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NiuBBall Water Cooler/Heater: End Of Season Review

April 9, 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.

The end of the 2011-12 CBA season is here, which means its time to switch our NiuBBall coverage to other things. But before we do, our guy Andrew Crawford over at Shark Fin Hoops has organized a final Pastuszek-Bothfeld-Crawford three-man gathering around the water cooler/heater to recap the year that was. As always, feel free to fill your cups with whatever temperature water your body desires.

Andrew Crawford: First things first, Beijing Ducks are the CBA champions. They led the league, then they had that slump, they needed five games to beat Shanxi- how surprised are you guys with the Ducks being the CBA champions?

Edward Bothfeld: After getting off to such a hot start, you had to expect there would be a mid-season letdown but with the way they started the season, it showed that they were going to be one of the best teams all year long. With Shanxi, I feel like they could have taken any team to the brink of defeat because Williams and Gaines can really score the ball. The first few games against Guangdong surprised me because I expected Guangdong to win but after their Game 2 victory, it seemed that Beijing might actually be better than Guangdong.

Jon Pastuszek: Regardless of how they started the season, I always thought it was going to be Guangdong again. Remember when Xinjiang went 31-1 last season in the regular season and people thought they were finally going to get a championship? Guangdong always plays below their level in the regular season because they know their final goal is a championship, so I never took much stock in Beijing’s hot start.

Plus, with Beijing only going seven deep, I also thought there’d be fatigue issues so to see Beijing lift the trophy was a huge surprise to me. That said, I wonder — and this to me is the big “what if” that doesn’t get raised enough — if a motivated Wilson Chandler had been playing in the playoffs, would Beijing have even made it past the first round?

EB: Jim Cleamons firmly believed, without a doubt, that if they had Wilson they would have won that series. A motivated Wilson that is. Cleamons also said that the Beijing team knew that too.

AC: That’s an interesting point which I was going to ask later but we might as well talk about now- Chandler, J. R. Smith and Kenyon Martin were the big names coming over this summer. Wilson walked out, Smith couldn’t get his team into the playoffs and K-Martin bought his contract out after half the season. When we look back at this season, did these three guys justify the hype?

EB: Wilson and J.R. were good when they wanted to be but once the lockout ended, all bets were off. Wilson really struggled once the lockout ended and he saw Kenyon board that plane back to the States so I think if the lockout had lasted a lot longer, the hype would have been justified, but the fact that Kenyon and Wilson didn’t even finish the season, I don’t think you can say they justified the hype. And J.R. Smith put up impressive numbers but when I saw him live it looked like he was goofing around the majority of the time – attempting impossible passes, etc.

JP: I think Ned is right about the impact of the NBA season resuming. All of those guys signed in China with the expectation that the NBA wouldn’t be playing, so for the lockout to end suddenly was huge. You can come out and say that it doesn’t bother you, but when you’re a free-agent who has the comforts of home and a big money contract waiting for you, of course it’s going to impact your performance. When K-Mart first got bought out, and then got his FIBA clearance, that just took things to a new level, but I think it also depends on how you interpret “hype”- even though none of those guys played in the playoffs, they helped to attract more attention to the league than ever before. Ratings and attendance were higher than ever before, so if you’re looking it at from that standpoint, I think they did live up to the hype. I’m sure their teams feel otherwise, however…

AC: Indeed. What have you guys made of less heralded names from this season? Before he got injured, I thought Ryan Forehan-Kelly was amongst the best imports in the CBA. Besides Marcus Williams (obviously), who stood out to you as an overseas guy really making a difference in the league?

JP: I’m with you on RFK; his numbers may not have jumped off the page, but he was a huge reason for Shanghai’s success before he got hurt. Having played under Panaggio and his triangle offense, in the D-League, he was a big part of their success in integrating that offense in Shanghai. Not only that, he was their best clutch performer and was their most versatile perimeter defender. Just from a fan standpoint, it was sad to see him get hurt. Other guys who stood out: I’ve always been a big James Singleton guy, I just like his unselfishness and how he’s commited to winning. Will McDonald in Fujian was also great to watch, he’s one of the most skilled bigs to come into this league in a while and I hope he’ll be back next year.

AC: I am a big Zaid Abbas fan. After watching him live, I really have an appreciation for all the little things he does; his hustle, his determination, his shit talking- I want him on my team, and as we’ve seen, every team he goes to starts doing really well. He’s a winner.

JP: Would either of you sign him as a regular, non-Asian import though?

AC: Personally speaking, I would- either him or Singleton would be perfect for Coach Panaggio’s setup. I know they are talking about scrapping the Asian import but regardless, he’s a proven player. I’d be delighted to see him pitch up Shanghai- the Yuanshen would go nuts for him.

EB: Another guy I liked besides Abbas was Lester Hudson. I realize he hoisted a ton of shots but he was all over the place, getting steals, rebounds, etc- and after talking with him after his game against Guangsha, it seemed like his head was really in the right place and that he was dedicated to winning as a team and becoming a better player personally.

AC: Okay then, lets move on- which Chinese player(s) really stood out for you? I know he flew under the radar because he plays for a terrible team in Tianjin but Zhang Nan looked like a tidy player in the forward posistion. Han Dejun looks like he could be a monster with the right coaching and conditioning and I’ve got to show some love for Zhang Zhaoxu who is getting better and better every game. The Sharks coaches really like him and he could well be an every night double-double guy next season.

JP: Beijing’s Zhu Yanxi was a guy who really caught my eye this season. A big part of the Ducks’ championship was their ability to spread the floor and let Marbury do his thing. Without Zhu drawing out opposing bigs, there’s no way they would have been as successful as they were. I’ve always thought China should look to produce more Euro-type big guys who can stretch the floor and shoot it from the perimeter; maybe Zhu will convince coaches of the same. I’m looking forward towards seeing him develop both on Beijing and the National Team in the years ahead. Other guys I liked this year- Han and Zhang both looked good and I also really liked Xinjiang’s Xirelijiang.

EB: For Guangsha, I felt like Wang Zirui made a lot of progress in terms of developing. At just 18 years old, he was the youngest player in the CBA. He started the season on Jim Cleamons’ bench but was the starting PG by the time the playoffs rolled around. If he continues to develop, he will be a starting caliber PG for years to come.

AC: What about coaches? I know I’m writing from a Shanghai perspective but I have to say that the turn-around sparked by Coach Panaggio here has been impressive. What are your thoughts on guys who’ve made a big impact from the touchline?

JP: I agree about Panaggio, and I think Brian Goorjian in Dongguan also has done really well. Both overcame slow starts to make the playoffs and both made it a priority to develop their Chinese players, which is ultimately what this league should be about. Yang Xuezeng was the first coach ever to lead Shanxi to a post-season berth, so I think that has to be commended as well.

EB: Yeah, I also thought Daniel Panaggio did an excellent job with Shanghai. He preached defense and it showed. He also managed to incorporate Marcus Landry into the team’s system after Ryan Forehan-Kelly went down with the Achilles injury. Shanghai finished the 2011 season 12-20 and was ranked all the way down at fifteen on NiuBBall’s season preview. Coaching had a lot to do with their turnaround.

AC: What teams did well this season? There have been a few surprises this season but which teams really caught your eye?

EB: Qingdao and Fujian were nice surprises. I can’t say it enough- Lester Hudson is a hell of a player, although he does shoot the air out of the ball. Qingdao were fun to watch and it was good to see them have some success. As we anticipated, Fujian would get a boost due to the addition of Abbas, who was their Asian import. But I don’t think anyone saw them making the playoffs. Besides Abbas, McDonald really came on strong and played well — and if Roberson was shooting well, they really had a three headed monster. I thought they could make some noise in the playoffs, but with Roberson and Abbas battling injuries, they had no chance.

JP: You have to start with Beijing. I think a lot of people expected them to be a playoff team, but hardly anybody thought they’d be serious championship contenders. For a team to go from a periphery playoff squad to CBA champion is unheard of in this league, even more so when you consider that Beijing was among the younger teams this season. Shanghai was another team that surprised me; a new coach, a new offense, lots of young players and relatively unknown imports- I thought it was going to be a long season in Yuanshen.

AC: You’ve mentioned the improbable success of Beijing but we should also talk about the poor seasons endured by Jiangsu and Bayi- what were the critical factors in their seasons being so bad? Do you think this will be a blip or could you see these teams starting to stagnate?

JP: We all know Bayi doesn’t have any imports. Back in the late 1990s and early and mid-2000s, when the league was attracting mid to lower-level imports, that wasn’t an issue because they could contend every year knowing they had the best Chinese players. Things are a lot different now, though: First, their star player, Wang Zhizhi, is old and not nearly the player he once was. Second, the CBA is attracting better imports with every passing year, with this season’s NBA-to-China exodus clearly standing out as the best crop of foreign players in league history. So with every team around them getting better while Bayi themselves decline, it wasn’t a huge shock to see them take a dive this year. For Jiangsu, I think they missed having Tang Zhengdong in the middle. They also did a terrible job selecting their imports. Mardy Collins and Dan Gadzuric were both gone shortly after the beginning of the season. Jackson Vroman was a good pick-up, but Marcus Williams (the UConn one) was without a doubt the worst foreigner in the league this season.

EB: With Jiangsu, I thought the problem was with Williams. He looked really out of shape and only averaged 11.34. That’s not going to cut it for an import. Vroman was a nice surprise, but they need an imported upgrade in their back court. As for Bayi, maybe it’s time for them to change the system. Their demise was seen eight months ago, when Jon predicted they would miss the playoffs. Wang Zhizhi is really old — they need a new face to the franchise. When I saw them live, they played without any hint of passion.

AC: Let’s return to the players for one last time. Who have been your favorite guys to watch? For me, Osama Daghlas was a masterful point guard- he crushed Shanghai when they went away to Jilin and he’ll be another ‘Asian’ player that teams should look to sign this time next year, regardless of what the status is with imports. Mike Harris could really put on a show and should expect several suitors if he comes back to China. J.R. was also unbelievable in person and was absolutely worth the price of admission.

EB: Marcus Williams was just so efficient. I loved his game. Whether his team needed him to slow the game down by getting to the line or hit a big three, he was there for them. At times, it seemed like he would never miss! Abbas is also a blast to watch. His hustle and passion were infectious and he’s so annoying. I would hate to play against him. I was sitting first row behind the Guangsha bench and he would not stop talking shit, “Alright guys- one on five, one on five!” (in the fourth quarter when Chandler was attempting to take over”. I really hope he’s back in the CBA next season.

JP: I’ll give you three: I enjoyed watching Marbury for obvious reasons. He was able to perfectly balance his point-guard duties with his import ones, running the offense and distributing effectively for the first three quarters before taking over himself in the fourth. Shanxi’s Marcus Williams was fun to watch, he’s pretty much able to get whatever he wants on offense and looks very smooth while getting it. And last, Liaoning’s Guo Ailun. I’ve always been a fan of Guo, he doesn’t play the point guard position like a typical Chinese, he’s very vocal, energetic and enthusiastic. Plus he can be a beast out of pick-and-roll. All of that is fun to watch, even if he’s bricking jumpers and turning the ball over.

