they’ll play each other in the semis.

Expect it – and every other series – to go according to plan.

That doesn’t mean that we’re not rolling out the red carpet on this, though. Because in addition to reading a breakdown of every single first-round series here at NiuBBall, you can also check out Andrew Crawford’s roundtable approach to previewing things over at Shark Fin Hoops. Two English-language CBA Plaoff previews? Now that Niu Bi.

And while you’re at it, check out main man, Anthony Tao, and his new site Beijing Cream, which will cover everything and more about China’s capital city. Tao and NiuBBall are xiongdi – in 2010, he wrote great stuff about Stephon Marbury’s first season in China when he was with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons, a piece that not only stood (and still stands) as one of the best ever written about Chinese hoops, but also one that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. We’re honored to have this preview appear on his site, and we’re looking forward to pitching in more CBA coverage throughout the playoffs and beyond.

And now, without further ado…

(Note: all start times subject to change.)

#1 Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers (25-7) vs. #8 Fujian SBS Sturgeons (17-15)

Regular Season Series:
(12/21) Guangdong – 85 @ Fujian – 90
(2/8) Fujian – 116 @ Guangdong – 126

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Fujian
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ Fujian (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong (if necessary)

The question isn’t whether the Southern Tigers will win their fourth straight championship and eight of the last nine – feel free to pause to let that sink in – but how many games they’ll need to do it and who they’ll beat. So there’s absolutely no chance of a first-round upset…

Yet – a big yet, but yet – if there was a team with a fighting chance of achieving the most monumental upset in Chinese basketball history, Fujian would be the pick. Able to trot out three foreigners to Guangdong’s two because of its abysmal record last season (a quirk in the CBA rules), Fujian can compensate for its inferior Chinese roster better than any other team in the playoffs. And those foreigners are good. In his first season in China, Will McDonald has become the hands-down best center in the league, blending the inside-outside game he developed in Spain with solid work on the boards. The tireless Zaid Abbas, the team’s Asian import, led the league in rebounding (14.7 per game) and minutes (42.7). Anthony Roberson rounds out the foreign lineup doing what he’s always done: shooting the air out of the ball, which is good if he’s hot (bad if he’s not).

But the best thing about Fujian’s imports? They actually match up pretty well with their opponents. Guangdong’s center combo of Su Wei and Wang Zheng have no offensive skills to speak of and don’t move well on either end of the floor, which means they’ll likely struggle to guard McDonald, who can stretch the floor. The more athletic yet smaller Dong Hanlin might have to shoulder that burden. The ever-active Abbas will make James Singleton work very hard to get his. And Roberson, who can and sometimes does go completely off, will probably have to garner at least some defensive attention from Aaron Brooks, who will resume his NBA career as soon as the season ends.

As CBA watchers know though, talking about foreigner matchups is usually a moot point when it comes to Guangdong, a team that relies on its Chinese guys to get it done: Wang Shipeng, Zhu Fangyu, Zhou Peng, Chen Jianghua, Dong Hanlin and, yes, even the aforementioned duo of Su Wei and Wang Zheng make up seven of the top eight Chinese players in the series. So long as Brooks doesn’t get caught up trying to match Roberson’s shot total and does what he does best in this league — work out of the pick and roll and get into the lane at will — Guangdong will be more than fine.

*Roberson, who has been battling an injury the last few games, missed practice today and his status is in doubt for tonight’s game.

Prediction: Guangdong in 4

#2 Beijing Shougang Ducks (21-11) vs. #7 Zhejiang Guangsha Lions (18-14)

Regular Season Series:
(12/28) Guangsha – 118 @ Beijing – 112
(2/15) Beijing – 94 @ Guangsha – 114

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Guangsha
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ Guangsha (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing (if necessary)

While Wilson Chandler is back in the U.S. getting a haircut for the first time since August and negotiating a $40 million-plus contract, the team he used to play for, the Guangsha Lions, is trying to figure out how in Mao’s name to replace the singularly most destructive foreigner in the CBA (when he wanted to be) not named Stephanie Smith.

