Tag Archives: China Men’s Senior National Team

Giannakis released by Limoges, to stay with Team China

June 17, 2013

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Panagiotis Giannakis isn’t going anywhere. At least not where China is concerned.

After being the subject of several rumors regarding his exit as Team China head coach last week, “The Dragon” will resume his duties with Chinese. The 54 year-old Greek was back on the bench in China this past weekend, where he coached his team to a 1-1 split against the Australian national team in the second leg at 2013 Sino-Australian Men’s International Basketball Challenge in Tianjin and Yongcheng.

However, back in Europe, Giannakis’ future is far less clear. On Friday, his French club team, Limoges, announced that they are terminating his contract, citing “serious misconduct.” Limoges, who argue that Giannakis’ responsibilities in China will conflict with those in France, attempted to come to a settlement in the form of a pay cut with their head coach last week. According to EuroHoops.net, the two sides failed to arrive at an agreement. The inability to find a middle ground appears as a large contributing factor towards Limoges decision to let Giannakis go.

According to Basketball Pioneers, Giannakis will appeal the decision.

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Rumors abound over Giannakis alleged exit from China; CBA denies any knowledge of situation

June 11, 2013

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According to Serbian journalist, Djordje Matic, Pannagiotis Giannakis and the Chinese National Team are set to part ways. Matic later tweeted that his sources were 100% accurate. Both tweets were sent out yesterday.

China recently completed their first two exhibition games under Giannakis in Australia, going 1-1 against the Australian National Team.

Today, Matic’s tweets have made headlines on all of China’s major news outlets. In response, the Chinese Basketball Association formally denounced the news, saying that they haven’t heard anything about Giannakis alleged exit from the team.

“I haven’t heard anything about what you’re talking about,” said national team leader Zhang Xiong, who replied to a Chinese journalist via text message.

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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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2013 China National Team stock watch

January 21, 2013

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It’s never to early to talk National Team. And given that there’s only eight more rounds in the 2012-13 Chinese Basketball Association regular season, followed by the playoffs, its really not that early anymore.

Which is why we figured we’d offer up a quick report on who is rising, who has been staying steady, and who is falling on most important Chinese basketball index there is: this summer’s China National Team.

It’s going to be a busy and important summer for the boys in red: They’ll ultimately be playing in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, which will be played in in Manila from August 1-11 and will serve as the qualifying tournament for the 2015 FIBA World Cup, where they’ll be aiming to repeat their gold medal from 2011. But before they can do that, they’ll first have to qualify out of East Asia; a task which won’t be any problem.

What type of roster the team goes forward with, however, is somewhat of a problem. Do they keep the same aging core that failed to win a game in London? Do they attempt to introduce some new blood at the risk of losing out in Asia? Or do they totally hit the reset button and go forward with a new era in Chinese hoops?

Since failure in Asia is unacceptable, don’t bank on the latter. But with so many players increasing in age, its highly probable that we’ll see some new faces this summer.

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Is Neven Spahija the front runner head coach of the national team?

January 15, 2013

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Since last summer’s London Olympics, it has been all quiet on the National Team front and their search for a new head coach.

Until yesterday.

According to Sina Sports, the Chinese Basketball Association is meeting in Beijing with Croatian Heven Spahija, who reportedly flew into the country to discuss the national team job.

Neither the CBA nor Spahija had any comment on the meeting.

On Saturday, an article in the Beijing Times reported that the CBA the process to find the next head coach had already started and that the administration would have a clear idea about their candidates by March.

“At present, the list is very extensive,” said national team director of operations, Zhang Xiong. “There’s around 20 or so names and we hope to hire a foreign coach. The list is mostly made up of European and American names, but we’re more inclined to select a European coach.”

The 50-year old Spahija’s resume includes two years as head coach at Fenerbahce from 2010-12, a two year stint at Valencia from 2008-10 and one year at Maccabi Tel Aviv from 2006-07. Spahijia started his head coaching career at Croatian club KK Cibona in 2001.

China is preparing for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, which was originally to be hosted by Lebanon, but instead will take place in the Philippines due to security concerns. The tournament, which serves as the Asian qualifier for the 2014 World Cup (formerly known as the FIBA World Championship) will be held from August 1-11.