AC: Final question then- what has been the highlight and lowlight to your CBA season? I’ll take any of the big results Shanghai got against Guangsha, Xinjiang, Beijing, or Zhejiang for the former and the latter will probably be losing both home games in that Shanxi playoff.

JP: The highlight of the season was being a part of the 18,000 fans who filled up Wukesong Arena to watch Games 1, 4 and 5 of Beijing – Guangdong. As for the low point of the year, I think it’s a tie between Shanxi fans’ behavior during and after Game 4 of the semi-finals and Li Chunjiang ordering his players to sweep the leg and injure someone.

EB: The highlight of the season was watching Jin Lipeng hit the buzzer beater against Shanxi. It was a game that the Lions should have won, but gave away their lead at the end of the game…. until Jin came up huge. The lowlight has to be watching Wilson Chandler and the rest of the Lions team mailing it in during some games. It was so frustrating to watch. Against Bayi, with the playoffs on the line, they showed no sense of urgency. Just thinking about what could have been if Chandler and the Lions had remained motivated. I think that once Chandler had checked out, so did his teammates.

AC: Lovely stuff. Well, we finally made it happen and the much-vaunted three-man weave was well worth the wait. Thanks for your various contributions over the season, gentlemen. Enjoy the offseason!

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Extended season – CBAers in the NBA

April 7, 2012

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Lester Hudson is one of a growing number of players who have signed in the NBA after playing this season in China. (Photo: AP)

With a 2012 CBA season that was filled with rabid fanaticism, deception, fighting girlfriends, redemption, and even a playoff upset officially in the books, most foreign imports have returned to their native lands. But just because the CBA season is over doesn’t mean that it’s time for a vacation – there is still a month left in the NBA. Teams are either making their playoff push or preparing for next season by offering 10-day contracts auditions.

A handful of this season’s CBA players are now playing in the NBA. Let’s see how they’re fairing:

Kenyon Martin (Xinjiang)– Along with Coach Bob Donewald, Martin was Xinjiang’s prize free agent acquisition last summer. With the NBA lockout in full force, Martin, who has missed considerable time with injuries the last few seasons, was merely looking for some run until the NBA season started. But, Martin impacted the season far more after he left China: First, Xinjiang bought out his contract shortly before Christmas, which gave him a stress-free return back to the United States. On top of that, he was able to get his FIBA release thanks to the CBA’s 10-day annual Spring Festival break, despite the league’s strict no-opt out policy that forbade players from returning to the NBA mid-season.

Past his early and mid-2000s prime, Martin is now better served playing off the bench. The L.A. Clippers started the season with rookie Trey Thompkins and Brian Cook backing up Blake Griffin. Ouch. With a gaping hole behind Griffin, the Clippers inked Martin to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. He is now the first big man off the bench and plays 20 minutes a game averaging 5 points and 4 rebounds.

NYTimes.com – Kenyon Martin beats the China trap with the old Lunar New Year play

Wilson Chandler (Guangsha) – After watching his former teammate Kenyon Martin bolt for the NBA, both Wilson Chandler’s effort level and the Guangsha Lions’ record took a nosedive starting in January. Ultimately, he left the CBA just before the beginning of the playoffs in search of a large, multi-year contract.

After a month of posturing, he scored a five-year, $37 million deal with the Denver Nuggets (I’m sure his Guangsha teammates understand).  In his seven games with the Nuggets, he is averaging 11 points, six rebounds, a block and a steal per game. He is currently nursing a groin injury but should be back on the court soon.

HoopsWorld – Wilson Chandler Struggles to to Re-Adjust to NBA
ESPN TrueHoop - Wilson Chandler, Back at Last 

J.R. Smith (Zhejiang) – With his roller-coaster season in China complete, Smith returned to the States and fielded multiple offers. He spurned the Lob City Clippers to get in on the Linsanity with the New York Knicks.

With the Knicks, Smith is doing what he does best: shoot threes. While he still hasn’t found his stroke (37% FG) or put up one of his patented 40-point explosions, Smith is averaging 10 points off the bench. He’s also carried a lot of the controversy that followed him in Zhejiang to New York, where he’s been fined for posting “inappropriate pictures” on his Twitter account, ejected from a game for a flagrant-2 foul (which has since been downgraded to flagrant-1) and criticized by head coach, Mike Woodson, for sagging his shorts.

With Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire likely out for the season, there won’t be any shortage of shots for Smith in the near future; nor does it seem there will be any shortage of Smith headlines.

NYPost.com – Knicks coach tells Smith he wants ‘his shorts pulled up’
Posting and Toasting – J.R. Smith got fined 25,000 for his photography
NiuBBall.com – J.R. Smith fined a million dollars for missing practices?

Aaron Brooks (Guangdong) – As a restricted free agent, Brooks is in the same boat that Wilson Chandler was in when he returned from China. Brooks’ rights are owned by the Suns, who are the only team he can negotiate with until this summer’s free agency period starts. That being said, he might decide to sit out the remainder of the season until he can field contract offers from other teams, which would give him negotiating leverage. The Suns aren’t going anywhere this season and prefer allowing Steve Nash to ride into the sunset, John Wayne style, rather than signing Brooks.

But after giving up a first round pick and Goran Dragic for Brooks, the Suns would look awfully foolish if they are unable to come to terms on a contract this summer.

Arizona Republic – Suns face some tough decision on Aaron Brooks
Suns.com – Lance Blanks checking in from China
NBA.com – Suns GM Headed to China to Visit Aaron Brooks

Ivan Johnson (Qingdao) – Johnson had a cup of tea in Qingdao this year before he was replaced by Olumideye Oyedeji, despite putting up some really good numbers. After he went back to the States, he was quickly snapped up by the Atlanta Hawks, who needed some size in the interior due to an injury to Al Horford. To a lot of people’s surprise, Johnson, playing his first year of NBA ball at age 27, has stuck and played some key minutes off the bench.

In 46 games, he’s averaging 15 minutes, 5.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

Associated Press: Hawks’ Ivan Johnson making good as rookie at 27
Atlanta Journal Constitution – Hawks’ other Johnson making a name for himself

Cartier Martin (Jilin) – Martin has dabbled in the NBA for a few seasons now and was most recently signed to a 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards. After trading one of the NBA’s most notorious chuckers, Nick Young, the Wizards suddenly needed a SG to backup Jordan Crawford.

Martin has answered the call. In only his second game with the team, the former Jilin star scored 20 points on 12 shots while helping the Wizards snap a 5-game losing streak. In his six games with the team, he is averaging eight points and four rebounds. With the Wizards out of the playoff hunt, look for Martin to get some serious run down the stretch if he’s signed to another contract. If he continues his early success, Martin might be lucky enough to find himself on the Wizards opening night roster next fall.

Wizards Insider – Cartier Martin ‘excited’ to be back with Wizards
Truth About It – Cartier Martin. Back. (And why Martin is immediately the Wizards’ best 3-point shooter) 

Lester Hudson (Qingdao) – Qingdao’s mighty mouse, Lester Hudson was narrowly beat out by J.R. Smith for the CBA’s scoring crown.  The little man can fill it up, although he is the definition of a volume shooter.

Nonetheless, his successful CBA season got the attention of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who in turn signed him to a 10-day contract. The Cavaliers lost backup PG Daniel Gibson for the season and now their pending rookie of the year Kyrie Irving could be out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. What does that mean?  Hudson and little-known Donald Sloan will be the only ones competing for minutes in the Cavs’ backcourt. If Hudson can make a good impression on the rest of the league this season, he could find his niche as a Nate Robinson-type energy man and land a longer contract.

Akron-Beacon Journal: Lester Hudson escapes past, takes long road to NBA
The News-Herald: Lester Hudson picking up offense as quickly as he can

Gerald Green (Foshan) – Of all CBA imports, Gerald Green’s NBA success is the most impressive. Drafted out of high school by the Boston Celtics in the 2005 NBA draft, an immature Green entered the league knowing how to do two things: jump and shoot. Unfortunately, the jumping only won him a slam dunk contest and his poor shooting found him jobless.

He’s been a basketball vagabond the past few seasons and was on Foshan’s roster opening night. Green only lasted 4 games before being released, but averaged a robust 26.5 points.

After his departure from China, Green signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers, who were looking for some athleticism on the wing. Things didn’t pan out in Hollywood and Green was once again on the move, this time to New Jersey. The Nets signed him to two consecutive 10-day contracts before signing him for the rest of the season. In New Jersey, Green has found his role as a scorer off the bench. For the season, he is averaging 12 points on 49% shooting in nearly 24 minutes. He has scored 20 or more points 5 times this season.

If this impressive extended audition continues, Green will probably find himself a multiyear deal this summer with an NBA team.

SI.com – Green Energy: After humbling fall, ex-dunk champ rises again in NBA
NY Daily News – Gerald Green’s 3-month roller coaster
New Jersey Examiner - Gerald Green continues to defy the odds

James Singleton (Guangdong) – It was a short turnaround for Singleton, who just a week ago was bounced from the CBA finals by the Beijing Ducks. Fortunately, he doesn’t have much time to dwell on Guangdong’s finals disappointment, as he was awarded with a 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards. It’s not his first stint in Washington. Singleton was sent over to D.C. as part of the trade that sent Caron Butler to the Mavericks in 2010. He impressed enough in 32 games to get a one-year deal, but elected to sign a more lucrative contract in China the next season.

With Trevor Booker and Nene Hilario battling injuries – and who knows if they will return this season with the Wizards already eliminated from the playoffs – Singleton played 14 minutes in his first game with the Wiz. The results? Not like his CBA numbers — he had zero points, two rebounds and a whopping five personal fouls. Anyone who’s made the China-to-America trip knows a thing or two about jet lag, however and with another day and some more hours of sleep under his belt, he rebounded tonight with a 13 points and nine rebounds.

Bullets Forever – James Singleton Is Returning To The Washington Wizards

Patty Mills (Xinjiang) — The Australian point guard was embroiled in a controversial break-up with Xinjiang this season after the team accused him of faking a hamstring injury, a claim with Mills vehemently denied. Like Martin, Mills left China mid-season; unlike Martin, however, he was unable to get his FIBA release and was forced to sit in the U.S. while the Flying Tigers finished out their season.

But once Xinjiang was swept out of the semi-finals by Guangdong, Mills faced another obstacle towards getting back onto an NBA court — the Portland Trail Blazers, who still held his rights. With a full roster, a new coach and a front office in transition, it was unclear what Portland was going to do with Mills. In March, they ultimately decided to renounce Mills and after weighing offers from a couple of teams, he signed a two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs. After working out his work visa papers, he suited up for his first game on March 27th at Phoenix.

Mills, who will represent the Boomers this summer in London, is in an excellent situation in San Antonio. Not only is he getting some much needed game reps before the Olympics, he’s also playing under Australian National Team head coach, Brett Brown, who works as an assistant on the Spurs staff. It may have been a long road back to the League, but it looks like Mills has landed in a good spot.

