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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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Last minute CBA import tidbits

November 12, 2012

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According to a source, Ike Diogu may be on his way back to China, this time with Guangdong.

The clock is nearing zero on the countdown to the start of the CBA regular season, which means among other things, all of the loose ends regarding foreign player spots are being tied up. To help you lace up your shoes and get ready for some Chinese hoops, we’re getting you on your feet quicker with some nice tidy updates (in bullet form, of course).

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals – Game 3

March 10, 2012

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Xinjiang – 102 @ Guangdong – 120

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Shanxi – 115 @ Beijing – 128

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals – Game 2

March 8, 2012

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Shanxi – 123 @ Beijing – 132

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Xinjiang – 92 @ Guangdong – 97

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals – Game 1

March 6, 2012

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Guangdong – 95 @ Xinjiang – 92

Different year, same Guangdong match-up… and unfortunately for Xinjiang, the same result.

The Flying Tigers failed to grab a key defensive rebound that would have given them the chance to take the lead with under a minute left, but their inablity to box out James Singleton, who grabbed two straight offensive rebounds in the game’s most important possession, cost them the win and likely the series.

Up 91-80 with about three minutes left in the game, Guangdong seemed to have a comfortable win in the books until Xinjiang roared back with a 12-2 run to cut the lead to one with 1:20 remaining. A Guangdong miss was Xinjiang’s for the taking, but Singleton tracked down the loose ball to give his team another shot. Another miss gave way to another opportunity for Xinjiang to come down with a defensive rebound, but Singleton again got his hands on the ball to give Guangdong yet another chance. Xinjiang intentionally fouled Zhu Fangyu, who calmly sank both shots to push the lead up to three. When Tim Pickett’s three-pointer came up empty, Guandong ran off the court knowing that two straight wins at home will punch their ticket for the CBA Finals.

Singleton, who frustrated his old team the whole night with his signature combination of athleticism and activity, finished the game with 12 points and 16 rebounds while holding Ike Diogu to a ho-hum 17 points and five rebounds. Wang Shipeng finished with a team high 23 points, Aaron Brooks had 21 and Zhu pitched in 14.

For Xinjiang, Pickett scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 45 minutes. Mengke Bateer ended up with 17 and 10, and Sun Weibo had 15.

With the loss on their home floor, Xinjiang now has to win a game in Guangdong to force the series back to Urumqi for a Game 4. That’s tough enough as is, but it looks like it’ll be even tougher after Xirelijiang re-injured the ankle that he sprained in Game 5 of Round One against DongGuan. If he the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship gold medalist can’t go, expect Sun Weibo to get the majority of his minutes off the bench.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Beijing – 119 @ Shanxi – 122

Marcus Williams was dominant in his first ever CBA semi-finals appearance, finishing with 40 points, seven rebounds and four assists, as Shanxi defended their home court to came away with a close three point victory against Beijing.

But for Shanxi, the game was probably closer than it had to be. With the Brave Dragons up five with less than half a minute left, the win looked all but locked up until Zhang Xuewen was called for a flagrant foul after he followed through with both arms to thwart Stephon Marbury’s breakaway layup attempt with 17 seconds left. The call was questionable, but Marbury hit both freebies to cut the lead to three and head coach Min Lulei called time-out to draw up the last play. Like in Game 1 against Guangsha in Round One, the ball was swung to an open Lee Hsueh-lin with the game on the line. But this time, Lee’s three-point attempt came up short and by the time the ball was done bouncing around the floor, Shanxi had escaped with the win.

Marbury finished with a playoff career high 42 points, most of which game in the fourth quarter when his scoring was needed most. Randolph Morris, had trouble keeping Charles Gaines off of the foul line, as did Ji Zhe and as a result, both fouled out midway through the final frame. Gaines finished with 25 points on 9-10 from the free-throw line and 18 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive end. Ren Junwei had a very active 14 points and 11 rebounds and was a key reason why Shanxi managed to outrebound their opponents by 21.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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Previewing the CBA Semi-Finals

March 4, 2012

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Both semi-finals match-ups are oozing with storylines, but none top Stephon Marbury’s Playoff return to the place where his China career got its start, Taiyuan, Shanxi. (Photo: cfp.cn)

Well, the age-old “There is no parity in the CBA” rule lived up to its rather boring reputation in the first round of the CBA playoffs… but, at least in our minds, that’s actually for the better it’s set up two very intriguing semi-finals that should be anything but yawn-inducing.

And really, “boring” isn’t exactly the right adjective to describe what we just saw in the first round. Sure, Guangdong and Beijing swept out their opponents with very little effort, but Shanxi-Shanghai went through four extremely entertaining games before the favorites eventually prevailed and Xinjiang-DongGuan went the entire five game distance to determine a winner. The latter is a rather impressive feat: Up until Friday’s do-or-die in Urumqi, there had only been three series in CBA history that went the full limit.

Hey, it might be slow progress towards some level of parity, but it’s progress nonetheless.

And to continue the slow, methodical movement forward in the league’s journey to build a competitive league, NiuBBall is coming out with our slow-to-come-out Final Four Preview with just minutes to spare before the two series kick off tonight. Let’s get to it.

#1 Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers vs. #4 Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers

Regular Season Series:
(12/25) Xinjiang – 92 @ Guangdong – 109
(2/10) Guangdong – 110 @ Xinjiang – 106 (OT)

How They Got Here:
#1 Guangdong over #8 Fujian, 3-0
#4 Xinjiang over #5 DongGuan, 3-2

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang
Game 2: Wednesday (3/7), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 3: Friday (3/9), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 4: Sunday (3/11), 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang (if necessary)
Game 5: Wednesday (3/14), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong (if necessary)

It’s not what we thought it was going to be, but we got it nonetheless: Yet another rematch between Guangdong and Xinjiang.

We all know how the story goes here — the Southern Tigers have beaten the Flying Tigers the last three years in the CBA Finals. Understandably frustrated, the Flying Tigers pulled out the big bucks this summer to upgrade their squad in almost every aspect. 11 games into the season, management decided that their main off-season acquisition, Chinese National Team head coach, Bob Donewald, wasn’t doing a good enough job and the team entered a period of upheaval that resulted in a string of losses before the team ultimately bounced back to clinch a #4 seed — their lowest playoff position in five years.

So although the teams are the same, the cast is quite different. Instead of James Singleton and Quincy Douby, Xinjiang’s rolling with a foreign combo of Kenyon Martin Gani Lawal Ike Diogu and Patty Mills Tim Pickett. Meng Duo and Tang Zhengdong are also new to the rivalry.

Yet despite all of the new faces, the result promises to be the same as its been in years past. Singleton, who left Urumqi for DongGuan during the off-season after the Xinjiang management deemed him spare parts, has blended perfectly with Guangdong’s National Teamers. And like every year, it’s those National Teamers that cause the biggest problems for their opponents. In addition to Wang Shipeng, who torched Xinjiang in the Finals last season, Guangdong also has a healthy Zhu Fangyu, who has enjoyed a bounce-back season after basically limping around the court in 2010-11. The two are essentially interchangeable depending on who’s hot on a given night and will be tough for the Xirelijiang-Xu Guochong-Meng Duo trio that Xinjiang will likely throw at them.

The biggest problem for Xinjiang though? Four years into this thing and they still just don’t match-up that well with their rival. Xinjiang’s size, their biggest advantage over all their other opponents, simply isn’t an advantage against Guangdong. Mengke Bateer struggled to push the immovable Su Wei around down low last year, and Tang Zhengdong didn’t fare much better in the two teams’ regular season match-ups this year. Guangdong also has another large man up their sleeve, Wang Zheng, who will throw himself around when Su Wei either gets tired or gets into foul trouble.

And then there’s Aaron Brooks — the only NBA-to-CBA player left in China currently — who is even more of a blur in this league than he is in the NBA. No matter who Xinjiang tries on him, Brooks will get into the lane and cause havoc.

If Guangdong wins tonight, and we think they will (which means they probably won’t), expect them to take care of business when they go back to Southern China to make this a quick, rather painless series.

Prediction: Guangdong in 3

#2 Beijing Shougang Ducks vs. #3 Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons

Regular Season Series:
(12/4) Shanxi – 97 @ Beijing – 121
(1/13) Beijing – 111 @ Shanxi – 114

How They Got Here:
#2 Beijing over #7 Guangsha, 3-0
#3 Shanxi over #6 Shanghai, 3-1

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi
Game 2: Wednesday (3/7), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 3: Friday (3/9), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 4: Sunday (3/11), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi (if necessary)
Game 5: Wednesday (3/14), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing (if necessary)

If it’s pretty easy to pick a winner in Guangdong-Xinjiang, it’s almost impossible to feel really good about a prediction in this one.