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The Legacy of Bob Donewald

August 16, 2012

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Among other accomplishments during his two years as Team China head coach, Bob Donewald Jr. brought home the country’s first Asia Championship since 2005. (Photo: FIBAasia.net)

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Bob Donewald Jr., whose contract in Beijing has now expired, will not be returning to coach Chinese National Team. In a highly eventful three years, the last two of which have been spent as Team China head coach, there’s been suspensions, championships, a documentary, brawls, more suspensions, sideline yelling matches, and a you-couldn’t-make-this-stuff-up crazy half-season in Xinjiang among other notable events. Whatever your opinion of his tenure is, we’re fairly confident that all would agree that his stay in China has been anything but boring.

Of course, the Donewald era is much more than that. The question is: What? What exactly has happened over the last three years? What impact has he made on Chinese basketball? And what is his lasting legacy?

Talking to the Associated Press last week, Donewald offered up his own thoughts on the latter two questions:

“It’s not the way we wanted to end it. But I think we laid the groundwork in the right way,” Donewald said. “We’ve changed some things, we’ve changed some training, we’ve brought ideas, we’ve changed the way we play a little bit. And hopefully they can take it and go from here. … I hope 10 years from now I look back and China’s back on the map and we helped bridge something, we helped do something.”

The full article is well worth the read, not just because Donewald has a lot more interesting things to say, but also because Wang Zhizhi steals the show with a couple of priceless quotes, the best being his initial response in 2010 to Donewald’s defense-first mindset: “This is China. We don’t play defense.”

Critics will obviously point to the recent failure at the Olympics as their perceived reflection of Donewald’s failure to put together and lead a Chinese team capable of winning on the world’s biggest stage. Our views on what went down in London are already well known. But whereas some will want to rate the overall Donewald purely based on an 0-5 record, we’re going to take a few steps back and improve our court vision to assess what’s really gone down the last three years.

1. The turnaround in Shanghai

Known virtually by everyone around the world as the franchise who produced Yao Ming, the Shanghai Sharks were once one of the proudest and most winningest franchise in the Chinese Basketball Association. But, in 2009 — seven years removed from their first and only championship under Yao — the team’s gradual descent into the depths of the league standings hit its lowest point. In last place with 6-44 record and a financial situation that bordered on bankruptcy, the Sharks weren’t just the dregs of the league, they were on the verge of complete extinction.

A savior came from a familiar face, Big Yao himself, who bought his old team in the summer of 2009 to ensure the franchise’s financial future while simultaneously injecting a much needed dose of optimism into the City on the Sea. Shunning the bureaucratic  state-run-styled ownership that nearly put the franchise out of the CBA, Yao vowed to change the entire structure and culture in Shanghai.

That first wave of change came in the form of a new head coach, Donewald. A former NBA assistant in the early 2000s with Cleveland and New Orleans and a successful coach in England in the late 1990s, Donewald had been in Brazil and Ukraine prior to his arrival at the Yuanshen stadium. Unknown virtually by all in Chinese circles, Donewald proved to be the perfect catalyst in Shanghai. With a no compromise attitude, Donewald uprooted practically everything in Sharks-land and brought accountability, professionalism and intensity into a team that was sorely lacking in all three of those departments the previous season.

Under the first year head coach, a reinvigorated Chinese roster teamed up with three excellent imports, John Lucas III, Garet Siler and Zaid Abbas, to finish with the league’s fourth best record before nearly upsetting eventual league champion, Guangdong, in the semi-finals. Impressed by Donewald’s success, the powers that be at the CBA appointed him as head coach of the National Team in April 2010.

That magical season went beyond just himself, though. Lucas and Siler, both of whom were passed over by NBA teams when they came out of college, signed on to play in The League in 2010 with Chicago and Phoenix respectively. Both played this last season for the same teams. Abbas has gone on to star for the Jordanian National Team during the summers and during winters, he’s been busy leading Beijing and Fujian to the playoffs. “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu, who left Cal-Berkeley early to join Donewald in Shanghai in 2010, is now part of the National Team setup.

And though Donewald left in the summer of 2011 for Urumqi, the changes he made in Shanghai can still be felt today as Dan Panaggio continues to build on top of the foundation he first set in 2009.