NBA.com – A Bright Light from Down Under

Alan Anderson (Shandong) – Anderson signed a 10-day with the Toronto Raptors on March 26th and was good enough to earn another one. It’s his second stint in the League — he spent two years with the Bobcats in 05-06 and 06-07. He has appeared in six games for the Raps, averaging 5.8 points and two rebounds in 16 minutes.

Raptors HQ – Raptors Re-Sign Uzoh and Anderson, Ink D-League PG Dentmon
National Post – Raptors’ Alan Anderson finds another soft landing in Toronto

Follow Edward Bothfeld on Twitter @bothfeef

 

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2011-12 NiuBBall Awards

March 7, 2012

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

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

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

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

Enjoy.

Most Valuable Player: Stephon Marbury, Beijing Shougang

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

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

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

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

Yes, they’re that good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defensive Player of the Year: Zaid Abbas, Fujian SBS

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

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

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

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

Coach of the Year: Dan Panaggio, Shanghai Dongfang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Improved Player: Zhang Zhaoxu, Shanghai Dongfang

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

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

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

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

Rookie of the Year: Zhu Yanxi, Beijing Shougang

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

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

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

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

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

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

All-CBA First Team:

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

All-CBA Second Team:

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

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

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

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

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

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

All-CBA Chinese Team:

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

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

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

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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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Chandler’s FIBA LOC first gets denied, then gets granted

February 29, 2012

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Two weeks after leaving Zhejiang Guangsha, Wilson Chandler’s road back to the NBA has finally been re-opened. Now the question is, has it been re-opened in time?

Chandler’s early exit from China can be attributed to one thing: Money, and potentially lots of it. A restricted free-agent coming off of a career year last year with the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets, Chandler stands in an excellent position to sign a lucrative multi-year contract back in the NBA. But, whether that payday comes this season or during the off-season will be the end result of the Chinese Basketball Association’s rule that forbids back-to-the-NBA opt-out clauses — and their insistence on upholding it.

Chandler’s current situation is as unusual as it is complicated. After helping Guangsha make the post-season, the team allowed Chandler, at his request, not to participate in the post-season. Upon first look, letting what had been at times the most dominant player in the CBA get on a U.S.-bound plane days before the playoffs seemed strange, if not downright nonsensical.

But with a lot of money at stake back in the NBA — and a quickly approaching March 1st deadline to secure that money — Chandler simply had to get back to the States if he was going to have a chance at signing this season, a point that Guangsha management ultimately came to understand. Chandler was a model citizen during his almost six-month stay in Hangzhou, and out of respect for the rest of his career, Guangsha essentially sacrificed their post-season for the benefit of their foreign player’s long-term career. The reasoning to get out of China was twofold: The first was to avoid injury; the second was to get his FIBA letter of clearance before March 1st.

The date is an important one: After March 1st, Chandler will only be allowed to re-sign with the Nuggets, something that isn’t within the interest of a player looking to leverage a long-term deal. With the Toronto Raptors reportedly going hard after the versatile forward, Chandler’s hope was to get his letter of clearance last week, which would have given him ample time to handle his impending business back in the States.

The latter part of the plan hit a snag, however, when the CBA refused to grant his clearance late last week.

Though likely frustrating, the decision shouldn’t have come as too big of a shock. Before the season, the CBA passed a rule forbidding players who were under contract in the NBA last year from including back-to-the-NBA opt-out clauses into their Chinese contracts this season. The rule was designed to prevent a potential mass exodus back to the States in case the lockout ended, which would have upset leaguewide stability and sent teams scrambling for replacement players mid-season. Per rule, the only way for a player to get his clearance was to wait until after his team’s season had been completed.

Or at least, that was how it was supposed to be until Kenyon Martin came along.

Martin, who signed with Xinjiang Guanghui in September, was unexpectedly granted his clearance after his FIBA application was left unanswered for seven by the Chinese. Consistent with Chinese basketball as a whole, Martin’s release didn’t come without its share of drama. Taking full advantage of Chinese New Year when the entire country takes an extended break from work to go home and celebrate the holidays with their families, Martin’s FIBA application was sent inside the one week of the year when nobody is in the CBA office. The timing was significant because as FIBA rules stipulate, a league has seven days to either grant or deny a clearance application. If there’s no answer within that time, a player’s clearance is automatically given.

The situation caused a loss of face for the league, who had been adamant all year about no early opt-outs. Though Martin’s application process was completely legal, CBA officials were furious that their iron-clad rule had been busted open through a Chinese New Year glitch.

In the aftermath of Martin’s case, the league vowed that there wouldn’t be a repeat incident and declared that no player would would be allowed out of their signed agreement while their team’s season was still being played. So when Chandler sent in his application late last week — one that requested he be released midway through Guangsha’s first-round playoff series against Beijing — the league, not surprisingly, responded with an emphatic “no.”

“After the situation with [Kenyon] Martin, the CBA has been paying extremely close attention to developments surrounding our foreign players,” said CBA Director of Operations, Gong Luming last Sunday. “We will strictly adhere to the rules we passed before the season. At present, we won’t be giving Chandler his release.”

But that was on Sunday morning. At that time, Guangsha had yet to be eliminated from the post-season. By Sunday night, however, Guangsha’s season was officially over after they were swept out of the playoffs by Beijing. With Guangsha’s season finished, Chandler re-submitted his application and was granted his release, according to Emiliano Carchia at Sportando.

Yet whether that clearance has come in time remains to be seen. With only one day before the March 1st deadline, Chandler’s options may be quite limited. As Beinjamin Hochman over at the Denver Post writes, Chandler has until tomorrow to receive an offer sheet from another team. And although there has been considerable interest from the Raptors, Chandler hasn’t received an official offer yet. A one-year deal with the Nuggets is out, which means if he’s unable to agree to a long-term deal with either the Nuggets or Raptors, Chandler will wait until the summer to sign the big money NBA contract he’s looking for.

Chandler’s agent, Chris Luchey, told Hochman ”we’re considering all options,” which includes a potential stint in Italy.

In 32 games for Guangsha this season, Chandler averaged 26.6 points and 11.6 rebounds.

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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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Curtis Donald Interview

February 22, 2012

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In his first season as the Xinjiang Flying Tiger’s strength and conditioning coach, Curtis Donald has had the opportunity to work with a variety of different athletes, including three-time CBA MVP and former NBA player, Mengke Bateer. (Photo via NetEase)

Since the Chinese Basketball Association held its first season in 1995-96, the league has seen a steady increase in foreign players, coaches and consultants. But in recent years, the league has also seen a foreign increase in another area, one that is arguably just as important: strength and conditioning coaches.

Once a luxury reserved for only the Chinese Senior National Team, foreign professional strength and conditioning coaches have slowly been hired to work with Youth National Teams all the way down to the senior club level. This season, more than half of the CBA’s 17 teams have at least one foreigner on their strength and conditioning staff, a number that should — and probably will — increase in the future as the league continues to open its doors to foreign influence.

Because in a country that is still learning how to take better care of their athletes, the benefits of bringing in Western strength training and development are obvious. With many athletes training 10-11 months out of the year, the need to take care and improve players physically should be at a high priority. And with China’s ambitions on the international stage growing higher and higher, Chinese players need to be strong, flexible and explosive in order to stand up to the rest of the world’s elite athletes.

There’s still some way to go, but the results have already been pretty impressive. Last summer when the Chinese Olympic U-23 team played against the Duke Blue Devils in Beijing, we were impressed, but not totally shocked, to see China’s players have little if any difference in muscle tone, agility and athleticism in comparison to their American opponents.

Accordingly, more CBA teams are taking notice. As part of their off-season push to get over the championship hump that they’ve come up short in climbing the last three seasons, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers brought in the first foreign strength and conditioning coach in the history of the franchise, Curtis Donald.

Donald, who got his first gig with a professional basketball team as intern with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009, knows a thing or two about Chinese basketball players. He worked as Yi Jianlian’s private performance specialist from the summer of 2009 until the summer of 2011, when he was hired to come to Xinjiang. During those two seasons, Donald was with Yi year-round, both while he was playing in NBA with New Jersey and Washington, and also while he was with the Chinese National Team during the summers.

And it was during those summers where Yi and Donald’s work especially paid off — forced to step into the team’s lead scoring role after Yao Ming’s retirement, Yi played the best and most complete basketball of his career at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, where he was the only player in the entire tournament to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds, and at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, where he lead China to a gold medal and an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

With his first season in the CBA almost over, Donald and NiuBBall hopped on Skype for a discussion about the year in Xinjiang, what it was like working with Yi, and the state of Chinese strength and conditioning as a whole.

NiuBBall: You’re heading into the Playoffs tonight, describe your first year working in China.

Curtis Donald: It’s been challenging, just dealing with all of the changes we’ve gone through this year. And especially the injury bug that we’ve been hit by. First with Quincy [Douby] going down early and then Patty [Mills]. We had [Maierdan] go down, too. And then the changes to the coaching staff as well. So it’s been kind of a learning experience dealing with all of the issues.

NiuBBall: What were your expectations coming into this year? When you were hired for this job, what were your understandings about the Flying Tigers and their expectations?

CD: I just knew that they had a great tradition and basketball culture. They were consistently at the top of the league the last few years, so I knew expectations were going to be high. They had been to the Finals the last three years, so I knew anything less than a championship was going to be unacceptable. It was good to have those expectations. This season is only successful if you win the championship. Period. If you go undefeated and you lose in the championship, then the season didn’t matter. It was interesting to come in for my first head job and be a part of an all-or-nothing situation. It’s just very unique.

NiuBBall: The reality of that championship goal has changed because of all of the changes that have gone on within the team this year. How has that affected your own expectations as the season has progressed?

CD: It’s going to be a lot more difficult to win a title. But, having come in here with that mindset, I’m trying to maintain my belief that anything less than a championship is a failure. No matter what’s happened, I still need to treat the players and help them to the best of my ability. I came here in October to help this team win a championship. It’s February now and that hasn’t changed for me. Like I said, it’s going to be much more difficult, but it hasn’t changed how I approach my day-to-day.

NiuBBall: Take us through your responsibilities to the team. What do you do both on a day-to-day basis and on a more long-term, full season basis?

CD: My responsibilities include strength and power development, injury prevention, and if necessary, nutritional guidance. The day-to-day is all about having seamless communication between the coaching staff, players, team physician, and myself on players progress and potential issues.

Over the long term, I try to see improvement in a series of performance tests that indicate progress in areas such as lateral quickness, vertical jump, and linear speed. Improvement of these results is mostly seen in the off-season, but in-season we attempt to maintain those results. Also, throughout the season I am constantly evaluating players for movement inefficiencies or improper biomechanics.  Its important to develop and maintain proper movement patterns to keep each athletes risk of injury to a minimum.