We’ll get to that prediction, but first let’s just break down everything that’s in play in this one. The biggest story obviously is Stephon Marbury’s return to his laodongjia of Taiyuan, the city where he started his CBA career in 2010. But where most other players would be hissed at for not coming back, Marbury is still loved by his old Brave Dragon fans and his Shanxi tour will be greeted very warmly, at least until the ball goes up. And even after that he may be cheered. Simply, it doesn’t get any better: Marbury, who has transformed Beijing from a barely-Playoff team into a legit contender, coming back to the team who let him go precisely because they thought he wasn’t capable of leading a top-tier squad… with a trip to the Finals on the line.

In the background rests what we think is just as big of a story, though: The individual match-up between the league’s two best foreigners, Marbury and Marcus Williams. Both went neck-and-neck for the NiuBBall MVP award during the regular season, and though the honor — yet to be officially handed out, we might add — is amongst the highest in the basketball world, we’re confident that both would rather take the chance to win a CBA title. With weaker Chinese teammates, Williams will have to be more dominant scoring the ball, but Marbury as he’s done all year will have to run the entire Beijing show before taking over offensively in the fourth.

The former of Steph’s responsibility is made easier by Beijing’s ability to space the floor, with bigs Zhu Yanxi and Ji Zhe capable of stepping out and letting it rain from distance. As is Williams’, who has the just-as-dominant Charles Gaines to shoulder to the statistical load. Shanxi’s notoriously off-and-on Duan Jiangpeng has been very on from three the last two games, and if he can keep up his shooting stroke it’ll help out with the pressures that Williams and Gaines have to live with every game.

But, Beijing is hitting their stride at the right time. Chen Lei and Lee Hsueh-lin (who will be doing pint-sized point-guard battle with Shanxi’s Lu Xiaoming, yet another interesting sub-plot) are finally healthy enough to take the court, and with Zhu Yanxi, Ji Zhe and Zhai Xiaochuan up front, Beijing has arguably five of the top seven Chinese players in the series. Add that to Randolph Morris, who like Gaines will get his while not playing a lick of defense, and Beijing should have the edge. Whatever the result, expect a lot of great games in a series that should be the fifth in CBA history to go the distance.

Prediction: Beijing in 5

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Round 1 – Game 5

March 4, 2012

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DongGuan – 88 @ Xinjiang – 109

After missing Wednesday’s Game 4 with an injury, Tim Pickett returned to rip apart DongGuan for 43 points and 15 rebounds as Xinjiang moved on to win do-or-die Game 5 in Urumqi. Xinjiang will face Guangdong for the fourth straight season, this time in the semi-finals.

After getting off to a slow start offensively with Ike Diogu on the floor, Xinjiang head coach, Jiang Xingquan, subbed Pickett in at the midway point in the first quarter and immediately the longtime CBA vet showed that his injury wasn’t going to affect his game, blowing by a DongGuan defender in transition for a lay-up. But, it was in the second quarter where Pickett made his mark, leading an 11-0 run that included a couple of deep threes. By halftime, the Flying Tigers had taken a 62-43 lead, and essentially the game.

For DongGuan, Josh Akognon scored a team-high 29 points, but his 1-12 shooting from the three-point line meant that the Leopards could never really get into a rhythm offensively. As a team, they finished the game 2-26 from the outside. Getting beat by 12 on on the offensive glass and turning the ball over 22 times didn’t help matters either. But for DongGuan, who are stocked with one of the most promising young rosters in the league, a Game 5 loss in Urumqi — arguably the toughest place to play in the CBA — the loss may just be a small bump in the road as head coach Brian Goorjian looks geared to build better things next season.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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NiuBBall Water Cooler/Heater: CBA Playoffs And More Wilson Chandler Shenanigans

March 1, 2012

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The NiuBBall water cooler/heater: Where you can chat with friends about hoops while sipping either hot or cold water.

This chat originally appeared on Shark Fin Hoops before last night’s pair of Game 4s were played.

After a brief break to take in the madness of the CBA postseason, Edward Bothfeld is back to survey the wreckage of Fujian and Guangsha’s seasons now that they have been knocked out of the playoffs, as well as giving his thoughts on Wilson Chandler’s acrimonious departure from Hangzhou.

Andrew Crawford: I think we should start by talking about the Guangdong-Fujian series?

Edward Bothfeld: Well it’s hard to be surprised that Guangdong won like they did. I thought Fujian would get a game, but without Abbas and Roberson, they were hopeless and weren’t going to have a chance versus a well-oiled, all-cylinders firing Guangdong team who are without doubt the team to beat.

AC: It does look kind of ominous. Guangdong’s big players are all heating up nicely- I noticed they were averaging 123 points a game in that series, which says a lot about how their offense is functioning right now. That said, we should probably doff our caps to Fujian, who’ve made the playoffs a year after finishing second from bottom in the CBA. If I’m Jiangsu, I want Zaid Abbas signed up for 2012/13 ASAP to try to have the same sort of recovery.

EB: His hustle is infectious. If you’re on his team and he’s on the court, you would feel guilty if you weren’t going at 100% because of the type of effort he puts in. He’ll be a welcome addition to any bottom dweller.

AC: Beijing Ducks swept a Wilson Chandler-less Guangsha Lions? I guess that can’t have been fun for you?

EB: The writing was on the wall really. It was a really difficult situation for the team and coaching staff after losing your best player in that fashion and at that time. They put in a good effort and showed a lot of heart in Game 1 but I think after losing that game, it was all downhill from there; Jin Lipeng struggles on the road, as do many of their other role players. Rodney White played hard and tried to show some leadership, which was good to see, but Stephon Marbury was too much.

AC: Yeah, that series looked pretty tricky but I think Guangsha got a lot of respect considering how they went down fighting. Obviously, Chandler’s gone but how much more personnel change do you think there’ll be at the club now that the season is done?

EB: I’ve been told that Ramos is still under contract, and the owner said the team will have a new import to pair with him for next season so it will be interesting to see who that is. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lipeng retires, whilst Jim Cleamons still doesn’t know if he’ll be back- although he doesn’t sound opposed to the idea. They need to make sure to develop Wang Zirui at the point and try to get some national team players in because Guangsha’s Chinese supporting cast just isn’t very good.

AC: We should also cast our eye to Xinjiang-Dongguan- any thoughts?

EB: Ike Diogu is certainly giving them some offense but Tim Pickett isn’t 100% healthy and he’s a very important part of that team. They were fortunate that Diogu caught fire to win Game 3 because Pickett only scored 10 points. If Dongguan can pull out Game 4, anything can happen in Game 5, although Xinjiang has experience on their side.

AC: Another live series is obviously my own Shanghai Sharks against the Shanxi Dragons. Every game has been really close so far and tonight’s game is a sell-out. How do you seen the series going?

EB: It will probably go down to the wire. I have always been a fan of Shanxi’s tandem of Gaines and Williams. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Shanghai force a Game 5 but I think that Shanxi is too strong with Williams’ ability to get to the foul line. He WILL get 30 a night but the same can’t be said about Landry. It’s harder for Shanghai to win.

AC: This is all true but Williams has looked tired. He always has the potential to go out and put up a triple-double but so far he hasn’t been himself. Obviously I don’t want to tempt fate for tonight but with Shanxi, everything goes through Williams- if he isn’t on fire, generally neithier are the Dragons. Also Liu Wei has been inspired this series- maybe he knows he isn’t going to have too many more trips to the playoffs, but he’s gone all out during the last few games.

EB: Well, now’s the time to go all out. This is the playoffs, you have leave it all on the table.

AC: We should probably talk about one man who certainly didn’t leave it on the table. As a Guangsha fan, I imagine you’re not impressed at Wilson Chandler’s no show at the crucial stage in the season?

EB: I can sort of understand his predicament; Thursday is the deadline for him to sign a long-term deal in the NBA- a deal that would set him up financially for the rest of his life so that’s one side of the situation but leaving the team at this stage in the season is kind of whack, especially now it’s being reported that he might sign in Italy. Should that happens, I would be disappointed because during the CBA season, he could put up 40-15 if he wanted to and that Guangsha Beijing series would be really competitive. If he signs in Italy it would be like he left China for nothing and the fact that he didn’t even get to say goodbye to his teammates or coach leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Overall, it’s a little crazy how it went down but would you expect anything less from the CBA?

AC: It also sounds like the CBA isn’t going to let Chandler just walk away and they are going to make life difficult for him [Edit: Chandler has since got his letter of clearance -AC].