They can contemplate all they want, but the reality is that they won’t find that replacement. Well, technically they have found a replacement, Hangzhou old-hand Rodney White. But let’s be clear: 2007 Rodney White ain’t walking through that door. And even if he was, it probably still wouldn’t be enough. So even though they swept the season series vs. Beijing, they’re about to get paid back in full. It’s a sad thought when you consider that the Lions were in third place in mid-December and looking like somewhat serious title contenders.

If you ignore, for a moment, the Chandler-exodus storyline, Guangsha’s season was interesting in its own rights – and also interesting because it mirrored Beijing’s. The Ducks sprinted out to a 13-0 start, then lost 11 out of the next 19. Yet because of the instability in the teams under them, Beijing was able to hang on to second place.

A lot of that incredible start was due to Stephon Marbury, who has played his butt off every night in a city he now considershome on a team with players far more talented than his teammates in Shanxi and Foshan. He was always meant for the big city, and in a place where he’s comfortable, his rededication to basketball is evident.

Two of his teammates, Zhu Yanxi and Zhai Xiaochuan, are in their first years in the CBA, and both have thrived playing with Marbury. Zhu, a rookie sensation who was picked up from China’s second-tier National Basketball League, is the most Euro China big man you’ll see in this country. That may be an insult in the NBA, but in China it’s a huge compliment. Big under the boards and accurate from deep, Zhu amounts to the Chinese poor man’s version of Ersan Ilyasova. Zhai has no far-fetched NBA comparison, but he is a young, long and bouncy effort guy who does nothing particularly bad.

The Ducks’ longer-term success, i.e. a trip to the finals, will be predicated on whether Chen Lei and Lee Hsueh-lin are healthy. The good news is that they’re both back in the lineup after missing extended time with injuries; the bad news is that they haven’t really gotten an in-game run in a while, especially Lee, who, before coming back in Round 33 against Shanghai – the penultimate round of regular season games – had not played since December 9.

It boils down to this, though: Guangsha is bummed about Chandler, and Beijing is amped on making a finals run. Quack, quack.

Prediction: Beijing in 4

#3 Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons (20-12) vs. #6 Shanghai Dongfang Sharks (18-14)

Regular Season Series:

(12/16) Shanxi – 90 @ Shanghai – 92
(2/3) Shanghai – 108 @ Shanxi – 119

Playoff Series Schedule:

Game 1: Tonight 8 pm, @ Shanghai
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ Shanghai (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi (if necessary)

As Jim Yardley just expertly shared with the rest of the world in his book, Brave Dragons, what the rest of the CBA has known for quite some time: the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons are a flipping mess of a team.

Run by an owner who can switch from head coach to assistant coach to video coordinator to sports psychologist on a whim – or just hold all those titles at once – the Brave Dragons have gone through coaches, general managers, translators and players of all nationalities at an alarming rate over the years as “Boss Wang” continues his search for people who will give him the instant results he craves. Not surprisingly, as success in basketball usually comes from a gradual building process that nurtures familiarity and chemistry, Shanxi had never made the playoffs since their inception in 2006.

Which is why this year is so special: The Brave Dragons are finally in. How’d they do it? Boss Wang reportedly stopped meddling (as much – he definitely still meddles), and he stopped trying to bring in big-name NBA players who may come with NBA talent but also bring their NBA requirements, which the coal city of Taiyuan is largely incapable of fulfilling.

Wang took the safe bet this summer by bringing in Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines, two players who have played inChina before and have had no problem adjusting to the culture while accumulating monster stats. The two have developed into the best and most dependable foreign duo in the league. Gaines, who’s been putting up huge numbers ever since he played for Xinjiang two years ago, enjoyed another fantastic season, averaging 29.2 points and 13.1 rebounds on 64.1% shooting. Williams, who turned around Zhejiang Chouzhou’s season last year after coming in midseason after the Mike James experiment blew up, hasn’t missed a beat in his second season, averaging 32 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals.