It’s really a unique job. You train guys differently based on who they are, how much experience they have and how many minutes they’re getting. But then you’re also going on guys’ individual experience as well. Guys like Kenyon Martin, Patty and Quincy don’t do the same things as the 12th man on the bench. So it’s unique. You have a high-level NBA player to work with on one end that needs more corrective and preventative work so that he can avoid injuries, and you also have Chinese guys who fit into that category as well with Tang [Zhengdong] and [Mengke] Bateer. But then you have the  Xirelijiang’s and Meng Duo’s that you still need to develop, but they’re getting high minutes, so they’re kind of in between. Although this is a professional basketball team, the job has a lot of “college” aspect to it because you do need to develop players. The younger guys who maybe aren’t playing as much, you’re always trying to develop them. My favorite part of the job, has been the diversity between the different players goals and training experience.

NiuBBall: All of the foreign players are obviously used to the Western training methods that you’re using, but what about the Chinese guys? How have they responded?

CD: The players love it. I feel that they’re really interested in how strength and conditioning can elevate and extend their careers. They come to me after practice wanting more work, they ask questions about why they’re doing certain things. They are engaged in the whole process. They’re used to doing a lot of back squatting for example. But, I take the bar off their back and we do a lot of single leg work with a weighted vest. They’re a little confused about it at first, but then when it’s explained to them, they really respond and they start to understand that this is how you get better, this is how you stay healthy. They then start to realize that their knees feel better, or their back isn’t hurting, or whatever the case may be. Then that draws guys even closer to the system and the American way of doing strength and conditioning. To me, that I can affect their training habits and gain their trust, that’s been very gratifying.

NiuBBall: You talked already about Tang and Bateer. Both of them are former CBA MVPs and have played big roles in the National Team set-up. Now they’re late in their careers, how have they reacted to having you around the team?

CD: Let’s talk about Tang first. Luckily with him, he’s dealt with foreign strength coaches before because he’s played for the National Team in recent years. So he understood right away and he bought in right when I got here. Tang’s main issue is that he has a weight issue. It’s hard for him to manage his weight and when he gets above a certain weight his knees start to bother him significantly. When I first got here, we had Tang doing three workouts a day. Bob [Donewald Jr.] and I decided that we wanted to get his weight down as quickly as possible before all the travel started, so we had him doing pool workouts at lunchtime. While his teammates were sleeping – you know how much the Chinese players love their post-lunch nap – he was at the pool doing plyometrics and intervals with me. And he loved it. He was exhausted, but he was seeing results. He had already bought into it, and then once he started to see improvement, he really started to trust me.

With Bateer, it’s a little different. I treat him like an NBA guy. I give him a lot more freedom. He has way more experience than I do. I didn’t come in and try to dictate his routines or change the way he trains, I just gave him some ideas and approached him more casually. Like you said, he’s won MVPs and he’s been in the NBA, so he knows what he’s doing. But, he’s also stayed healthy for the most part. So what’s there for me to do? We discussed some things that we wanted to add and I give him a little bit at a time, but I kind of let him go on his own. And when he needs me, he comes to me. And I think that’s a great approach. I’m not going to force myself on a guy who’s had success.

NiuBBall: There’s a common belief amongst Chinese, especially within Chinese basketball, that Chinese bodies are genetically inferior to their Western counterparts and that’s why the Chinese are unable to develop high-level players. With your experiences, first with Yi and now with Xinjiang, do you buy into that?

CD: I do believe that they’re just not as athletic overall, but I think it comes down to how this country’s younger players have been training, both inside each club’s youth team and inside the youth national teams. You can train to be more athletic. You may not ever be able to jump out of the gym like an elite NBA athlete, but you can still improve. I think it’s an excuse. Chinese players miss a window of opportunity right after puberty to really gain athleticism, strength and power because of out-dated training methods.

NiuBBall: I think the obvious example right now is Jeremy Lin. He’s Asian, but was born and raised in the States, and now he’s starring for the New York Knicks.

CD: I think he’s a great example. He’s Asian, but if he’s not built like a Westerner, or he’s physically at a disadvantage or whatever, then why is he having so much success? It’s because he was raised in a different basketball culture and he took advantage of his opportunity when it came. So that can’t be an excuse if guys like Jeremy Lin are having the success that the is having.

NiuBBall: So is bringing over those Western training styles and teaching the Chinese how to use those methods an important step in developing athletes here?

CD: Absolutely.  There have been a number of Western strength coaches that have done a great job over here. I believe the hiring of these coaches must continue. There needs to be continuous effort to educate the Chinese in the area of strength and conditioning. There needs to be opportunities for junior team head coaches to be educated or there needs to be budgets to get some developmental strength and conditioning programs inside of teams, maybe getting a Westerner in there to run a program and teach the Chinese coaches. I think if there was an improvement on the youth level, middle school or high school level, it’d make a world of difference. It would prepare them to compete at a higher level internationally in events like the World Championship and at the Olympics. Ideally, they wouldn’t have to scramble around for the next Yao or the next Yi. They’d have a crop of guys who are just ready to step in and they’d have a lot of guys to choose from because they’ve been training the right way from an early age.

NiuBBall: How much of the things that you’re bringing to this team are being picked up by players? Whenever you’re done in Xinjiang, do you see them being able to use these things by themselves long-term? Do you think the organization will employ Western training methods down through the club?

CD: I think it just depends on the player. Guys who realize that this is how you’re supposed to take care of your body are going to continue to do it. A lot of it has to do with the culture of China. They’re very respectful to authority. So if you get a new coach who doesn’t do it this way, then they’re going to listen to their coach, no matter how different his strength and conditioning methods are from mine. So it just depends on the guy.

I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to change the culture of the team and the way the front office views strength & conditioning. But there are a number of former and current national team players that have had positive experiences with strength and conditioning that might be able to influence the front offices decision to keep western training methods around the organization. As for these methods being used down on the junior team level, it’s very unlikely until there is an obvious long-term financial benefit in developing young players that can be seen by management.

NiuBBall: You’re American, you’ve worked in America with the Clippers, but over the last two years you’ve been working exclusively within Chinese basketball. Now that you’ve had experiences with both sides, what are the major differences you’ve noticed between the U.S. and China in terms of strength and conditioning?

CD: The culture here is much different. I can only speak for basketball, but I’m sure it extends over to other sports as well. And that’s the quantity of work, the quantity of practices and the length of practice time over the quality of those practices. For example, it’s not uncommon at the youth national team even at the senior national team level to have a two-to-three hour practice in the morning and then another two-to-three hour practice in the afternoon. And some guys are on club teams where they do the same thing. So some players are doing what essentially amounts to 12 straight months of two-a-days. That’s unreal. When is there time to recover? When is there time to really get quality work?

And that brings up other issues. When you know you’re going to go through the same practice routine every day of the week for months on end, it’s human nature to find a pace that gets you through it. It’s not a pace that gets them better, they’re not going at an intense game-speed that will get them better, it’s this pace that gets just get them through the day. It’s survival, it’s “How can I survive through this day?” They know that they have a two or three hour practice in the morning and another one in the afternoon. So it creates a pace, and really a mentality, that slows development. It doesn’t develop a great athlete. They can never reach that world-class intensity because they’re just pacing themselves to get through each day.

If there’s one change that the sport culture in China needs to go through, the one that will give this country’s athletes the most benefit, I think they need to learn quality over quantity. Teach these guys to reach high intensities over shorter periods of time and then rest and recover.

NiuBBall: The prime example is of course Yao, who had to retire because of all the injuries and wear and tear that piled up on his body after playing year-round for so many years. Yi is also playing all year, how has that affected his career?

CD: I think it’s had a huge effect on Yi’s career, especially in the NBA. You have to understand: He goes through an NBA season, maybe he gets a month off after and if he does that’s a huge amount of time for a Chinese player to be resting. Then he has to report to the national team and play there. Luckily. Bob [Donewald] has been managing his minutes through all of the exhibition games that they play over the course of a summer and that’s definitely helped. But still, with the way the Chinese Basketball Association schedules the summer, it’s not uncommon for Yi to be playing nine games in 10 days. How can you expect a guy to play an NBA season, play an entire summer’s worth of games, play in a major continental or international competition depending on the year, and then go back and play in the NBA again?

Yi’s reputation is that he’s a soft basketball player. I’ve seen him play at the top of his game at the World Championship and at the Asia Championship. He’s not a soft player. But if he doesn’t find that rest, he just doesn’t have a motor. He doesn’t have any gas in the tank. He’s exhausted. And until they make some changes, they’re never going to see an All-NBA caliber player like Yao ever again.

NiuBBall: Let’s talk more about Yi. What was it like to work with him for those two years?

CD: It was a tremendous opportunity to help his career, both internationally and in the NBA. He’s a great guy to work for, he’s a true professional.

NiuBBall: What was he like as a client? What was the relationship between you two like?

CD: He was great, he reacted very well to having me with him. Yao had a foreign strength and conditioning guy when he was with the National Team and at that time, Yi was pretty young. So I think he saw the success Yao was having and I’m pretty sure that Yi thought that was the best route for him to go. Just in terms of that he’s being taken care of on the performance end, both in the NBA and when he’s with Team China, to have a guy guiding him through all the things he needs to do to get better and remain healthy.

We had full trust in each other. He had already committed to taking the advice of the people around him. It was his idea to bring someone in for himself. He thought, “I’m investing in my career, so I’d better take full advantage and listen to everything that this guy is telling me.” So right from the start, he had 100% trust in me and the entire process as a whole.

And you know, his work ethic is world class. Rarely did Yi cancel a session, unless it was something personal that he had to attend to that day. In Washington, we’d sometimes work into the wee hours of the night. Sometimes we’d meet at midnight and we’d be in the gym by ourselves, lifting and doing core work. His work ethic and commitment level were world class.

He’s a total professional. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to work for him because he opened up a lot of doors for me. If it weren’t for him and his people, and the opportunity that they gave me, I wouldn’t have been around the National Team, I wouldn’t have gotten with Donewald and I wouldn’t be here in Xinjiang right now.

NiuBBall: Curtis, thanks for the time and good luck with the rest of the season.

CD: Thanks, Jon.

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CBA: Repeat of a Kenyon Martin situation “won’t happen again”

February 8, 2012

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No way out.

That was the way it was supposed to be when the Chinese Basketball Association passed a rule in August barring locked out NBA players from including back-to-the-NBA opt-out clauses into their Chinese contracts.  The move was made to prevent a potentially destabilizing mass China-to-U.S. exodus that would have sent teams scrambling for replacement players once the lockout ended, and in a year where the Chinese National Team is preparing for the 2012 Olympics, officials decided it would be in Chinese basketball’s best interest to avoid a mid-season upheaval of foreign talent. The rule’s language was clear: Any player who wanted to sign with any other professional team, NBA or not, had to wait until their Chinese team played its final game of the season. If you were going to sign in China, you were going to have to commit to a full season.

But to the shock of many, Kenyon Martin, one of the NBA players who signed in China this year, has found a way out.

Last Friday, Martin signed a one-year $2.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers despite the fact that the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers, the team who he signed with in September, still has three more games to go in the regular season.  Considering the CBA’s consistent hardline stance on the opt-out issue throughout the year, the one question that begs answering is: How could that have happened?