EB: Guangsha’s season is over, so what else do they want?

AC: To me, it feels like they want to reclaim some face after the Kenyon Martin balls-up, but like you say, Guangsha’s season is done so I don’t know how they can make that work.. Its kind of weird to think that of all the big name guys that came over this season, only the craziest one in JR Smith saw out his contract.

EB: He finished it, but it was a rollercoaster of a ride- and to think he was fined $1 mil for not going to practices…

AC: Yeah, that’s a lot of money the Bulls have now got saved away in a jar for next season’s overseas recruiting drive. Alright man, its been great. Let’s try and do this again next week.

EB: For sure. Bye.

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Thursday Afternoon Tanghulu

March 1, 2012

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Sweetening up your afternoon with a stick of Beijing’s timeless sugar coated snack and some links…
  • For all you people trying to lose weight, forget South Beach and try some Northwest Desert: Since arriving in Xinjiang a couple of weeks ago, Ike Diogu says he’s lost 10 pounds. (H/T hoopCHINA)
  • Everyone knows that players from the NBA come to play China all the time, but it works just the opposite as well. After being out of the League last year, Gerald Green, who played for a bit this season in the CBA for Foshan, has been signed to a 10-day contract with the New Jersey Nets. Who he is replacing? Andre Emmett, the guy who holds the CBA’s all-time single game scoring record with 71 points. Emmett signed a 10-day of his own with the Nets a couple of weeks ago and was the feature of a great story in the New York Times about the pressures and frustrations that 10-day contracts can bring.
  • Alex Linder chats with Shanghai’s American import Mike Harris, who says the best player in the CBA is Marcus Williams. No argument there, though the real Harris question that’s been on our minds here at NiuBBall is: How many years has he been wearing those shoes?
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CBA Playoffs Recap: Round 1 – Game 4

March 1, 2012

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Shanxi – 121 @ Shanghai – 114

The Shanghai Sharks’ season is over following defeat to the visiting Shanxi Dragons in a thrilling 121-114 shoot-out. Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines came good in crunch time for the guests, who capitalized on Shanghai’s disorientation in the fourth quarter and will now advance to the next phase of the CBA playoffs.

When a three from Williams made it 100-89 to the visitors with a little over five minutes left on the clock, things looked grim for the Sharks, whose season looked to be fading away rapidly although Liu Wei wasn’t going to led the game slip away without a fight and his crisp bank shot gave him 30 points with four minutes left and the score at 105-98. Sensing the playoffs were within touching distance, the visitors then began running down the clock. Defiant cries of ‘lets go Shanghai’ rang out from out the Yuanshen but it was too late for the Sharks, who had to repeatedly send Shanxi to the line to try to get the ball back.

In the closing seconds, Mike Harris was sent to the bench after losing his cool with the referees (albeit to the sounds of an ovation from the home fans) before Liu fired home the final shot of the game but neither incident mattered to the final outcome of the game, which was now clearly out of reach for the home team. When the buzzer sounded, Shanxi quietly left the court to celebrate in their dressing room, leaving the Sharks to embark on their lap of honour now that the season was officially over. A visibly upset Liu acknowledged the applause from the crowd, as did Harris and Marcus Landry, who may well have played their final games for the Sharks.

Liu scored 32 points whilst Landry picked up 28 and Zhang got 18 in a gutsy, exhausting defeat. Shanxi will now play Beijing in the semi-finals thanks to the accuracy of Williams (35 points) and Duan Jiangpeng (22) and the brute force of Gaines (28 points, 22 rebounds).

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Xinjiang – 103 @ DongGuan – 111

Down 31-7 at one point in the first quarter, DongGuan somehow found a way to comeback and snatch a shocking win to send their series with Xinjiang back to Urumqi for a do-or-die Game 5 on Friday night.

Xinjiang’s Tim Pickett was out with an injury, but the team seemed poised to overcome the loss of their high scoring import by storming out to a 24-point lead in the first quarter. In need of a change, DongGuan head coach, Brian Goorjian, inserted Josh Akognon into the lineup, who quickly went on a one-man tear to cut the lead to 13 by the end of the quarter. DongGuan cut the lead to 10 by half before finishing the third once again down 13.

But in the fourth, Shavlik Randolph took over. Hitting a couple of huge threes to go along with several buckets around the hoop, the former Duke star help spur a run that saw the home squad take the lead midway through the quarter. With the floodgates completely open, the points kept on rolling and by the end of the game, DongGuan had outscored their opponents 40-19 in the final frame to take an eight point win.

Randolph finished with 26 points on 10-17 from the field, Akognon had 38 and Gu Quan had 15. For Xinjiang, Ike Diogu had 29 and seven, while Xirelijiang continued his strong offensive play with 29 points on 6-10 from three.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Round 1 – Games 2 and 3

February 27, 2012

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(2/24) Game 2: DongGuan – 82 @ Xinjiang – 93

Xirelijiang came up with one of the games of his life, scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in 45 minutes to help lead Xinjiang stave off a 0-2 deficit. In his second game in China, Ike Diogu looked much more comfortable shooting 12-19 from the field to finish with 29 points and nine boards. Tim Pickett added 12 and Mengke Bateer had 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: DongGuan – 115 @ Xinjiang – 121

With Tim Pickett feeling the effects of a hamstring injury that caused him to miss morning shootaround, Ike Diogu took the reigns and then some, pouring in 42 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to give Xinjiang a 2-1 series lead over DongGuan. Showing a well-rounded offensive game, Diogu displayed an array of spins, drives and post-ups to score while also showing his ability on the perimeter by splashing 4-7 from three. Mengke Bateer added a double-double of his own with 15-10 and Xirelijiang scored 24.

In a furious fourth quarter that saw both teams score 37 points, Josh Akognon did his best to try and will his team to a win. But his 42 points ultimately came up short as DongGuan could never get over the hump. Down 2-1 in the series, they’ll have to win the next one in Guangdong to keep themselves from crashing out of the post-season.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/24) Game 2: Shanghai – 95 @ Shanxi – 99

Despite a furious fight back in the final stages of the game, the Shanghai Sharks fell to their hosts, 99-95, meaning that Shanxi are now a game away from the playoff semi-finals. The Dragons owe tonight’s win to Charles Gaines, who emerged from the shadow of Marcus Williams to illustrate how important he was to Shanxi’s championship aspirations. The no-nonsense forward was a willing battering ram for the home side, who had to hold on for dear life in the dying seconds of the game whilst Shanghai, for the second successive game, just didn’t have the rub of the green that could have otherwise gifted them victory.

The middle stages of the game were controlled by Shanxi until, with barely two minutes left on the clock, Shanghai got themselves within a basket of tying the game and the Dragons were staying ahead of their guests only through some generous calls from the officials. The game went back and fourth until, with less than twenty seconds on the clock and Shanxi leading 96-95, Charles Gaines, who had been the Brave Dragons most dependable player, missed a set of free-throws and suddenly things got really chaotic. The Sharks, taking a time-out, restarted on the halfway line and whipped the ball over to Marcus Landry, who was creeping around by the Shanxi perimeter. With the game up for grabs, time seemed to stand still as the American’s shot hung in the air only to clip the front of the rim and bounce away to safety. Shanghai, desperate to get the ball back, fouled Pan Jiang and sent the guard to the free-throw line, where the Chinese converted his first attempt before scuffing the second one. Gaines, eager to finish the game on a high note, then acrobatically collected the rebound and whilst still in the air, forcefully jammed the ball home to the delight of the home crowd.

Gaines’ 31 points and 17 rebounds were critical in ensuring victory for the Dragons whilst his American team-mate, Williams, scored 28, and point guard Lu Xiaoming got 15. For the Sharks, Landry stood out with a fantastic 31 point haul whilst Harris picked up a 20 point, 10 rebound double-double as Shanghai came close to snatching victory but must now win the next game between the two sides or their season is over.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: Shanghai –  101 @ Shanxi – 99

There are big games, there are huge games and then there are games where you are two-nil down in a playoff series and come back to win in the final seconds having been down by almost twenty points down at half time. Tonight was in the third category and the result means that the Sharks will be taking Shanxi back to Shanghai for Game 4 of this topsy-turvy series following an absolutely HUGE second half that saw the visitors find themselves with their backs to the wall only to respond with a performance of the highest order

It would be well into the fourth quarter but the Sharks eventually reached daylight and from that point onwards, an increasingly nervy Brave Dragons side looked awestruck by what was going on around them. Though Charles Gaines was chipping in with lay-ups, Marcus Williams looked like he was in pain after an earlier collision with Meng Lingyuan. In the meantime, the Sharks had not only tied the game, but taken the lead when Marcus Landry coolly dispatched a three-pointer with less than a minute to go. Gaines dispatched a set of free-throws shortly afterwards but with less than twenty seconds left, the game was tied at 99-99 and the Sharks, with momentum on their side, had the ball.