Yet, perhaps Donewald’s biggest impact on a player was not on an American, but on a Chinese player with deep ties not only to Chinese basketball, but to Yao Ming as well…

2. The resurrection of Liu Wei

The 2008-09 season was long for everyone in Shanghai. But it was their star player, Liu Wei, who perhaps endured the longest and most nightmarish season of them all. Known for his ultra-competitiveness, the raging fire that burned under the longtime National Team point guard smoldered into mere ambers as Liu was forced to deal with not only the worst finish in Shanghai history, but also several nagging injuries, an ugly post-game incident with Yunnan import, Gabe Muoneke, and the 10-game suspension that followed it. His play suffered, and his 15.6 points per game was the worst statistical output since 2001-02. Once a CBA champion and NBA training camp invitee, things got so bad for Liu that he was rumored to be off to Bayi in the following off-season.

Enter Yao, Donewald, and his American staff, all of whom made it a focus to get their point guard back on track for 2009-10. Brought back to health through the dedication of strength and conditioning coach, James Scott, formerly of the Houston Rockets, Liu found his old self again as Shanghai ripped off a regular season 25-7 record. His 21.3 points per game was the third highest output of his career, and individual success carried through to the next season where he averaged 18.6 a game.

Liu’s resurgence has had implications far beyond just Shanghai, however. If you think prolonging the career of the only point guard in China who is consistently capable of playing on an international level, we ask: Have you seen any alternatives at that position?

Neither have we.

3. The transformation of Yi Jianlian

Once appointed head coach of the NT, the job presented to Donewald was to oversee a changing-in-the-guard from the old Yao Ming era to a new decade of Chinese basketball. Not exactly an easy task.

Without an all-world center who could dominate at both ends, Donewald trashed the rely-on-one-player philosophy in favor of a more balanced defensive-oriented, blue-collar approach. But all teams need a guy to dump the ball into on offense and get buckets… and that’s where Yi Jianlian comes into the story.

Under the shadow of the Yao in the 2000s, a then-young Yi played tentatively and inconsistently for China. But since Donewald arrived in 2010, Yi has been a completely different player. Given the task of being The Guy for the Chinese, the seven footer has responded beautifully over the last two international seasons. At the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Yi was the only player in the tournament to average 20 points and 10 rebounds. The following summer at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, he won tournament MVP (16.6-10.2) as he led China to a championship over Jordan. And though China flopped miserably in London, Yi managed to lead all players in rebounds (10.2 a game), while putting up strong individual performances against Spain and Russia before an injury suffered against Australia hampered him for the rest of the Games.

No, he’s not Yao. But in the post-Yao era, Yi is unquestionably the best and most important player to the Chinese. He has consistently been at the top of his game when China has need him the most. The player deserves much credit for accepting that challenge, but he — and the CBA — will have to thank Donewald, first for believing in him, then for giving him the support to make the Yao-to-Yi transition a success.

4. The modernization of the National Team

What the CBA chooses to do in light of these Olympics (changing the import rules in their domstic league, increasing the amount of games, hiring a new coach, implementing a new  national daily regimen of three-man weave drills) is anybody’s guess.

Our two cents: They’d be wise to continue in the direction that Donewald and his staff has pointed them in.

Whether it’s been compiling thick tomes detailing every in-and-out of their opponents, meticulously breaking down film, implementing individualized strength and conditioning programs for each player or successfully appealing to the CBA to allow the coaching staff to pick their own players, Donewald has managed to do away with the old days of mindless 6-8 hour-a-day practices and two-hour team meetings. All of which are very positive for Chinese basketball, by the way. The days of 30 exhibition games in the summer? Maybe not. But, one step at a time.

If Chinese basketball is going to catch up to the rest of the world one day, they’ll have to eventually run their program accordingly. Again, whether the CBA decides to take a knee-jerk reaction to what’s gone down in London is anybody’s guess. Yet what Donewald’s been able to do — and teach — to people inside Chinese hoops about the modern requirements for developing a National Team should certainly be beneficial in the long-term for both the country and the next coach who replaces him. You know, if the CBA allows it…

5. The trophies

Lost in all of the Deng Hua de bu xing (Donewald sucks), Deng Hua De de zhan shu bu hao (Donewald’s X’s and O’s aren’t good) and Deng Hua De bu dong Zhongguo (Donewald doesn’t understand China) arguments that I’ve heard from Chinese over the last couple of weeks, is the simple fact that no matter what you think of the guy, he’s won when he was supposed to win. Every time.