The Year of the Dragon, that’s how. According to Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo! Sports, Martin’s clearance was sent from FIBA to the CBA in late January. As Andrew Robotham, a spokesman at FIBA’s headquarters in Geneva who spoke with the New York Times’ Jim Yardley over the weekend, the process was handled just like the thousands of other requests they receive each year. Like every other FIBA application, the international organization formally notified the CBA of Martin’s request. Per FIBA rule, they had seven days to respond. If there was no answer within that period, then FIBA would grant his clearance.

But with the Chinese New Year falling on January 24th this year, nobody was in the office to receive that request. Like everybody else in China, the CBA completely shut down for a about a week to go home and celebrate the country’s most important holiday with their families. While officials were on vacation, Martin’s letter sat untouched, unread and unanswered and by the time they got back from their break, the seven day period had already passed, giving FIBA the right to open Martin’s road back to the NBA.

Not surprisingly, CBA officials are upset that the letter was sent in during New Year, a move that they are deeming unethical due to what they feel was a deliberate attempt to take advantage of the Chinese holiday. Using Martin’s signed letter of commitment that was turned into the CBA when he was bought out from Xinjiang in late December, the league originally considered appealing the decision. According to a top CBA official, Gong Luming, the letter stated that Martin promised not to play in any other professional competition until after Xinjiang’s season was over.

The February 7th appeal date has come and gone without an official appeal however, and the CBA, knowing full well that they had little if any chance of winning their case, have moved on to the more pressing matter at hand: making sure the league’s other NBA players stay in China.

Because the effects of Martin’s return to the NBA are not just limited to the CBA’s Beijing office. Besides CBA government officials, Martin’s unexpected return to an NBA roster has raised the alarms for both players and individual team general managers, both of whom are equally unhappy over the development. Upset that one NBA-to-China player has broken free of their CBA chains, several foreign players reportedly want out immediately, which in turn has lead to increased pressure on their GMs, who have themselves become angry over their suddenly sulking high-end investments.

“Who cares how [Martin's release] happened. Our team and the rest of the other teams [with NBA players] are now in a tough spot. Once this precedent is set, what can we do?” asked Ye Xiangyu, general manager of the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions, the team Wilson Chandler plays for. “There’s nothing we can do.”

“About this, I can only say we are very angry,” she added. “Before the season we made a lot of preparations. We talked for a long time about all the different steps we would need to take to make this work. Now this whole thing has been blown wide open. This year our team invested a lot of money. We had big plans for this season. We spent human and material resources to make it happen. But if this is how this situation is going to be handled, we’ve spent everything for nothing.”

After starting the season 13-4, Guangsha now finds itself out of the playoffs for the first time all season after losing at Shanxi on Sunday. The loss puts them at 2-9 over their last 11 games, 15-13 overall.

In an effort to maintain control over the exact explosive situation the league tried to avoid by making the no opt-out rule in the first place, the CBA on Saturday took the rare step of publicly admitting their own failure to properly handle the clearance procedure.

Said Gong, “…the event that occurred during the Chinese New Year vacation period was something we did not anticipate. The failure falls within ourselves.”

With speculation running wild in Chinese media the last wek, the CBA announced yesterday that they will not change their rule on opt-out clauses, which means players will still have to wait until their respective teams’ seasons are completed.

“We’ve already had discussions with both the NBA and FIBA, they’ve made it very clear that they respect our rules on this matter,” said Gong. “The foreign players who haven’t received their letter of clearances won’t have another opportunity to go play in any other professional league, including the NBA.”

“In regards rules on foreign players leaving the CBA, we won’t change anything due to [Kenyon] Martin’s release. After we explained our stance on the situation, the NBA and FIBA both understand and will respect CBA authority on all releases.”

As Gong went on to elaborate, that includes players who have already split ways with their Chinese team. Patty Mills, who played with Martin in Xinjiang, was released by the team in early January after their team president accused Mills of deliberately faking a hamstring injury, a charge which Mills resolutely denied. According to Gong, he and other players who are released before the end of the season will not be granted a release back to the NBA before the end of their team’s season.

“Even if they break off of their contract here in China, the CBA will follow the rules we set prior. We won’t be granting any letters of clearances before the end of the season. Another Martin scenario won’t happen again.”

The CBA regular season ends on February 15th. The first round of the playoffs start on February 22nd.

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Players in China may have to wait until March to sign with an NBA team

January 31, 2012

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With seven more games to go in the Chinese Basketball Association regular season, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, Patty Mills and Aaron Brooks’ NBA return from a one-year stint in China is approaching its end. But, with all of their teams in good position for the CBA playoffs, that end may not come until after February.

The anticipation behind each of their individual returns is pretty obvious — the five players, all of whom signed in China during the NBA lockout, will be highly coveted free-agents whenever they are eligible to sign with NBA teams. The question isn’t whether or not they’ll sign back in the NBA — all wil receive high levels of interest from a number of different teams — but rather when they will legally be able to put pen to paper on a contract. And depending on the success of each player’s individual team in China, the answer will likely be sometime in March.

The reality comes as the result of the decisions of both the league and the American players made prior to the start of the CBA regular season. In an effort to avoid the instability of a mass NBA exodus to China, CBA officials passed two rules back in August to limit the effect of the NBA lockout on the Chinese league: The first barred teams outright from signing players under NBA contract, the second restricted players from including back-to-the-NBA out-clauses that would have granted a free release from their Chinese team whenever the work stoppage ended.

Though the first rule was very black and white, many basketball insiders doubted the CBA’s ability to enforce their edict on no opt-out clauses. True to their word, however, the league has kept it’s promise. Two players who have been released mid-season, Martin and Mills, both of whom played for the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers, have not received their FIBA letters of clearance. Per their agreement with their team and the CBA, both must wait at home until Xinjiang’s season is completed. Martin severed ties with the team and was bought out of his contract in late December, while Mills was released after a controversial dispute regarding a hamstring injury.

So when will the season actually be over and when will NBA players in China be allowed to play in the States? The answer will be dependent not on when the league’s season ends, but rather on when each team plays its last game of the year.

The official end of the CBA regular season is February 15th. But contrary to what some may believe, that’s not the set date for players to be eligible to sign back in the NBA. The rule on back-to-the-NBA releases has always been specific to each individual team’s season, not the league calendar. That is, players can return to the NBA only when their team plays its final game of the year — regular season or playoffs — which means different players will get their letter of clearances at different times.

For better or for worse, most, if not all, of the teams featuring the players mentioned above will all be participating in post-season play, and thus will be playing CBA basketball into the month of March.

The eight team playoffs start on February 22nd. After the best-of-five first round series are completed, the semi-finals, also best-of-five, will start on March 4th. The best-of-seven finals will start on March 16th. If necessary, game seven will be played on March 30th.

To give an idea of when each player will be allowed to sign an NBA contract, here’s an update on how everybody’s team is currently fairing:

Chandler’s Zhejiang Guangsha are currently in fourth place and are considered as a team primed for a deep run in the playoffs. In 25 games, Chandler is averaging 26.3 points, which ranks as 11th in the league, and 11.2 rebounds.

Zhejiang Chouzhou, Smith’s team, was once positioned towards the top of the league, but have since slipped out of the playoff picture after losing six of their last eight. But, only one game out with a very easy remaining schedule, the Golden Bulls could very easily put themselves back in with a few wins. Smith leads the league in scoring with 34.2 points per game.

Martin and Mills’ team, Xinjiang Guanghui, like Zhejiang Chouzhou, is also one game out of a post-season position. With five of their last seven games at home, a place where they’ve lost once all year, Xinjiang could also be in the playoffs as well.

Two players who have not been mentioned thus far, Rodney Carney and Josh Powell, both of whom play for Liaoning Hengye, who are currently in fifth place at 14-11, would be playing playoff hoops if the season ended today. But their 2-9 road record will be under the microscope when they travel to play five of their last seven away from home, four of which are against teams with winning records.

Finally, at 22-4, Brooks’ squad, Guangdong Hongyuan, became the first team to clinch a playoff birth almost two weeks ago and barring any major catastrophe will lock up the top seed for the playoffs. Guangdong are the reigning four-time CBA champions and are heavily favored to take down their fifth straight, which means that Brooks will very likely be the last player to be allowed to sign back in America. Brooks is currently averaging 20.4 points per game.

Of course, if any team does not finish in the top eight, then all of their NBA free-agents will be allowed to sign with an NBA team starting on February 16th. Otherwise, they’ll have to wait until their team is either eliminated from the playoffs or goes all the way to win a championship.

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NiuBBall Water Cooler/Heater: Play-Offs, CBA All-Stars And The Magic Of Marbury

January 26, 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.

With regular web-chatter, Ned Bothfeld out of the country, the man behind NiuBBall, Jon Pastuszek, makes his long awaited debut at the water cooler to talk CBA playoffs, potential All-Star snubs and Stephon Marbury. As always, our Chinese water dispensers are equipped with hot and cold water. 

Andrew Crawford: We should probably start by talking about the previous round of games and there were obviously more than a few crackers. The most eye catching one for me was Beijing’s win over Zhejiang- a 45 pt/10 ast/ 12 rbd triple double from Marbury and JR Smith’s 39 pts. What did you make of that game?

Jon Pastuszek: It was one of the most anticipated games of the season — Marbury is beloved by almost every Chinese hoops fan from Beijing to Urumqi, and J.R. has gained a sizeable following himself due to his on-court offensive explosions and off-court drama. Not surprisingly, they’re number one and two respectively in All-Star voting but Marbury showed why he’s clearly the better player in this league. For me, his triple-double solidified himself as the top choice for league MVP this year. He’s been able to balance his role as both a distributor and scorer almost perfectly this year, sharing the ball early in the ball game and taking games over himself when he needs to down the stretch. He’s changed the entire Duck culture this season, taking what was barely a playoff team with a lackluster fan base and turning it into one of the hottest tickets in town this year.

AC: That’s very true. In our first webchat, me and Ned talked about the star power of Marbury and how he has endeared himself to the different Chinese fanbases. On the other hand, it has felt like a circus at times with Smith, do you think how he has settled in China, in spite of his huge numbers, has affected his game; could he be even better with a different set-up?

JP: I’ve always felt that it’s not so much a player’s individual talent that determines success in the CBA, but rather a player’s individual make-up. For many reasons — the coaching, the travel, the food, the officiating, the media, the living conditions, the quality of one’s teammates — a lot of players fail to adapt to the differences between the CBA, the NBA and even Europe. As we’ve learned from the countless numbers of foreign players who have left China prematurely in years past, it’s not easy to play here. Individual and team success is by no means guaranteed, no matter how good the player. Taking on an NBA player who’s played in the league for several years, like J.R., is a challenge for CBA teams. China is not the United States, and Yiwu is certainly not Denver — I think the Bulls management has tried to make J.R. comfortable, allowing his sister to live with him and bringing in an American assistant to ease the on-court transition, but at the end of the day you’re never going to replicate the NBA lifestyle while playing in China.