The moment of truth was now upon the Sharks and having restarted on the halfway line after the obligatory time out, the Sharks dished the ball out to Landry, who let the clock run down for as long as he could before charging into the paint, drawing the foul and dispatching the two free-throws. 101-99, Shanghai. Following the Dragons’ own restart, Shanxi then implausibly chose to put the ball in the hands of Williams, who hadn’t looked like himself all night as opposed to the red-hot Duan Jianpeng, who had already buried eight shots from downtown. The American’s effort clipped the edge of the rim and then fell into the hands of Harris, who held it for the final second or two to confirm the Sharks’ improbable victory.

Landry scored 24 points, whilst Liu  Wei (23), Mike Harris (22), Zhang Zhaoxu (12) and Wang Yong (11) all made crucial scoring contributions to the Sharks’ last gasp victory. Despite, Duan’s game high haul of 36 points that included eight three-pointers, the Dragons must now come back to Shanghai for Game 4 of this series against a suddenly rejuvenated Sharks outfit.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

(2/24) Game 2: Guangsha – 87 @ Beijing – 104

Zhu Yanxi and Randolph Morris each scored a team-high 20 points and Stephon Marbury, Chen Lei and Zhai Xiaochuan all put down double-figures as the Ducks used a team effort to comfortably handle the visiting Lions in Game 2. 21 Lion turnovers contributed to the lopsided scoreline, six of which where commited by Wang Zirui.

Rodney White was better than his Game 1 performance with 23 points and 10 and P.J. Ramos had 22-10, but Guangsha’s Chinese players weren’t able to offer much in support.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: Guangsha – 91 @ Beijing – 105

After six years since their last appearance in semi-finals, Beijing is once again a Final Four squad. Beijing raced off to a big lead in the first quarter and gave it up in the second before putting the game away with a huge run in the third to sweep Guangsha out of the playoffs. Randolph Morris finished as the game’s high scorer with 31 points and Stephon Marbury had 24.

Starting Rodney White, Guangsha managed just 13 points in the game’s first frame and found themselves down 11 by quarter’s end. But with Ramos on the floor in the second quarter, Guangsha looked much more balanced and in control on offense, fighting back to take the lead heading into half-time. Beijing took the lead again in the third, but waited until midway through the quarter to make their big move. With the score at 60-55 with a little over six minutes to go, the Ducks stormed to a 20-11 run to make the score 80-66. They never looked back — now they’re looking forward to a semi-finals series against either Shanxi or Shanghai.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/24) Game 2: Fujian – 104 @ Guangdong – 116

Seven Southern Tigers scored double-figures as Guangdong used its familiar home court to take a commanding 2-0 lead against Fujian. Adding to Anthony Roberson’s injury that will keep him out for the remainder of this series, all-around defensive ace Zaid Abbas missed this one with an ankle. Will McDonald tried to carry the Sturgeons with 24 points and 17 rebounds, but this game was pretty much over before it started after Guangdong hung up 37 in the first quarter to take a 15 point lead into the second quarter. Aaron Brooks lead all Guangdong scorers with 23.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: Fujian – 106 @ Guangdong – 137

Guangdong picked up the brooms, scored 137 points and swept Fujian to an early vacation. The 137 points stands as the second most amount of points scored in the CBA this season. The only team who scored more this season was Jiangsu, who won 142-127 against Jilin on February 15th. (H/T hoopCHINA)

Down one heading into the locker room at halftime, Guangdong outscored their opponent by nine in the third and 24 in the fourth to get the big win. Injured, both Anthony Roberson and Zaid Abbas missed the game, which forced Will McDonald to deal with the four-time defending champs basically on his own. With all attention on him, he scored 13 points. Aaron Brooks finished with 31 points, James Singleton with 21 and Zhu Fangyu 25.

Guangdong awaits the winner of Xinjiang-DongGuan.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Round 1 – Game 1

February 24, 2012

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Beijing – 106 @ Guangsha – 103

For recap, check out Edward Bothfeld’s full report from Hangzhou.

Box Score

Shanxi – 90 @ Shanghai – 85

A wretched third quarter and some dire shooting from the free-throw line condemned Shanghai to a painful 90-85 home defeat in game one of their playoff series with the Shanxi Brave Dragons. The hard work now beckons for the Sharks, who must now go to the north of China and win at least one of the next two games in Taiyuan to remain in the playoffs. For the Brave Dragons, Marcus Williams made 37 points, Charles Gaines picked up a beefy 27 point, 19 rebound, double-double whilst Duan Jianpeng got 10. For Shanghai, Mike Harris scored 22 points whilst Zhang Zhaoxu got 18.

‘We executed out game plan, we kept the score in the range we wanted to keep it in but unfortunately we didn’t make our free-throws’, acknowledged Shanghai head coach, Dan Panaggio, at his press conference. Though acknowledging that his side could have won the game had they been more clinical when they went to the line, Panaggio also stressed the unique situations that come with postseason games. ‘This is playoff basketball, and if you look at the history of playoff basketball, statistics decrease during a playoff series’, he stated in response to a question about the team’s scoring in the second half. ‘Teams have a week to prepare for one team, not three teams in a week- you’re preparing for one. [Shanxi] know our personal and we know theirs’.

The Sharks’ coach also made it clear that his side were nowhere near out of the series after one game and that he fully believed in his players’ ability to rally back from tonight’s defeat. ’We’ve got ourselves in a tough spot but we’re going to go up [to Taiyuan] and battle’. Having underlined his own intensity and determination, now Panaggio’s players must do the same on Friday when the Dragons host Shanghai in game two of the series.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Xinjiang – 95 @ DongGuan – 101

Widely seen as a major underdog in their opening round series, DongGuan came away with an important Game 1 victory at home against Xinjiang.

After being dominated on the offensive glass in their Round 33 regular match-up in Urumqi, DongGuan limited Xinjiang to a small +3 advantage. The home squad also got pretty hot from downtown, hitting 13-28 from three as a team. Shavlik Randolph 31 points and 14 rebounds, Zhang Kai came up with 16 points and nine boards, and Josh Akognon put in 24.

Meanwhile, Xinjiang struggled to find a consistent rhythm playing their first game without Gani Lawal. The team shot just 39% from the field and came up with only 11 assists. Newcomer Ike Diogu scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in his CBA debut. Tim Pickett struggled to get going, scoring 19 points on 6-22 shooting, while Mengke Bateer had 18 and 11.

The series will move back to Xinjiang tonight, where the Flying Tigers have only lost twice all season.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Guangdong – 115 @ Fujian – 97

Without the injured Anthony Roberson, Fujian was no match for Guangdong, who turned up the intensity to record an easy blowout victory. Wang Shipeng, who has largely been in hibernation for most of the winter, came out of his cave for team-high 24 points. Aaron Brooks came up with 22 points and eight assists, and Zhou Peng had 18 points.

For Fujian, Will McDonald did his best, playing a full 48 minutes for 33 points and six rebounds. Zhao Tailong had 25 points.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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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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Guangsha, Xinjiang shake up their import Playoff rosters

February 22, 2012

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After Guangsha allowed Wilson Chandler to return to the United States, the familiar Rodney White has been brought back to suit up for the team’s post-season run.

Edward Bothfeld also contributed to this story.

Zhejiang Guangsha, who played the entire regular season with Wilson Chandler, will now have to play the entire post-season without him after both sides agreed to let him return to the United States to negotiate his next NBA contract after he helped the team secure a Playoff berth. Chandler is already back in the U.S., where he is reportedly in discussions over a long-term deal with the Denver Nuggets.

Guangsha has signed Rodney White as his replacement.

Guangsha opted to bring in White because of his familiarity with the team and with the CBA.

White played for three seasons with the Lions from 2007-10 before playing for Shandong Kingston last year. In his last season for the Lions in 2009-2010,  he averaged 27 points and nine rebounds, leading them to the second round of the playoffs. He also has experience playing with Guangsha’s holdovers from that season, most notably P.J. Ramos, Lin Chih-chieh, and Jin Lipeng, all of whom are core players this season.

That said, White should fit into Chandler’s role better than any other options that were on the market. White had been playing for Anyang KGC in South Korea before getting injured, and arrived Sunday morning in Hangzhou in decent shape. If he can buy into Coach Jim Cleamons game plan, Guangsha will have a puncher’s chance against Beijing in the first round of the playoffs, which begin Wednesday.