And if you don’t think that getting cheng ji – results — in Chinese sports are important, you haven’t seen this yet.

Make no mistake: Donewald’s gotten results. First came a championship at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, beating Iran in a thrilling semi-finals before dispatching South Korea in the finals. Not exactly a huge deal, since China had one five out of the last six gold medals at the Asian Games, but still a championship nonetheless in a competition that demanded no other result.

The following year in Wuhan, however, was something totally different. Despite playing without two key players, Zhou Peng and Wang Shipeng, both of whom were injury casualties of an endless summer of warm-up games, Donewald and the squad managed to come back in the second half against Jordan in the finals to eek out a win and an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

Whereas Guangzhou was pretty much always in the cards, triumphing in Wuhan was anything but guaranteed. Some people, including this very space, doubted China’s chances of getting to London because of prior history and a less-than-full-strength roster. On top of proving people wrong, Wuhan represented something far greater: China’s first Asian title since 2005 and more importantly, the first in the post-Yao era, an accomplishment Donewald’s predecessor, Guo Shiqiang, could not get done in 2009.

Was Donewald’s China journey always a smooth ride? Hardly. But at the end of everything, Donewald can go out with a title that nobody in China can take away from him: A winner. We’ll see in 10 years if we can call him a pioneer, too.

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Hu Jiashi: Success of Olympics not based on wins and losses

July 16, 2012

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Placed in a tough group and with a roster that has the least amount of elite level talent in the last ten years, the Chinese Basketball Association appears to be tempering their own expectations for the Chinese National Team as directors and other higher ups prepare for the likely reality that China will not get through to the knockout stages.

Deputy Director of the National Team, Hu Jiashi, indicated that the CBA will not be judging the team’s performance based on wins on losses, but rather that the team gives its full effort while playing at an “high international level” in every game of the preliminary round.

“Spain is an Olympic runner-up, and Russia and Brazil are clearly on a level up compared to where we’re at,” said Hu. “We’ve never beaten Australia at a major international competition and Great Britain are the host nation. In the past few years we’ve only played these two teams once, but we lost both times. Some people think in order to get through the group stages we have to come up against Great Britain and Australia, but we’re not even assured that we’ll win one game. So with that in mind, we only expect the team to play satisfactorily.”

China’s opening game is on July 29th against Spain.

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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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Monday Night Chuanr

June 19, 2012

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Nighttime links served up proper with a hearty helping of lamb on a stick.  The beer is on you, though.
  • The 2012 Nike All-Asia Camp was held once again in DongGuan, Guangzhou province earlier this month and although we weren’t able to get down there this year, Mike Procipio from GeorgeRaveling.com was. And he did a great job breaking down a lot of the players, so make sure you go and get yourself familiar with some of the players who will be on the CBA senior team rosters of tomorrow.
  • The official schedule for the 2012 London Olympics has been out for a while, in case people are interested. We’ll be posting China’s entire summertime schedule at the top of the blog shortly, so keep an eye out for that. And when the Games start, you’re damn right we’ll be posting a TV guide for all of you non-Chinese speakers.
  • Interested in writing for NiuBBall? Go here.
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Yi Jianlian reports to National Team, next round of cuts to be in July?

June 19, 2012

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The Chinese National Team now has its full arsenal of players after Yi Jianlian became the final player to report in Beijing over the weekend.  Yi had his first practice with the team on Monday in Beijing and will be with the team full-time from now until the London Olympics in August.

The seven foot forward/center, who played last season in the NBA for the Dallas Mavericks, has become the face of Team China since Yao Ming’s final game for the Chinese at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the 2010 World Championship in Turkey, Yi averaged 20.2 points and 10.2 rebounds as China was eliminated in the Round of 16. In 2011, he followed up his strong performance in Turkey with a superb showing at the FIBA Asia Championsihp, where he lead China to a gold medal and automatic qualification for London.