AC: All very true. I’ve think that’s part of the fascinating thing about international players and the mindset they need to have to succeed in some of the more unorthodox basketball leagues. Ned was saying last time around that PJ Ramos loves it in China and wouldn’t want to go back to the NBA. Equally, Mike Harris in Shanghai, clearly adores being in Shanghai. Still, regardless of the JR drama, I’ll be looking forward to the Bulls’ visit next month so I can see the man in person.

Moving on, Guangdong has handled their business by beating Wilson Chandler, Ramos et al. in Hangzhou. After a shaky start, is there a better team in the CBA right now?

JP: No. Guangdong is the hands-down favorite to win the title this year, and I see no team that is even close to giving them a problem come March.

AC: Their form is so good that I can see them resting Aaron Brooks, Zhu Fangyu, James Singleton, etc with a couple of games to spare. That eighth play-off place is a real poisoned chalice now because you’ll probably be facing a box-fresh Guangdong side after you’ve just spent the last few weeks battling your way to the post season.

JP: I could definitely see that too. In fact, they’ve already been resting their guys during the season, playing sometimes up to 11 guys in a game in order to keep their stars fresh for the post-season. Last year, when they went through a solid chunk of the season without a full import roster, proved that Guangdong doesn’t really need to tear through the regular season and play their best players for long periods of time. For them, it’s all about staying healthy for a Finals run and since nobody has been able match-up with all of their Chinese talent in a five or seven games series over the last eight years, its hard to argue with that strategy.

AC: Indeed. Guangdong’s opponents in the final last year, Xinjiang, had another set back with a loss with Shandong. They’ve got a tricky last few games coming up. What do you think the mood is like there in Urumqi and can they save their season?

JP: Xinjiang has been without a doubt the most disappointing team of the year. This is a team that went 31-1 last season and yet still didn’t win a championship. After spending close to US $10 million this summer on the 2000 NBA Draft number one overall pick and 11 year NBA-pro Kenyon Martin, Chinese Men’s National Team head coach Bob Donewald Jr. and three-time CBA MVP Tang Zhengdong among others, the expectation was that they’d storm their way past Guangdong to a title. But Donewald was fired 11 games into the year, K-Mart followed him out the door quickly and Tang hasn’t been able to find his dominating form. Simply, at 12-12, the season has been a disaster. Once the favorites for a championship, the Flying Tigers are now fighting for a playoff spot. Six of their last eight are at home, so their destiny is in their own hands, but the mood is obviously not a very optimistic one in Urumqi.

AC: We’ve touched on the play-offs so we might as well wade right into the matter itself. Looking at the table right now, Guangdong look like they’ve got their place in the bag and Beijing should be okay with their run of games at home but after that, it’s a scramble for six places between eight, possibly ten teams. Who do you think are the strongest teams coming into this final push?

JP: It’s certainly going to be a crazy end to the season, isn’t it? It’s going to come down to whoever takes care of business at home. It’s always been tough to win on the road in the CBA but this year the discrepancy between home and away records have been even more profound. Only two teams, Beijing and Guangdong, have winning road records this season. As I mentioned before, Xinjiang has six of their last eight at home, and that will be big as they’ve only lost once all year in Urumqi. Guangsha also has a bunch of home games coming up. If they can sort out their problems during Spring Festival, they should be in good position to get a top four seed.

AC: Shanghai are in the same situation with regards to having the majority of their games at home. We have Fujian and Zhejiang in the Yuanshen, and these are going to be HUGE games and ones the Sharks certainly can’t afford to lose. Home advantage is certainly key here as we’ve also got Xinjiang, Shanxi and Beijing on the road, which is going to be tough for us. It’s too close to call here in Shanghai and there’s going to be a lot riding on Harris and Marcus Landry going down the stretch. Indeed, who do you think isn’t going to make it in the end?

JP: Well unfortunately for you, I think it’s going to be tough for the Sharks to hang onto their playoff spot. The loss of Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who was on my shortlist for MVP before getting hurt, is tough because he’s the one who kept their triangle offense nice and congruent. Marcus Landry has been decent in replacement, but he’s not a player built for the triangle. They’ve got those tough games against Zhejiang, Xinjiang, Beijing and Shanxi — maybe they’ll prove me wrong, but I don’t see them winning a lot of games post-Chinese New Year. Fujian may be another squad that falls short, they have five of their last seven on the road, including a three-game finale that takes them to Guangdong, DongGuan and Xinjiang.It’s going to be a wild finish, every game will count, which is why taking care of business at home will be so important.

AC: For sure. The RFK point is a massive one. He did everything like you said and the little things like setting the pace of the game and being a calming influence in a young team; those are all tough things to replace. I think the consensus is that Fujian won’t make it- that run of games in the last week is an absolute killer. I can also see Zhejiang crumbling under the pressure, but that’s just a feeling.

Anyway, All-Star week coming up. Marbury and Smith are the top choices as we speak but is there anyone who isn’t getting the recognition they deserve? Osama Dahglas is probably pissed at being in the same division as Marbury because I thought the Jilin PG has been pretty good this season but its highly unlikely he’ll be in the team.

JP: With the CBA only limiting two foreign players to each All-Star team, there’s always going to be snubs. Dahglas is certainly a guy who could be put in that category. Another could be either Marcus Williams or Lester Hudson, each whom have had very nice seasons for their teams. J.R. and Marbury are the obvious shoe-ins, Wilson Chandler will probably get in as a reserve, so that leaves just one player left. Somebody will definitely get left out.

AC: For sure; Harris, Singleton, Brooks, Zaid Abbas and Shavlik Randolph to name but a few. I guess that brings me onto my next point. If I’m Chandler or Smith, do I risk playing even one more game than I need to if I’m looking for an NBA contract when the CBA ends in March? I guess this would be extra pertinent if their team didn’t make the play-offs?

JP: Certainly, both of those guys are looking at the big picture. At the end of the CBA season, they’ll head back to the NBA where they will be prize commodities to teams looking to add a piece for a playoff run. They both stand to make a lot of money on long-term deals, if not this season then definitely next year. Since neither player have gotten their so-called “big payday” yet, I’m sure they’re anticipating going back to the States and cashing in. Both have substantial money at stake, so the last thing either them wants is to get hurt. So I think you have to take that into consideration when you’re looking at their late season performances.

AC: Could you see a situation where eithier man tried to pull out of the game if they were voted?

JP: Absolutely not! The All-Star game amounts to a very low intensity pick-up run. Plus, I’m sure they’d like to get out of their respective cities and head down to Guangzhou for a relaxing weekend.

AC: Wouldn’t we all, sir. Alright, final question; as the Middle Kingdom stops for Chinese New Year, we have some time to think back to the games that have already been played. What’s been your favourite game so far in this season?

JP: I thought Xinjiang at Beijing in Round 6 was for me, the most exciting game of the year. At the time, you had Kenyon Martin and the new look Flying Tigers coming into a supercharged Shougang Arena that was just as fired up to see last year’s runners-up as they were to see their new look Ducks with Stephon Marbury. The game was completely sold out and for the first time in Beijing history, the media had to be seated on the upper level because there was so much hype surrounding the game. The game didn’t disappoint — after going down by almost 20 in the fourth quarter, Patrick Mills and the Flying Tigers roared back to take a one-point lead with just under a minute left. But Beijing held on to hit two critical free-throws after a loose ball foul, and Xu Guozhong and Mills both rattled out three-pointers that would have likely given the Flying Tigers the win. It was one of the rare games that actually lived up to all the hype.

There’s been some great games in Shanghai this year, what’s been your favorite?

AC: Probably Beijing’s visit to Shanghai on Xmas Day. Obviously, you had the Shanghai-Beijing factor but with Marbury, a packed house in the Yuanshen and a comeback of sorts in the fourth quarter from the Sharks, it had everything you could want from a grudge match. When Shanghai retook the lead with a minute or so left, the noise around the place was crazy- even the press box was high-fiving each-another; the whole place was going nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of an atmosphere like that.

JP: There’s something about that guy that makes this league more exciting. I think having Marbury around is great for the CBA – he’s brought in a lot of casual fans that likely would have continued to turn away from the league if he wasn’t here, and I think that’s a real positive thing for Chinese basketball.

AC: Amen. Hopefully he’s got another couple of seasons in him because he’s compelling viewing. Anyway, we should probably call this a day. Jon, your web chat debut has been a pleasure.

JP: Thanks for having me, glad I could finally make it out for one. Let’s do this again, maybe a three-man weave with Bothfeld?

AC: That would be a joy to behold. Let’s keep our fingers crossed when and see what happens. Thanks to you as well from coming on.

JP: No problem. Happy Chinese New Year to you.

AC: And to you, sir.

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NiuBBall Water Cooler/Heater: Guangsha/Shanghai In Trouble, Play Off Speculation And The Mad, Bad World Of J.R. Smith

January 17, 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.

With the Chinese New Year about to start, its time to talk losing streaks, play off places, JR Smith and hometown bad ass players in another installment of the CBA Water Cooler, where you can have your water hot or cold. Edward Bothfeld and Andrew Crawford break it down.

Andrew Crawford: Well it looks like both our teams are in spectacular funks right now. Shanghai are on a three game losing streak whilst the Lions are in the same situation but with four games down the toilet, right?

Edward Bothfeld: There’s lot’s of struggles all around. I’m starting to worry about Guangsha’s funk. I sit in the first row behind the bench at their home games and they are having trouble playing as a team. I think Wilson [Chandler] and PJ [Ramos] are frustrated that they are relied upon so heavily and I also have a feeling that Wilson is battling some nagging injuries and wants to stay healthy for the NBA season, because let’s face it, he has millions of reasons to be cautious.

AC: For sure. Is the crowd starting to turn on their team or is everyone still singing from the same hymn sheet?

EB: Their last home game was a week ago so we’ll see when they get back. The GM, Ye Xiangyu, who is the very feisty looking woman who sits on their bench, is also very frustrated.

AC: What can Coach Cleamons do to change things; by the sound of things, its down to the players now?

EB: The Chinese players need to play with more confidence instead of when they get behind in a game, praying that Wilson and PJ can bring them back. Jin Lipeng has been out and Lin Chih-chieh hasn’t been able to hit the broad side of a barn recently.

AC: Shanghai are in a similar bad situation, although two of those losses were on the road and the other was against Guangdong. You’ve seen the Sharks move up from the bottom end of the table- do you think this is it for them now or can they still make the play offs?

EB: I think they will make it. I’m sure Marcus Landry is still jet lagged and he and his new team still need to learn to play together. Also, is Mike Harris is injured?

AC: There was a death in his family. It happened before the Jilin game and he didn’t tell anyone and played on. He went home before the Guangdong game.

EB: Any word when he is coming back?

AC: I got the impression he will be back for Dongguan but whenever he does, the crowd will be vocal. They love him in the Yuanshen and something like a death in the family puts everything in perspective. They’ll probably cheer him everytime he touches the ball.