In 29 games last season for Shandong, White averaged 22.4 points,8.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals.

Guangsha head coach, Jim Cleamons, who spoke to NiuBBall’s Edward Bothfled, welcomes his addition.

“Rodney is going to do well for us. [Wilson and Rodney] are not the same player, but they have similar characteristics. He’s not going to be the ball handler in the open court that Wilson is. Rodney’s been a successful player in this league for a few years and he has playoff experience.”

As for Chandler’s departure, there is some level of disappointment that he is gone, but most people within the Guangsha organization understand his position. “I’m very happy for him. I think he did what we asked him to do. He came over and played hard. He improved his skills so I think it was a good experience for him,” said Cleamons.

Cleamons himself did not learn that Chandler had been granted his release until the night it happened. Along with the rest of the Lions team, he was unable to say goodbye to Chandler before he left.

Still, his teammates understand Chandler’s situation, “I think they wish him well. If the shoe was on their foot and they had the opportunities that Wilson is going to have, they would wish him well,” added Cleamons, “ From a business perspective, they would understand. The timing could be better. It is what it is.”

Meanwhile, three-time Finals runners-up, Xinjiang Guanghui, is also making a change — again. Yesterday, the team officially announced that they have brought in former NBA lottery pick, Ike Diogu to replace Gani Lawal. It marks the fifth time this season that Xinjiang has brought in a new foreigner this season.

Lawal, who came in mid-season to replace Kenyon Martin, averaged 18.4 points and 12.3 rebounds on 61.2% shooting over 17 games. During that stretch, the team went 11-6 and climbed up the standings from tenth place all the way into fourth.

Though Lawal came in and was more than serviceable, and at times even dominant, especially on the glass, Xinjiang team management felt they needed to add more offense on their front line. With Mengke Bateer and Tang Zhengdong having struggled with their offensive consistency all year, the team felt they needed somebody who provide a a more diverse scoring threat.

Diogu comes into his first stint in China at a high-pressure time when Xinjiang is gearing up for their annual run deep into the playoffs. After not playing any professional basketball during the NBA lockout, Diogu was signed by the San Antonio Spurs on January 3rd, but was released one week later. With management’s notoriously sky high expectations for their import players, the heat will be on Diogu to step in and immediately perform at a high level.

It’s not uncommon for teams to replace foreign players right before the playoffs. Last year, Beijing swapped Joe Crawford out for Orien Greene, and DongGuan replaced the injured Jackon Vroman for Courtney Sims. Beijing’s move to bring in Greene backfired, however, as FIBA elected to extend a two-year suspension that was originally handed down in March 2009.

The 2012 CBA Playoffs start tonight with #4 Xinjiang going on the road to play #5 DongGuan, while #7 Guangsha will host #2 Beijing in Game One of the best-of-five first round.

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2011-2012 CBA Preview

November 20, 2011

8 Comments


J.R. Smith is just one of many reasons why people are more excited than ever to watch the CBA this season.

Technically, the 2011-12 regular season started tonight. Paced by Othello Hunter’s 11 points and 21 rebounds The visiting Shandong Golden Bulls took out the Foshan Dralions in front of a national audience, 93-79.

Normally, that’d take some of the shine off of fresh off the press 2011-12 CBA preview. Thing is though, this preview is anything but normal.

For your viewing pleasure, we’re not only previewing every single team for the new season, we’re putting in a power rankings, too. Yeah — there’s almost 6,000 English words on Chinese basketball in this beast. We don’t want to toot our own horns or anything, but we think that’s got to be a record.

Read it all at once right now, print it out and take it on the go, or break it all up into easy to manage blocks. And as always, if you have any questions, hit up the comments.

Throughout the season, we’ll be updating the power rankings, probably every Monday.

Note: *Indicates an import who is playing his first season in the CBA.

1. Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers
2010-11 record: 25-7 (2nd place, won CBA Championship)
Head Coach: Li Chunjiang (5th year)
Imports: James Singleton, Aaron Brooks*

Rule number one of NiuBBall Chinese Basketball Association power rankings: The champs are put at the top at the beginning of the year — no matter what other teams with Tigers for mascots have done in the off-season.

So like they would have been for the past four years, Guangdong starts the season in pole position. And that decision isn’t solely based on the fact that their reigning champs. As it stands right now, they’re also a lot more talented than they were last year, primarily thanks to an ongoing labor dispute in America.

No team has benefited more from the NBA lockout than Guangdong, who have bolstered their already championship-caliber roster with not one but two players who played in the League last season.

Both will be very familiar to China. After spending five years in the States, Yi Jianlian, has returned to his hometown squad that raised him from youth. Having clearly emerged as the leader of the post-Yao Team China setup at the FIBA Asia Championship this summer in Wuhan, Yi returns to China playing perhaps the best ball of his career. Unlike other NBA-to-CBA hoopers, Ah Lian has a special out-clause that will allow him a free passage back to America if/when the lockout ends.

Joining him will be another lockout casualty, Aaron Brooks, who according to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reportedly committed to joining Guangdong cause.

But, wait! There’s more recognizable faces heading to southern China — after helping Guangdong overcome Xinjiang in six games in the Finals, the team says goodbye to both Lester Hudson and Marcus Haislip, and hello to the guy they were game-planning against, James Singleton. A rugged player whose willing to sacrifice his own numbers for wins, Singleton will be a good fit next to Guangdong’s prolific roster. Besides making for good basketball, his move down south also adds an extra element to the Xinjiang-Guangdong rivalry, which in our eyes is the best in CBA history.

You should know the rest of the roster by now: Wang Shipeng, Zhu Fangyu, Zhou Peng and Su Wei comprise the team’s core of National Teamers that give them the match-up edge against virtually every team in the league.

If there’s any bones to pick against Guangdong this year, its that there may be too much talent. How a low-percentage chucker like Brooks will mesh with China’s laoda, Yi, and the team’s other Chinese players is a question that is on our minds heading into the season. Brooks will have his 40 point games, but as Guangdong has built its championship formula around its Chinese players, is he really what the team needs?

In any case, just mark Guangdong as a lock to be back in the Finals this year. As to who they’ll face, well that’s pretty much a lock, too…

Jon Pastuszek

2. Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers
2010-11 record: 31-1 (1st place, lost in Finals to Guangdong)
Head Coach: Bob Donewald Jr. (3rd year)
Imports: Kenyon Martin*, Quincy Douby**

What do you do if you’re a basketball-infatuated billionaire owner who’s team has lost in the Finals the last three years in a row? You spend close to USD $10 million in the summer to make sure that losing streak doesn’t become four in a row.

How do you spend 10 mil in the Chinese Basketball Association, you ask? You start by bringing in the head coach of the Chinese National Team and noted CBA miracle worker, Bob Donewald Jr.

What could have been: Douby and K-Mart chat during practice pre-Douby wrist-break.

Donewald, who rose to the top of Team China after leading the Yao Ming-owned Shanghai Sharks from the depths of bankruptcy to a magical semi-finals run in 2009, will now be aiming to rise to the top of the CBA in Urumqi, where expectations reside somewhere between championship and championship. If you don’t believe that, think about the guy who he replaces, Jiang Xingquan; he only went 31-1 last regular season. Having spent all this money, there is no room for failure now.

If there’s anyone who’s up for the task though, its Donewald, who had to deal with the “win, or else” pressure that was placed upon him this summer in Wuhan, and media firestorm that came with it. The regular season is just a prelude to a Finals match-up against Guangdong, and the team’s result in that series will determine the success of the season.

Coaches need players to coach, though. And good thing for Donewald, Xinjiang added some good ones. Former NBA number one overall pick, Kenyon Martin, was signed in September to the richest contract in franchise history. He may not score 30 a night, but he won’t need to either — unleashing K-Mart inside an arena near you will be more than enough to deter opponents from even venturing into the lane. Simply China has never seen that type of defensive intensity. While J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler will be making headlines for their offensive outbursts, expect Martin to make his mark on the winning end of the court, the defensive side.

Xinjiang also added three domestic players who will play a large role in determining the result of this season. Former three-time MVP, Tang Zhengdong, who’s been wanting to get out Jiangsu since forever, finally got his wish. Though not what he once was when he was with Jiangsu back in the mid-2000s, he’ll be a load for opposing second units to handle when he subs in for current three-time reigning MVP, Mengke Bateer.