And if China is to have any shot of getting out of their group in the Olympics, Yi will once again have to come up huge. As the only Chinese player who is consistently able to get himself going in isolation sets, Ah Lian is without a doubt Donewald’s most talented and most important player on the roster. Ensuring that he’s healthy and on the top of his game is the team’s biggest goal as they continue to prepare for their first game on July 28.

Yi is a free-agent and for the second year in a row, faces an uncertain future in the NBA. The Mavericks, who are poised at making a big splash this summer in free-agency, are highly unlikely to bring him back on a multi-year deal if at all, which means that he may have to find his fifth team in five six years. Speaking to Chinese media in May, Yi said that he’ll handle contract talks after the Olympics.

Yi played in 30 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 2.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 6.8 minutes.

China is preparing for six exhibition games in Jiangsu from June 22-29, where they’ll play games against Montenegro, Serbia and Croatia. They’ll then go to Guangzhou for the annual Stankovic Continental Cup against Tunisia, Russia and Australia, which will be held from July 6-10. According to Sina, the next round of cuts will be made after the team returns from Guangzhou.

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Why China’s three losses in Australia aren’t a big deal

June 16, 2012

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Forget the three losses, the bigger issue is whether China is going to take these horrible mismatched jerseys to London. (Photo: Osports)

 

China just lost all three of their exhibition games in Australia against the Australian National Team, which means — not surprisingly — that Chinese media and fans are having mild freak outs. Naturally, when there isn’t any meaningful basketball to be played really until the first game of the Olympics, people get excited about three straight losses. Even though…

 

Winning or losing these games mean nothing…
It’s not even the summer yet, which means Donewald is still experimenting with his lineups and strategies…

He’s also trying to figure out which guys have what it takes for Olympic basketball, specifically his players…

China almost always loses pre-major international competition warm-up matches, precisely because of the previous point…
And more importantly, their best player, Yi Jianlian hasn’t reported to the team yet and thus has yet to suit up for Big Red this year.
So, nobody should really be sweating anything at this point expect a few players, some of whom will go home after an expected third round of cuts get announced within the next few days. We know the drama is probably driving you crazy, so to tide you over we’re offering up some thoughts that have crossed our mind post-Australia, in bullet point form.

 

  • If you’re a subscriber to the “Huan Su Wei” movement, you’re probably going to like this: Big Su played in only two of the three games, and when he did he played sparingly and poorly. In 12 total minutes, he put up one point, one rebound, two fouls and three turnovers. No matter what the National Team thinks of the former rower-turned-hoopster, its impossible to deny that he’s regressed since last summer. Against Beijing in the CBA Finals last March, he was too slow to guard to Randolph Morris and was able to offer nothing more than bricked lay-ups on the offensive end to compensate. As a result, he didn’t play too much. Sure, he’s got two years of experience under Donewald, plus he’s enormous, physical and plays the best post defense on the team (if the refs are calling the game loosely enough to keep him on the floor). Basically, he’s the Chinese homeless man’s version of Kendrick Perkins. But will those be enough to hold off challenges from younger guys like Han Dejun and Wang Zhelin? Could be a story worth monitoring.
  • The position battle at point guard, however, is a story we already know is worth keeping an eye on. Guo Ailun played a mixed bag overall, but it was his the loud words of Sun Yue that ended up dominating all of the Guo headlines. Midway through the second quarter of game three when the Aussies were on a big run, Sun reportedly yelled at him to pass the ball more. He finished the game with one assist, only one more than the goose egg he put up in the first game. His main rival, Zhang Bo, picked up a shoulder injury that was severe enough to keep him out of the last game. No word on the extent of Zhang’s injury is as of yet.
  • Kind of a funny off-court story: According to hoopCHINA, Donewald was getting his motivational shoes on Down Under, bringing in three-time NBA champion and Australian national, Luc Longley, to meet and talk with his players. He forgot, however, that there was already an NBA champ among the team, Sun Yue, who reminded him that he won a ring with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008-09. No offense to Sun, who stands as one of two Chinese players to have won an NBA championship (Mengke Bateer won one with the Spurs in 2003), but I don’t think Donewald forgot… I think he was just talking about someone who actually played and earned their ring.
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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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