This probably has relevancy to the NBA in its reduced formwat this season too, but previously high-flying teams like Beijing are still in erratic form and now Guangsha and Shanghai are in real lulls- what do you think spark these runs or is every case unique?

EB: Teams become complacent, and their opponents have a chance to do a lot of scouting and watch a lot of tape. Then there are injuries. Its the ups and downs of a basketball season, which is why it’s so exciting.

AC: Well, not if you a Guanghsa, Beijing or Shanghai fan. These next few games are going to be painful. Looking at the play-off run in, who do you think we should look out for besides the obvious names to make the play offs?

EB: Firstly, wouldn’t it be wild if after all the pre-season and early season talk, Xinjiang missed out?

AC: For sure. I don’t think they can ride that home record to a top eight finish place. They might not make it unless they become a bit more ruthless on the road.

EB: I also think Qingdao will make it behind Lester Hudson, but that’s a hunch. I think they’ll overhaul Fujian and contend for one of the top spots.

AC: That’s a interesting call. I don’t want to sound like a bandwagon jumper but Hudson and Osama Daghlas look excellent when they get going. For what its worth, I think Shanxi look legit as well. I think they’ll be trouble for anyone if they get in. I know they’ve got a crazy owner and a slight reliance on their two Americans but they are seriously slick.

EB: Shanxi will make it, but Marcus Williams deserves a lot of the credit this season. He has been unbelievably efficient this season. I have to look twice at his gamelog because I’m curious if it’s even real, but he’s shooting over 80% from three and and 67% on all other FGs according to eurobasket.

AC: Yeah, I had a look myself recently. Its NBA Jam-esqe stuff. Do you think Zhejiang Bulls are going to get a spot?

EB: I think they will but Smith, like Chandler, is another player I would watch as the end of the CBA season approaches and they return to the NBA- he needs to stay healthy to get that next contract. He probably won’t be doing anything too wild now, especially with his sister getting into an altercation recently.

AC: Yeah, i saw it. I think it was interesting that JR Smith has got himself all this attention. It hasn’t felt like K-Mart and Chandler have all this exposure. There does seem to be a bit of a circus going on whenever JR is involved.

EB: Kinda represents his style of play and his erratic way of doing things. He’s just a crazy dude.

AC: When Smith leaves, I think his departure will put a dozen writers out of work. There seems to be a cottage industry based around churning out stories about ‘ JR Smith doing [x]‘. Could the club have protected him more or is this just ”JR being JR’, so to speak?

EB: They probably should have had some preventative measures in place. If they did their homework on him, they would know that he attracts a lot of attention

AC: Alright, last question. Last night, James Singleton decided he was going to bait a capacity Yuanshen crowd in the final quarter of the game and seemed to be revelling in the boos like a heel in a WWE event. For your money, who is the best or most notable villain in the CBA?

EB: I can’t remember who it was, but one of Shanghai’s Chinese players was doing the cocking motion (as if he had a gun) after making a shot, and then putting his hand to his ear because he wanted to hear the crowd.

AC: I’m still really curious to work out who that Shanghai player was. They all seem like such nice young boys who’d help old ladies across the road and always open doors for people. It wasn’t a small guard with light hair and a hefty fringe was it? [I'm thinking of Meng Lingyuan because this sounds exactly like the sort of thing he'd could do when he gets his obligatory fourth quarter adrenaline rush- AC]

EB: I don’t think so. The crowd absolutely hated your short bald guy, although I might be totally wrong and it could have been in the previous game.

AC: I think so – all of our guys are impressively hirsute; they’ve all got the regulation floppy cut. It’s like a K-Pop band strolled out onto the court at times [It is probably Shandong Lions, who were the previous visitors to Hangzhou before Shanghai came to town. The player in question is Sun Jie, who is unquestionably a pest of a player- AC].

EB: On the flipside, PJ is fantastic at getting the crowd going. He will flex and shout after a dunk, and wave his hands in the air to get the crowd on its feet.

AC: I think its written into Harris’ contract that he has to do the same in Shanghai. Tseng Wen-ting is also a kind of a cult hero here. He’s a towering bear of a man with a huge ponytail, massive beard and a nice line in dropping big threes. Its a shame he’s such a nice guy because when you look like Genghis Khan, which he absolutely does, I’d like to see him indulge in some merciless posterising of unsuspecting opposition players and other general bad ass’ery. That said, I also absolutely think its Ramos’ destiny to stay in the CBA and blossom into this force of nature who doesn’t care about what you think. It would be fantastic; baiting crowds, shouting the odds, dunking on people because he can- marvelous.

EB: I don’t think he has any intentions of trying to make it in the NBA, and I’ve been told he could definitely make a team but that he likes it here [in Hangzhou].

AC: Lets hope Ramos is still flexing the guns and terrifying away fans for years to come. Anyway, last week it was cheerleaders, this week its James Singleton and PJ Ramos. Times changes real quick. Have a good holiday, sir.

EB: Thanks. You too.

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NiuBBall CBA Water Cooler/Heater: The half-way mark

December 29, 2011

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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 piece was originally posted on Shark Fin Hoops before Round 17.

Round 17 is in the books and just like that, the 2011-12 CBA season is at its half-way point. To mark the occasion, the NiuBBall duo of Andrew Crawford and Edward Bothfeld took some time out to chat about the year so far, including the Beijing Ducks’ surprising run to first place, the comings and goings of Crawford’s hometown Shanghai Sharks and Bothfeld’s hometown Guangsha Lions, the always relevant Stephon Marbury and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Andrew Crawford: Well, its been a pretty crazy first half of the season so let’s talk first about the league before we get into our teams; despite two loses in a row, Beijing are setting the pace with a 13-2 record- do you think they can go deep into the play-offs or is this two-game losing streak a sign that teams have started to figure them out?

Edward Bothfeld: Thirteen wins in a row is no joke. They have two important players who have more than a season of CBA experience each. One of which, Stephon Marbury, is a former NBA All-Star and is immensely talented. That being said, teams now have a lot of tape of the Ducks to look at, and can be more prepared. The season is long and pretty constant so nagging injuries and fatigue may be starting to rear their heads. Their remaining schedule is pretty friendly and they have almost twice as many home games as away game remaining so they will be a tough out in the playoffs.

AC: You might notice this when your Lions play the Ducks on Dec 28th but Marbury is a game changer in some unpredictable ways; at times he can nullify a home crowd. I mean, he was being cheered by the Shanghai crowd last night and he plays for Beijing!

EB: He attracts a lot of attention because of his name and history. Being cheered by the home crowd is just respect. There’s no doubt that the majority of the time, he’s the most talented player on the court. Also, not enough attention has been given to how well he has adapted to Chinese culture. If you remember, he didn’t have a good departure from the NBA – the strange videos he posted on the internet, failed playoff run with the Celtics and his time with the Knicks was an absolute disaster. Now it seems he is really happy [in Beijing], doing what he loves and serving as a role model for other foreign players — like J.R. Smith

AC: All very true. He certainly looks happier in Beijing; his company’s taking off and he’s a basketball hero out here. The days of being run out of New York must seem like a long way away. Anyway, let’s move on; what are your thoughts on Xinjiang Tigers; they’ve fired Bob Donewald and Kenyon Martin looks like he wants out; do you thing the Tigers are in trouble even at 9-5 or was this a knee jerk reaction?

EB: I don’t think the knee jerk reaction was wise and now they are in definite trouble. They had a very expensive offseason — and are already blowing it up before the season is halfway done! It takes time for coaches to put their systems in place and for players to get to know each other. What happened to Donewald wasn’t exactly fair. Sources have told me that the Xinjiang management puts a TON of pressure on its players; the expectations are so high there.

AC: Do you think things could get worse?

EB: They lost one game last year and have already dropped five this year. They’ve also fired their high profile coach and bought out Kenyon Martin; I don’t know how it can get any worse! That being said, I don’t know what Xinjiang were expecting from K-Mart- 30 point and 15 rebound performances? Those days are long behind him

AC: Strong stuff, sir. Finally, what’s your take on Jiangsu Dragons; NiuBBall had them 3rd in their preseason rankings and instead the boys from Nanjing find themselves bottom of the league, below even Tianjin Lions, who are historically terrible. What’s gone wrong there?

EB: I saw them play last night. Despite their history of success, they are very mediocre this year; they are already on their second set of imports and I don’t know if Marcus Williams is a long-term answer. To put it kindly, he looks very “muscular”; it looks like he has packed on a few pounds. Also, like Xinjiang, Jiangsu need time to work with one another so making so many changes makes it difficult to truly become a team. I have talked with [Guangsha Lion's] Coach Jim Cleamons multiple times. As a rookie CBA coach, he always stresses to me that Guangsha is a work in process and they probably won’t be going on all cylinders until much later this year.

AC: Well, let’s talk about your boys, Guangsha; 11-4 after Round 16- would you have taken this at the start of the season?

EB: Yes. Having P.J. Ramos has really helped- he has taken some of the burden off Wilson Chandler and they have a very functional basketball team; everyone has a role.

AC: I’ve noticed you’ve been very big on the form of P.J. Ramos; has anyone else stood out for you so far besides him and Chandler?

EB: Jin Lipeng gets points. He is only playing 17 minutes a game, but is fourth on the team with 11.3 points. Lin Chih Chieh is our glue guy. He is incredibly scrappy and although he can be too cute sometimes (making fancy passes etc), he gets it done. Some games, he will go off for 20, sometimes he will only get 4 points but he always leaves an impression on the game. If Lipeng and Lin are on their games, Guangsha is hard to beat

AC: Yeah, when Guangsha came to Shanghai last month, I could see Lin had some sparkle to him and Chandler seems to enjoy playing with him. We’ve obviously got to talk about Chandler when we talk about Guangsha; how do you feel he’s been used in that team and do you feel that Coach Cleamons is under pressure to use him as much as possible?

EB: Having worked with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, etc., Coach Cleamons is no spring chicken when it comes to using star players effectively. Guangsha’s GM sits on the bench with the team during games (you might notice her as she is the only female and looks like one tough cookie)  so everyone is on the same page in terms of when Chandler is playing, etc.

AC: This could essentially be a league-wide question, but how do you think CBA teams like Guangsha will be able to build on their post-Chandler season in 2012-13? I’ve met people who argue that bringing in big names creates a ‘pass-to-the-superstar’ mentality and a team’s progression gets stunted as a result

EB: Before it was Wilson Chandler, it was Rodney White; a team will always have a go-to player and they will most likely be the import players. If you look at most CBA rosters, teams have two imports, one big man and one back court player. If you bring in players with the same skill-sets each season, the role players don’t have as much difficulty adjusting.

AC: Do you think teams like Jiangsu and Xinjiang have had weaker seasons because they hadn’t scouted players with the same skill sets as the guys who were there during the previous season?

EB: Losing Quincy Douby really hurt Xinjiang. He was their team last year so they were going to have a different dynamic once he was lost, but Jiangsu had Antoine Wright last year- he has a different style than Marcus Williams, not to mention plays a different position.