Chao Yonggang, a sharp shooting small forward who played with Foshan last year, was also signed for a large transfer fee. The team has big expectations for him: He’s been playing as a starter during pre-season games. China U-23 Olympic Team member, Meng Duo, who has been with DongGuan New Century since his teenage years, has been brought over on a two-year loan. A six-foot guard, Meng is an athletic and capable player who will be relied upon to provide scoring off the bench.

Keep in mind, though: This is a team that lost one game last regular season. There’s still a lot of veteran talent on this team. Bateer is the best Chinese big man in the league and will continue to be a rock inside for the Flying Tigers. Local product, 20 year-old Xirelijiang, spent the entire summer under Donewald with the National Team and looks primed to improve on last year’s promising campaign. The Mai Brothers combo will be short one after Maiwulan went to Foshan via the short-term transfer draft, but Maierdan will be back to smash heads/get called for moving screens under the basket.

There is bad news, though. Xinjiang’s title hopes took a hit when arguably the best import in league history, Quincy Douby, suffered a broken left wrist during a pre-season match last Sunday. Douby has already returned to the States and undergone surgery and it appears that the team is looking at other options to replace him.

Whether they choose to wait it out until he’s healthy or they go with a replacement player right away, Xinjiang will have a healthy and supremely talented import guard at the end of the year to play alongside K-Mart, Bateer and sons. So start getting ready now for Guangdong – Xinjiang, part III.

Jon Pastuszek

3. Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls

2010-11 record: 18-14 (6th place, lost to DongGuan in first round)
Head Coach: Ding Wei (2nd year)
Imports: J.R. Smith*, Josh Boone

Based in the sock capital of the world, Yiwu, the Golden Bulls enjoyed moderate success last season with Marcus Williams and Josh Boone as the focal points of the team. They got off to a slow 2-7 start with Mike James, but finished the year 17-6 once Marcus Williams came over as a replacement. Williams’ dominance ended in the playoffs though, and with it so did Chouzhou’s run as they suffered a disappointing first round playoff sweep at the hands of Jiangsu.

During the off-season, Chouzhou let go of Marcus Williams and made what might be the biggest acquisition in the CBA by signing former Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith. If Marcus Williams could average nearly 30 points a game for Chouzhou, the sky is the limit for Smith, who is one of the best pure scorers in the world. He possesses unbelievable range on his beautiful jump shot and has incredible athleticism that allows him to finish above the rim. With the Nuggets, he was relegated to the sixth man role due to the presence of Carmelo Anthony and his head-scratching shot selection. This won’t be the case with Chouzhou, where he will have the green light as the first, second, and third option.

Alongside Smith will be veteran big man Josh Boone, who is be entering his second season with the Cyclones. Boone is an athletic shot blocker who lacks a refined offensive game. He scores most of his points off of put-backs and broken plays. With J.R. Smith commanding so much defensive attention, Boone should enjoy a productive season on the offensive end. Ding Jinhui has been a National Team regular since Donewald took the reigns for his non-stop motor, and he’s one of the better Chinese forwards in the league.  The Golden Bulls’ success rests on the shoulders of Smith and Boone; if they can get their role players involved, the victories should add up.

Edward Bothfeld

4. Jiangsu Nangang Dragons

2010-11 record: 19-12 (4th place, lost to Xinjiang in semi-finals)
Head Coach: Xu Qiang (13th year)
Imports: Dan Gadzuric*, Luther Head*

The Jiangsu Nangang Dragons are coming off another successful season in which they finished with the fourth best regular season record and an appearance in the semi-finals. With three returning starters and two new imports, the Dragons have a good chance of replicating last year’s success.

Jiangsu's Yi Li took a big step forward this summer with his strong performance for the National Team at the FIBA Asia Championship.

Although he may still be fighting jetlag during the home opener, Luther Head is a capable combo guard who might excel in the CBA’s style of play. He is mostly known for his shooting abilities, but if Head can find some success driving to the hoop and keep defenders honest, he could be in for a big season. While Head makes plays on the perimeter, nine-year NBA veteran Dan Gadzuric will be doing dirty work in the paint. Known for his defensive presence and ability to run the floor, Gadzuric is limited on offense, where he has difficulty creating for himself.

Even with the loss of their force in the middle, three-time CBA MVP, Tang Zhengdong, who was sold to Xinjiang, Jiangsu still has the solid core of Chinese players that have made Jiangsu a perennial threat. The spindly Yi Li, who had a strong showing for the National Team as their sixth man at the Asia Championship this summer, will be asked to play a more prominent role now that Tang is gone. Fan favorite Hu Xuefeng will continue to be ageless at the point guard position and Meng Da, though also getting up there in age, should average double figures in scoring once again.

The culture of winning cannot be understated, and NiuBBall believes Jiangsu will be heading back to playoffs for a ninth straight year.

Edward Bothfeld and Jon Pastuszek

5. Zhejiang Guangsha Lions
2010-11 record: 18-14 (6th place, lost to DongGuan in first round)
Head Coach: Jim Cleamons (1st year)
Imports: Wilson Chandler*, Dwyane Jones 

Hangzhou is home to the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions, a usually mediocre team that annually flirts with being among the CBA’s elite. For the past three seasons, the team has revolved around big man P.J. Ramos, otherwise known as “The Puerto Rican King” (at least that’s what the large tattoo on his wrist says). Ramos enjoyed some success with Guangsha, but after finishing last year with an 18-14 record and a first round playoff exit, the club’s management decided to make drastic changes, and during the off-season they overhauled their roster and coaching staff in an attempt to permanently join the upper-echelon of teams.

In comes Coach Jim Cleamons, who is by far the most experienced and heralded NBA coach in the CBA. He has spent the majority of his coaching career as an assistant in the league under Phil Jackson. He has over a decade of experience teaching some of the most talented players of all time – Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. In his basketball career, he has won a staggering ten championships – ten as a coach and one as a player. Guangsha is hoping Cleamons’ leadership and addiction to winning will transform the Lions into a championship contender.

However, a coach cannot win games by himself. Fortunately for Cleamons, Guangsha was also able to sign Wilson Chandler. Standing at a broad 6-8 (208 cm), Chandler has spent his NBA career with the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets. He possesses a unique skill-set with his ability to shoot from long range and use his size to score inside, thus making him difficult to defend. Look for Cleamons to make Chandler the focal point of the team, and for him to average around thirty points a game.

During training camp, the Lions suffered a significant setback. To complement Chandler, they had recruited fellow NBA star, Earl Clark. After arriving in Hangzhou, Clark received the wonderful news that his girlfriend was pregnant and understandably returned home. With Clark gone, Guangsha turned to former NBA player, Dwayne Jones. While he is not nearly as talented as Clark, he is tall (211 cm), has already spent a year playing professionally in China for Foshan, and is a capable post defender and rebounder.

Expectations are high, but with Chandler filling up the box score, Jones doing the dirty work, a talented supporting cast led by Taiwanese National Lin Chih-Chieh, and Jim Cleamons roaming the sidelines, the Lions should be in for a successful and winning season.

Edward Bothfeld

6. Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons

2010-11 record: 15-17 (9th place)
Head Coach: Yang Xuezeng (2nd year)
Imports: Marcus Williams, Charles Gaines

As Jim Yardley’s new book on Shanxi will tell us when it his stores in February next year, it’s probably pretty stupid to bet on a team that is owned by a raging lunatic. Still, there’s enough talent here — both American and Chinese — to convince us that this team can overcome that to make the playoffs.

Let’s start with the U.S. guys. After trying to sign Kobe Bryant to a one-month deal before the CBA squashed that idea, Shanxi made two sound decisions in the import market by signing China old-hands Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines. Williams made everyone look really stupid for passing him up at the beginning of the year when he came over to Zhejiang Chouzhou mid-season as a replacement for Mike James. His one man band show that culminated with four straight triple-doubles to end the regular season, parading the Golden Bulls to a playoff birth, and an appearance on the NiuBBall.com All-CBA First Team. Boasting the best all-around game in China, there’s no reason for us to believe he shouldn’t be there again this year.

Gaines is no slouch either. Two years ago for Xinjiang, he averaged over 30 points a game, and last year he led the league with 33.7 per contest on top of 13.5 rebounds. Yet, he remains most famous for slapping the eff out of Du Feng in the 2010 CBA Finals. And probably rightfully so. But Gaines, who was also a NiuBBall.com First Teamer last year, in combination with Williams will probably be famous this season because he’ll be part of one of the most potent import duos in the league this year.

On the Chinese side, swingman Duan Jiangpeng is coming off a strong summer that saw him suit up for the China Under-23 Olympic Team before earning a brief call-up to the Senior National Team. His Brave Dragon teammate, Zhang Xuewen, also averaged double-figures for the Brave Dragons last year and is another young piece expected to help the playoff cause.