The problem for Shanxi, though: Nobody else can consistently score and nobody defends. Yeah, Lu Xiaoming can get out in transition and probe around for dump-offs and kick-outs, and Duan Jiangpeng has had some big nights on the offensive end, but this team starts and ends with their foreigners.

Shanxi’s obvious reliance on their foreign studs is in stark contrast to Shanghai. Allowing just 89.6 points per game, Shanghai boasts the stingiest defense in the league. First-year head-coach Dan Pannagio, following in the defensive footsteps of China national team coach Bob Donewald Jr. from two years prior, has stressed solid team D while also installing the equal-opportunity triangle offense. The jury’s still out on the effectiveness of the triangle — the Sharks score a league-low 91.1 points a game – partly because they’ve dealt with injuries. Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who played the triangle under Panaggio in the D-League, was enjoying a great season, possibly even a NiuBBall MVP-type season, in his familiar offensive surroundings before rupturing his Achilles in late December.

His replacement, Marcus Landry, and especially Mike Harris, who stepped up with some big games down the stretch, have both helped the team move forward. But several Chinese players do their part here. The Sharks go nine, occasionally 10 deep, led most notably by their two national team players, veteran point guard Liu Wei and the young, ever-improving 7-3 center “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu. Liu Ziqiu is one of the better Chinese perimeter defenders in the league and Meng Lingyuan provides a lefty herky-jerky change of pace off the bench.

Throw in the fact that Shanghai’s very-much-on-the-same-page American coaching staff will have the freedom to make whatever adjustments they deem necessary, while Shanxi’s half-American, half-Chinese staff may or may not depending on how Boss Wang is feeling, and you’ve got the makings of a very intriguing and competitive first-round series. But with two NiuBBall All-CBA first-teamers in Gaines and Williams and an important home-court advantage that will challenge the road-weary Sharks (4-12 on the road this year), we’re giving the nod to the Brave Dragons.

Prediction: Shanxi in 5

#4 Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers (19-13) vs. #5 DongGuan New Century Leopards (19-13)

Regular Season Series:
(12/25) Xinjiang – 90 @ DongGuan – 97
(2/12) DongGuan – 89 @ Xinjiang – 97

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ DongGuan
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 8 pm, @ Xinjiang
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ DongGuan (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang (if necessary)

No team has gone through more turmoil, more changes and more disappointment this season than the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. Once drooling over the prospect of having Kenyon Martin, Quincy Douby, Tang Zhengdong and Mengke Bateer all being coached up by the American head coach of the Chinese National Team, Bob Donewald Jr., the team is now devoid of all three of those Americans (Douby broke his wrist in pre-season, Donewald was fired 11 games into the season and Martin left shortly after with 12 games under his belt).

They’re also short the player they replaced Douby with, Australian national team point guard, Patty Mills, who was released controversially mid-season after tearing his hamstring against Guangdong on December 23rd. And now, they’re going to be short the player who they replaced Martin with, Gani Lawal, who is reportedly being replaced by Ike Diogu.

Not coming as a shock, the team is likewise devoid of any real shot at the championship that’s they’ve come up just short of achieving the past three seasons.

They will however, storm through DongGuan. Because even though this has been the most drama any team has ever had to endure in one season, Xinjiang is still a very good team, a much better one than their opponents. Though they haven’t been the force that some people thought they’d be, Bateer and Tang still get it done on the inside and DongGuan’s light frontline will be pushed around without too much effort. On the wings, Xu Guochong is as lights out as ever from three and Xirelijiang is as good a two-way guard this league has. And that’s just domestic players. Tim Pickett has done very well coming into the team on short notice and before being released, Lawal was serviceable as a rugged blue-collar rebounder.