AC: All very true. Well seeing as I write for a website about the Shanghai Sharks, we should probably talk about them as well. The Sharks appear to have hit form at the right time and have won five out of their last six games; do you think they can squeak into the play-offs or is their bad start too much to overcome?

EB: Why not? At 7-8, they are only a few games out of fourth place; suddenly games against the likes of Xinjiang and Jiangsu are winnable when in the past you could mark those up as losses. The Sharks absolutely have a shot to be in the playoffs despite a slow start.

AC: Journalistic integrity aside, I would love to see them make it  but their away form has been so bad until the last couple of games that I wonder if it will be too much to overcome. We’re 5-1 at home but on the road, it’s not been anywhere near as stellar and going to Xinjiang and Beijing so late in the season is still a big ask in my books, even if we continue to grow in confidence.

EB: Yep, times are always tough on the road.

AC: Indeed. Any Shanghai players you expect to see in the All-Star game come March?

EB: Mike Harris can fill it up. If Shanghai continues on their current run, Harris or Ryan Forehan-Kelly could warrant an All-Star bid.

AC: Absolutely. For my money, Forehan-Kelly has been the star of that team. Harris has got the big dunks and gets the crowd going but RFK has been consistently clutch throughout the season. Okay, last question; like me, you probably have a fantasy basketball team. Should I be picking up a Chandler or a J.R. Smith and storing him for when they return to America in March/April time or will their impact be negligible after playing one intense season already?

EB: I would say the chances are high that one of the high-profile Americans over here will be playing in the NBA Finals.

AC: You buying Bill Simmons’ theory that a returning K-Mart is the Heat’s missing piece to all but confirm the 2012 championship?

EB: He could be- there are always veterans like K-Mart that championship contenders add to push them over the top. I mean, Marbury was supposed to be that player with the Celtics a few years ago

AC: Alright; we should probably call it quits but thanks for your thoughts. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff here and I hope we can do this again sometime

EB: For sure, Any time. I enjoyed it.

AC: Excellent stuff. I’ll let you get back to the daily grid but there’s a beer waiting for you when we next come face to face.

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CBA Round 16 Recap

December 28, 2011

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Beijing – 87 @ Shanghai – 96

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

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

Andrew Crawford, Shark Fin Hoops

Box Score

Shanxi – 106 @ Guangdong – 111

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Xinjiang – 90 @ DongGuan – 97

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Qingdao – 100 @ Shandong – 94

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Jiangsu – 99 @ Guangsha – 106

Box Score

Zhejiang – 90 @ Jilin – 100

Box Score

Bayi – 84 @ Liaoning – 103

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Tianjin – 108 @ Foshan – 93

Box Score

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Kenyon Martin leaves Xinjiang, to be replaced with Gani Lawal

December 27, 2011

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Kenyon Martin is officially out in Xinjiang. As Yahoo! Sports first reported, the Flying Tigers negotiated a buyout with the 11-year NBA vet that will allow him to go back to the United States. Per CBA rules, Martin will not receive a FIBA letter of clearance until Xinjiang plays their final game of the season, which means that he will not be able to sign with an NBA team until sometime in March.

Martin’s departure comes on the heels of Xinjiang’s decision to part ways with American head coach, Bob Donewald, just 11 games into the season after the team got off to a 7-4 start. Donewald, who also serves as the current Chinese National Team head coach, was hired away from the Yao Ming-owned Shanghai Sharks in the summer to help lead Xinjiang to their first ever title. The team has lost in the CBA Finals the last three seasons.

According to a report published by China Daily, Martin and Xinjiang came to a common ground on a buyout shortly after the coaching change was made.

In his 12 games for the Flying Tigers, Martin averaged 13.9 points and 9.7 rebounds.

Although the Flying Tigers are undoubtedly still licking their wounds from what has been a tumultuous December, the season and turnstile frequency of personnel moves continues, and they have agreed to sign big man Gani Lawal, who was cut by the San Antoino Spurs during training camp.

Lawal, who played collegiately at Georgia Tech before being drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2010, is a low-post grinder who prefers to play with his back to the basket. He played in Poland for Zastal Zielona Góra during the lockout and averaged 16.5 points and 11.7 rebounds over 10 games.

Lawal will join an organization that is currently in severe disarray. After finishing 31-1 and playing in the Finals last year, Xinjiang entered this season with championship or bust expectations and attitude. Instead, their championship aspirations suffered a severe blow before the first game was even played when Quincy Douby, arguably the best offensive player in the CBA last season, was ruled out for the entire season after breaking his wrist during the preseason.

Xinjiang struggled to move on from Douby’s devastating  injury. They started the new season in uncharted territory after being blown out by Shanxi in Round 1 before losing to Beijing in Round 6 to start the season 3-2. While they have remained in the top half of the league standings, consecutive losses to Shanghai and Guangsha in Rounds 11 and 12 sent Xinjiang’s management into full panic mode. Donewald was let go after Round 13; Martin left soon after.

Lawal will team up with Douby’s replacement, Patty Mills, who leads the team in scoring with 26.5 points per game.

What’s next for Martin looks to be pretty simple. As ESPN.com’ Chris Broussard accurately writes, Martin — and any other NBA free-agent who has ideas of signing with an NBA team anytime soon — must honor the agreement he made when he signed in September and wait until his team plays its last game until he can sign with a team. As Broussard writes:

All the NBA players who signed to play in China during the lockout, including Martin, did so with the understanding and contractual obligation to stay throughout the entire CBA season. Of course, anyone can leave a team, but the Chinese teams will not clear such players to play elsewhere (NBA, Europe, etc.) until his particular Chinese team finishes its season, whether before, during or after the CBA playoffs.

There has been talk that NBA players can buy out of their contracts for $500,000, but even that sum isn’t going to move CBA officials to clear guys to play in the NBA.

“China will let these guys go home, but they’ll stop your money or even ask you for some of the money back, and you can’t play for another team around the world until your team in China’s season is over,” the source said.

The decision to grant out-clauses is not up to individual teams, but rather the Chinese Basketball Association. Unless something drastically changes, they’ll stay consistent with the rules they made this summer.

With the 2012 London Olympics quickly approaching this summer, the league is holding its number one priority – the success of the National Team – above all else, even high-profile NBA-to-CBA players. Given the chance to have locked-out superstars like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitkzi sign in China earlier this season, the CBA went the other way and banned all players under NBA contract from signing in China this season. On top of that, they also passed a rule that restricted players from signing back-to-the-NBA out clauses that would have allowed a free passage back to the States whenever the lockout ended.

The rules were passed to maintain stability and to ensure a smooth season in preparation for the Olympics. In the eyes of league officials, the chaos that would have ensued from players coming and leaving as they pleased would have resulted in unwanted unpredictability during a season where Chinese officials are gearing up for the world stage in London. A good showing in front of the whole world is more valuable long-term to the CBA than the short-term commercial windfall that would have come and gone with an NBA superstars one to two month NBA lockout China vacation.

China qualified for the Olympics by winning the FIBA Asia Championship last September.

So out goes Martin and in comes Lawal, who will join a Xinjiang team looking to prove that the season is not lost. While this season has been a nightmare in Northwest China, it’s hard to put the blame squarely on the players’ shoulders; the Flying Tigers’ management have simply set their expectations too high. After losing Douby, finding his replacement, hiring a new coach, and signing a supposed franchise cornerstone all within a few months, it was ludicrous to think that this team would have meshed quickly to begin the season with all pistons firing. It takes time for a coach to teach his system and get to know his players and vice versa. Guangsha hired a new coach, Jim Cleamons, and brought in a star player of their own, Wilson Chandler, and they are just now figuring out how to play with one another.

The personnel moves that Xinjiang has made in the last week are expectations induced panic moves.  But that’s the beauty of it — as CBA writers these types of moves have become our expectations. After all, this is basketball with Chinese characteristics.

Edward Bothfeld also contributed to this story. He can be followed on Twitter @bothfeef

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CBA Round 12 Recap

December 18, 2011

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Xinjiang – 92 @ Guangsha – 102

Xinjiang, coming fresh off a disappointing loss on the road against Shanghai in Round 11, failed to come up with a bounce back win in Hangzhou on Friday night, losing to Guangsha in a game that was never really in doubt. The loss brings Xinjiang down to a disappointing 6-4 start to the year, and it also marks the team’s first losing streak in five years.

Besides featuring a clash between two three loss teams, the match-up also pitted former Denver Nuggets teammates, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin, against each other. In the fourth quarter the two guarded each other for most of the frame. K-Mart made nothing easy for Chandler, forcing him into to several tough shots, some of which the talented forward made and some of which he missed. Chandler finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds on 11-28 shooting. Six players for Guangsha finished in double figures, including P.J. Ramos who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

For Xinjiang, Patty Mills did all he could with a game-high 39 points and 6 steals, but he didn’t get much help elsewhere. Xu Guozhong had 17 points, most of which came via Mengke Bateer’s precise passing from the post (11 assists) and Xirelijiang had 10, but the Flying Tigers struggled to get double-digit production from elsewhere.

Jon Pastuszek

Shanxi – 90 @ Shanghai – 92

Shanghai continue to make the Yuanshen a difficult place to come to (they are now 4-1 in Shanghai) and tonight claimed another scalp in front of their home crowd. A fantastic spell of basketball over the course of two-and-a-half quarters was almost undone when the Sharks allowed the dangerous duo of Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines to get up a head of steam. Shanxi had their hosts against the ropes in the fourth quarter and clutch performances from Mike Harris and Meng Lingyuan were vital in keeping the Sharks ahead when the full-time buzzer blew.
Harris made 30 points and 11 rebounds, “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu also got himself a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) whilst Meng got 10 points and six rebounds. Worryingly, Ryan Forehan-Kelly left the game injured and could be out for a while. This means the Sharks could go into their next game Bayi without Liu Wei, Tseng Wen-ting and now Forehan-Kelly, who has argueably been their most consistant player so far this season. For Shanxi, Williams picked up a game-high 31 points, six rebounds and six assists whilst Gaines got himself a double-double (21 points, 13 rebounds).
Andrew Crawford

Beijing – 107 @ Tianjin – 101

Zhu Yanxi had a career day with 26 points and 11 rebounds, Stephon Marbury scored 35 points and Randolph Morris added 21 as Beijing went to 11-0 on the season. Tianjin got the game within five points at around the five minute mark, but some timely stops and good work on the defensive glass kept Beijing in front for good. Donnell Harvey lead Tianjin with 26 points and 15 rebounds.

Jon Pastuszek

DongGuan – 117 @ Liaoning – 95

DongGuan dealt Liaoning their second home loss of the year and catapulted themselves into a playoff spot. The Leopards are now 7-2 since opening up the season with three straight losses. Shavlik Randolph paced the winners with 32 points and 10 boards, Josh Akognon netted 26 points and Qiu Biao had 21.

Zhejiang Chouzhou – 94 @ Shandong – 107

Jon Pastuszek

Fujian – 82 @ Jilin – 90

Foshan – 96 @ Bayi – 101

Jiangsu – 86 @ Qingdao – 103

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