If there is one weakness with this team — besides their bumbling mad owner — it’s that this team lacks a point-guard. Williams, who excels when the ball is in his hands, may be enough to compensate for that though. This is a team with a ton of talent and they should make the playoffs, despite an owner that made the late George Steinbrenner seem like Abe Polin.

Jon Pastuszek

7. Liaoning Jiebao Innovators

2010-11 record: 14-18 (10th place)
Head coach: Guo Shiqiang (6th year)
Imports: Rodney Carney, Josh Powell

The normally relevant Liaoning PanPan Dinosaurs were anything but last season, finishing with an unimpressive 14-18 record. Their struggles could be mainly attributed to the poor play from any of the four imports they put on the court during the year, Donta Smith, Anthony Myles, Myles McKay and Chris Richard.

This season, however, could be different. In fact, it’s already different — at least in name. Provincially-owned Liaoning dropped their longtime shareholder sponsor, PanPan Doors, turned around and bought the club themselves. Once dubbed the PanPan Dinosaurs, Liaoning is now the Jiebao (a car company)… Innovators? The name of the team in Chinese is 前瞻, which according to nciku.com means “to look ahead; to forecast.” I don’t think the Liaoning Weathermen sounds very good, so I went with “innovators.” That is very likely 100% wrong. If you know their name in English — if they have one — holler at us in the comments.

It also could be different, because Liaoning looks pretty darn good on paper. Overpowering every other storyline is the return of guard Zhang Qingpeng, who is back after a one-year loan to Xinjiang. A common sight on Team China a few years ago, Zhang has fallen out of favor with Donewald’s National Team. But he’s on the short list of top Chinese guards in the league, and his accuracy from the outside will be a big boost for the team this year.

Former L.A. Laker and two-time NBA champion, Josh Powell, and NBA journeyman Rodney Carney have joined the Hunters. Together, they are hoping to kick start a Liaoning revival (they were finalists in 2008). With poor ball-handling skills, Carney is reliant on his leaping ability and athleticism on the offensive end. The game needs to be played at a frenetic pace for him to be effective. While Powell has size – 6’9 and 240 lbs — he isn’t a banger and gets most of his buckets on midrange jumpers.

Up front, Liaoning can play with anyone. 6-9 power forward Li Xiaoxu played at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey. 7-1 Han Dejun, participated in all-you-can-eat pork dumplings competition in Liaoning last year. OK that’s a joke, but the 300+ pound puffer can play a little bit, even if his body weight only allows him to play in short bursts.

If the Innovators can get consistent play from youngster Guo Ailun, one of China’s best prospects at the point-guard position, they’re headed back to the post-season.

Edward Bothfeld and Jon Pastuszek

8. Beijing Shougang Ducks

2010-11 record: 16-16 (8th place)
Head Coach: Min Lulei (14th year)
Imports: Stephon Marbury, Randolph Morris

Like NiuBBall, Starbury is way down with Beijing and Niu Bi.

Stephon Marbury says he’s been happy in China since signing with Shanxi in 2010. That’s impressive given who he’s played for and the cities he’s called home the last two seasons, Taiyuan, Shanxi and Foshan, Guangdong.

Now in Beijing for his third season, Marbury, who had his own feature in China Daily two days ago, is even happier.

Ducks fans should be happier, too. China likes themeslves some Marbury, but it seems that Beijing, who has taken to the Coney Islander with even more reverence, likes him the most. And that was before he officially signed for them in the off-season.

Partered up with Randolph Morris, who put up huge numbers for the Ducks last year, fans are going to like what they see at Shougang Arena this season. Neither have ever played in China with a better import, and seeing how both of them were pretty good on their own last year, logic would suggest that they’ll be pretty good together.

The one concern for Beijing this year is the loss of their Asian import, Zaid Abbas. The tireless forward ran circles around opponents last year rebounding, defending and picking up garbage points. Because there are no rules that restrict Asian import players’ playing time, Abbas is one of the most valuable players in the league and Beijing will definitely miss him.

But, is the loss of Abbas really going to affect the Ducks that much? After all, Beijing snuck into the eight spot last season, despite playing a good portion of the year with only one American. (Steve Francis, that was totally on you, man.) Pint-sized Taiwanese point-guard, Lee Hsueh-lin, likes to push the pace and find open teammates, and him and Marbury will be sharing the same backcourt most of the time. Forward Chen Lei is a good all-around player, and “The Journalist,” Ji Zhe, is a big man who can stretch defenses out with his outside shooting.

I think Abbas’ departure is a big blow, but with two Americans playing alongside what basically amounts to the same roster as last season, the Ducks will be in the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Jon Pastuszek

9. Jilin GBT Northeast Tigers

2010-11 record: 12-20 (13th place)
Head coach: Wang Han
Imports: Cartier Martin*, Jameel Watkins, Osama Dahglas (Asian import)

Unlike our good friend Guan Weijia over at Sheridan Hoops, I’m not hopping on the Jilin post-season express right now. But, get back to me in a few weeks and see what I say then, because Jilin definitely has a ton of potential.

Why? The Northeast Tigers are simply loaded in the backcourt with Dahglas, Martin and Yu Shulong, who has spent considerable time with the National Team over the last two summers. Dahglas, who starts at point for the Jordanian National Team, played well for Shanxi last year. With Daghlas, you know what you’re getting — a good playmaker at the point-guard position who is looking to get in the lane and dish to teammates. But he’s not much of a scorer and that’s where Martin will come in. He didn’t get too much run for them, but some people liked him when he was with the Wizards and he should have a big year scoring the ball in this league.

Up front, Jameel Watkins comes back for his second season with Jilin and his fourth overall in the CBA. The 34 year-old isn’t going to put the ball in the hoop too much, but he protects the paint well and rebounds the ball. With Martin doing most of the scoring, they won’t need him to do much else. Zhong Cheng played with the Chinese U-23 Team this summer.

Since the Asian import rule was implemented in 2009, one team has gone from bottom four to the playoffs each season. Of all the teams who qualify for an extra foreigner, Jilin has the best chance to be the third.

Jon Pastuszek

10. Bayi Fubang Rockets

2010-11 record: 17-15 (7th place)
Head Coach: Adijiang (10th year)
Imports: None

You probably know them as the guys who went WWF on the Georgetown Hoyas last August in Beijing. But, in China, they’re mainly known as the team that always wins. If the NiuBBall prophecy is indeed true, however, and the Bayi Rockets do miss the playoffs this year, it will end a 50+ year reign of dominance over Chinese basketball.

Like many people, including a growing number of Chinese, we won’t be needing any tissues when it happens.

Protectors of the old guard, Bayi is primed to miss the playoffs for the first time since the CBA was founded in 1996. Like always, the team that represents the People’s Liberation Army is devoid of any foreigners and will go into battle with a roster comprised entirely of Chinese players. Most famous, of course, is Wang Zhizhi, who will creak into his 15th professional basketball season, his 12th in CBA. The spindly left-hander is running on his last legs — the 2012 London Olympics will be his last international competition for China — and though he’s still capable of throwing up 20-30 points in a game, his best days are way behind him.

That’s not a good thing for the Rockets, who have rode Wang to eight championships since he made his debut in 1995-96. While all solid in their own right, Mo Ke, Zhang Bo and Wang Lei aren’t centerpieces, which means once again the burden will be placed on an aging center who’s played year-round for 15 straight years.

With their superior height advantages all over the court, Bayi will present match-up problems against smaller teams. And like every year, they’ll still get great whistles at home, even when they’re playing bad. Bayi could sneak into the playoffs — especially if the CBA decides that the league still needs soldiers playing under the bright lights — but, I think this is the end of the road for the Rockets as we know them.

Jon Pastuszek

11. DongGuan New Century Leopards
2010-11 record: 25-7 (3rd place)
Head coach: Brian Goorjian (2nd year)
Imports: Josh Akognon, Shavlik Randolph*

The CBA is rarely surprising, which is why DongGuan was such a refreshing team to watch last season. Put under the control of longtime Australian National Team head coach, Brian Goorjian, DongGuan exceeded all pre-season expectations to go 25-7 in the regular season. Goorjian arrived in the spring right after the 2009-10 season and went straight to work on improving the team’s defense. Centering both the offense and defense around Jackson Vroman, whose mobility, passing and versatility made him a organizer and facilitator on both ends, and leaning on Nigerian-American, Josh Akognon, to light the scoreboard from three point-line, the Leopards were able to overcome a young and inexperienced roster to go all the way to the semi-finals, where they lost to eventual champion, Guangdong.