The team’s make-up will change wit Diogu, but even if he starts a big sluggish, Xinjiang will still win this series. Though DongGuan head coach Brian Goorjian for the second year in a row has done a masterful job at the helm, leading his team to a No. 5 seed after starting the year 0-4, they don’t hold any discernable advantage in any key category. Xinjiang is bigger and better than DongGuan’s big man rotation of Shavlik Randolph, Zhang Kai and Sun Tonglin, and should dominate the offensive glass. On the perimeter, nobody American or Chinese can handle Pickett.

The one mystery, maybe the only one of this series, is how Diogu, who’s been sitting at home all winter while professional basketball has been going on all around the world, will play in the face of loads of playoff pressure. This being his first time in China, it’s quite a lot to ask of a player to come into a new country, play in a new league, and suit up for a team who is expecting you to carry them to playoff glory. Lucky for him, he’ll probably be able to gradually find his rhythm this series without it affecting the final result.

Prediction: Xinjiang in 3

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CBA Round 16 Recap

December 28, 2011

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Beijing – 87 @ Shanghai – 96

The city of Shanghai got exactly what it wanted this Christmas as it’s basketball team defeated the Beijing Ducks in a gritty, compelling match that saw both sides have their chances to win the game. Beijing had the lead going into the fourth quarter but a comeback win was made possible when Ryan Forehan-Kelly helped eat up the seven-point deficit before Mike Harris almost tore the rim down with a go-ahead dunk, before the Sharks made the win safe with cooly taken chances on the fast break.

Three Shark players got themselves double-doubles; Forehan-Kelly (25 points; 13 rebounds), Harris (21 points; 13 rebounds) and Zhang (16 points; 13 rebounds), whilst for Beijing, Randolph Randolph scored a game high 26 points and Stephon Marbury got a double-double of his own, racking up 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Andrew Crawford, Shark Fin Hoops

Box Score

Shanxi – 106 @ Guangdong – 111

Guangdong survived a home scare against always dangerous Shanxi. Down 109-106 with 17 seconds left, Guangdong’s Chen Jianghua went to the line with a chance to put the game on ice. He missed both, but unfortunately for the visitors, Charles Gaines missed the rebound and turned the ball over right back to the home squad. Zhu Fangyu followed by hitting both of his free-throws to put the game out of reach to give Guangdong their 12th win of the year.

James Singleton put up 20 points and 17 rebounds, Aaron Brooks dropped 21 and Zhu Fangyu and Wang Shipeng each contributed 15. The super foreign combo of Gaines and Marcus Williams each scored 35 points, but the team got little from anyone else, including the game’s biggest offender, Duan Jiangpeng, who was bottled up for just four points in 40 minutes.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Xinjiang – 90 @ DongGuan – 97

Life after Bob Donewald and Kenyon Martin took on an added obstacle on Sunday night as Patty Mills, the team’s lone import at the moment, sat out with a hamstring injury. Playing with an all-Chinese lineup, the Flying Tigers put up a good fight in DongGuan and even took the lead in the second half. But ultimately, the lack of a true point guard came back to get them in the end as Xinjiang turned the ball over 21 times, including a few crucial ones down the stretch, resulting in their second straight loss in Guangdong province.

Josh Akognon scored a game high 24 points, Shavlik Randolph added 17 and Qiu Biao had 15 for the Leopards, who move into sixth place with an 8-7 record. Xinjiang’s consolation may have been Tang Zhengdong, who had his strongest game of the year with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Qingdao – 100 @ Shandong – 94

We’re not so much shocked by the fact that the Lester Hudsons Eagles won a game on the road, but rather that they won with three non-Hudsons (Olumide Oyedeji, Xue Yuyang and Li Gen) scoring more than 15 points.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Jiangsu – 99 @ Guangsha – 106

Box Score

Zhejiang – 90 @ Jilin – 100

Box Score

Bayi – 84 @ Liaoning – 103

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Tianjin – 108 @ Foshan – 93

Box Score

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