Thing is though, maybe they could have done better. Jackson went down with a fractured hand just before the playoffs and with it, so did DongGuan’s fairy tale season. Was it always unlikely that they were going to beat their DongGuan neighbors? Yes, but it would have been a much more competitive series.

This year, Goorjian is back, but Jackson has left for the Korean Basketball League. Akognon, who took more threes than anyone last year, is also back for another season. He’ll be joined by Shavlik Randolph, has been in-and-out of the NBA the last five years since leaving early from Duke in 2005.

With Goorjian, one of the best coaches in Asia, DongGuan will always be well prepared and will thus win games against teams with more talent. Last year, veterans Zhang Kai and Qiu Biao played arguably the best basketball of their career under him. But, what was already a young team got even younger with the departure of Meng Duo, who went to Xinjiang. Goorjian himself has said that this season is more about the development of DongGuan’s set of promising youngsters Li Muhao, Gu Quan and Sun Tonglin, and not so much about wins.

They’ll take a step backward with the loss of Vroman. But, with Goorjian still at the helm, DongGuan will never be an easy game for opponents and they may even sneak into the playoffs, despite their step back in talent from last year.

Jon Pastuszek

12. Fujian SBS Sturgeons
2010-11 record: 8-24 (16th place)
Head Coach: Joseph Stiebing (1st year)
Imports: Will McDonald, Anthony Roberson*, Zaid Abbas (Asian import)

Zaid Abbas has turned around both Shanghai and Beijing in the two years he's played in the CBA.

The Sturgeons will be happy with any improvements after a pathetic 8-24 record during the 2011 season. As a cellar dweller (bottom four teams), they were eligible to find a third Asian foreign import. Jordan National Zaid Abbas, who is no stranger to turning teams around, will serve as their third import alongside Anthony Roberson and Will McDonald. This will be Abbas’ third stint as the third import for struggling teams, but his previous two teams, Shanghai and Beijing, both improved dramatically with his addition. He doesn’t have a single skill that stands out, but his scrappy play and hustle are infectious.

If Fujian has any hope for a winning season, Abbas will need some help from Anthony Roberson and Will McDonald, who are probably among the least known imports in the CBA. Roberson is a streaky, shoot-first point guard who has occasional lapses on the defensive end. The 32 year-old McDonald has spent the majority of his career playing in Europe and will struggle against the likes of Josh Boone, Randolph Morris, and Kenyon Martin.

Edward Bothfeld 

13. Shandong Kingston Golden Lions
2010-11 record: 14-18 (11th place)
Head Coach: Gong Xiaobin (8th year)
Imports: Alan Anderson*, Othello Hunter*

Last year, Shandong replaced their longtime head coach, Gong Xiaobin, with Bob Weiss, who had coached Shanxi the year before and the Seattle Supersonics before that. Keeping it going with American CBA veterans, Shandong then went with two imports with China experience, Myron Allen and Rodney White.

The end result was not what they were hoping for: 14-18, 11th place.

This season, Shandong is going back with Gong on the bench, but they’re treading in uncharted import territory. Michigan State product, guard Alan Anderson, will mark the beginning of his Chinese career this year, as will power forward, Othello Hunter. Anderson has an impressive resume that includes stints the Charlotte Bobcats, FC Barcelona and Macabbi Tel Aviv. Hunter spent two years with the Atlanta Hawks from 2008-10. Last year he played for Dinamo Basket Sassari in Italy.

The rest we know: Sun Jie is thwacking threes and losing his hair, Sui Ran is flopping all over the place and pissing people off in between the occasional nice drive to the rack, and Ding Yanyuhang is a promising player with a really long name.

Behind Anderson, who I think will do well here, Shandong could be a dangerous match-up against the CBA’s middling teams. But, a lack of dependable Chinese to flank him will once again hold the Golden Lions back from a playoff spot.

Jon Pastuszek

14. Qingdao Double Star Eagles
2010-11 record: 10-22 (15th place)
Head Coach: Zhang Zhengxiu (2nd year)
Imports: Lester Hudson, Peter John Ramos, Sakakini Sani* (Asian import)

Qingdao recovered from their silly initial decision to sign Jarron Collins by first cutting him, and then signing combo guard Lester Hudson. Ike Diogu was on the radar at one point, but the team ultimately settled on 7-3 monster Peter John Ramos, who has spent the last three years with Zhejiang Guangsha.

If the Eagles can get a good big who can score to place alongisde Hudson, then I kind of like this team. Especially when the team’s Asian import, Jordanian forward Sakakini Sani, who played well in China’s second-tier professional league, the National Basketball League, this summer. Though not incredibly skilled, the 6-8 Sani has a big frame which he frequently uses to move bodies under the basket. He’s not on the level of Abbas, but he should have a solid year here playing as many minutes as his coach wants him to.

One cool thing about this team is that their head coach is Korean and the only non-American foreign coach in the league.

Part of me wants to put this team up further because of their nice trio of foreigners, but this squad’s Chinese roster is just too poor. Swingman Li Gen, who averaged a touch over 10 points a game last  year, is the only one I’d tell my friends about. Wang Gang moves to the coast from Shandong, and he’ll step into the point-guard slot. I guess I’ll have to go against impulse and instead settle with merely labeling the Eagles as a potential sleeper.

15. Shanghai Dongfang Sharks
2010-11 record: 12-20 (12th place)
Head Coach: Daniel Panaggio (1st year)
Imports: Mike Harris, Ryan Forehan-Kelly

After a failed attempt to sign with Shanghai last year, Taiwanese national Tseng Wen-ting is finally all set to go in China.

It is now ten years since the Sharks last finished as CBA champions and it remains to be seen if the notoriously fickle Shanghanese will pay much attention to the Sharks now that the days of Yao Ming averaging thirty-points a game seem so far away. These days, the shadow of Yao quite literally hovers over the Sharks team as the now-retired, newly-repatriated Chinese icon watches over the team he famously rescued from bankruptcy in 2009.

The 2011 side is very much one in transition as the Sharks adjust to life without the influential John Lucas III and the popular coach, Bob Donewald. The new man at the helm, former D-League coach, Daniel Panaggio, has arrived with intentions of utilizing the triangle offense, something that has taken a bit of getting used to. Panaggio’s hiring also coincides with the arrivals of Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who previously played for the Jiangsu Dragons in 2007-08, and Taiwanese forward, Tseng Wen-ting, both of whom featured prominently in the Sharks’ final pre-season games in Zhejiang province. Tseng’s addition will be particularly welcome — he was supposed to come over last year, but the deal fell apart after the transfer deadline passed.

Predicting how the Sharks’ will do this season very much depends on how full or empty your glass generally tends to be. Cynics will point to the departure of Donewald and lack of big name signings as symptomatic of the club’s lack of ambition. Those of a more positive persuasion can get excited about a new coach bringing fresh ideas to a side that already boasts experienced veterans like Liu Wei and Mike Harris as well as up-and-coming Chinese internationals, “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu, Peng Fei and Zhou Zhang. A mid table finish is the most likely outcome, anything higher would be a decidedly unexpected bonus.

Andrew Crawford 

16. Guangdong Foshan Dralions
2010-11 record: 11-21 (14th place)
Head coach: Jay Humphries (2nd year)
Imports: Marcus Douthit*, Gerald Green*, Michael Maadanly (Asian import)

Gerald Green will be bummed to know that the Chinese don’t typically do cupcakes.

–Jon Pastuszek

17. Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions
2010-11 record: 5-27 (17th place)
Head Coach: Zhang Jian (11th year)
Imports: David Harrison, Donnell Harvey, Rony Fahed (Asian import)

After finishing at the bottom of the league last year, Tianjin opted not to retain American head coach, Bob MacKinnon Jr., instead going with the guy who coached them in 2009-10, Zhang Jian. They also decided against bringing back NiuBBall.com CBA Defensive Player of the Year, American guard Vernon Hamilton, despite his string of strong performances to end the year.

Instead they went with a familiar strategy — going with two big men as their Americans. Last year it was Lee Benson and Herve Lamizana, this year its David Harrison and Donnell Harvey. They used their Asian import spot on Lebanese point guard, Rony Fahed. If they’re lucky, they may get 40 points a night out of the three. Harrison is not even one year removed from a broken fibula and hasn’t looked good in pre-season games. Harvey, who enjoyed two great seasons for Jiangsu in 2008-09 and 2009-10, will do what he does best, attacking the offensive glass, but isn’t someone who they’ll be able to throw the ball into on the low block.

With their poor choices in the foreign market and their deplorable Chinese roster, look for Tianjin to once again finish at the bottom of the league.

–Jon Pastuszek

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