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Tag Archives: Zaid Abbas

2012-13 NiuBBall Awards

April 12, 2013

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Way to ruin the suspense, guys.

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

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

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

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

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Shandong sweeps Beijing, will meet Guangdong in finals

March 18, 2013

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After captivating the basketball nation last season, a 2013 Finals rematch between  the Beijing Ducks and the Guangdong Southern Tigers was an eagerly anticipated and long-awaited event by both fans and, and possibly even the league itself.

Too bad for the Ducks, the Shandong Gold Lions never got the memo.

Marking yet another notch on their belt this season, the Gold Lions swept the Ducks out of the post-season on Friday night, defeating the defending champions 101-82 to punch their first ever ticket to the Chinese Basketball Association Finals. Zaid Abbas capped off a tremendous series with 33 points and 12 rebounds and Jackson Vroman continued his post-season offensive resurgence with 27 and 11, while Pooh Jeter chipped in with 16. Ding Yanyuhang finished as the team’s top Chinese scorer with 14.

They’ll play Guangdong, who also swept their opponent, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

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2013 CBA All-Star Weekend Recap

February 25, 2013

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The 2013 Chinese Basketball Association All-Star Weekend pretty much went down like previous ones, failing for the most part to capture the overall atmosphere of the the NBA one it tries too hard to imitate. But that’s not to say there weren’t moments: As is becoming a yearly tradition, Guo Ailun went onto the court to give everyone a performance on Saturday night, Xirelijiang knocked down 10 threes in a row in the final round of the three-point competition to take home the trophy and and Yi Jianlian nabbed All-Star MVP honors with 34 points and eight rebounds as the South All-Stars defeated the North 120-117.

Here’s the rest of what went down last weekend in Guangzhou:

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Pooh Jeter and Zaid Abbas Interview

February 9, 2013

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For almost eight months in 2006-07 while I was studying abroad at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, I would wake up an extra 15 minutes early to walk in the complete opposite direction from my 8:00am morning class to buy the crown jewel of Chinese street food: Jianbing, a snack that has since been frequently immortalized on these very blog pages.

At night, I would come back to UIBE’s west gate to enjoy another, yet quite different staple of my China-college existence: Niu Da Wan, a 24-hour noodle spot that served beer, chuanr (lamb skewers), chicken wings and a whole bunch of other tasty stuff. On a steamy Beijing summer night, there was in my opinion no place better for this nearly broke language student to hang out, talk with friends and watch China slowly pass me by.

Memories of jianbing and chuanr stayed with me throughout my final year at the University of San Francisco, and I looked forward to the day when I would head back to two of my favorite spots and relive my tasty days of yore. But when I came back over a year later, not only were both places torn down and under construction; the entire west gate block had essentially been subjected to 2008 Olympics demolition, rendering my former stomping ground largely unrecognizable.

People who’ve watched the Shandong Gold Lions this season can relate.

Since their last playoff appearance in 2008-09, the Gold Lions have finished either tantalizingly close to a post-season spot or agonizingly deep down in the standings. Last season, despite a roster full of promising young talent, the team hit a low point, finishing among the last four teams while playing a rhythmless brand of basketball  and generally looking like a franchise without much in the way of short-term optimism.

Oh, how things can change in this country.

On the last day of the Year of the Dragon, the Gold Lions head into the new year on a red hot 15-game win streak and most importantly, having locked up the league’s No. 2 seed after defeating DongGuan on Wednesday at home. At 23-7 with two games remaining in the regular season, Shandong will head into the playoffs with a better record than defending champion Beijing and perennial contender Xinjiang, both of whom were among the list of teams expected to finish towards the top of the league.

The difference between last year and this year for the Gold Lions has been like night and day; or like 2007 and 2008 UIBE west gate. But whereas the Olympics spurred massive change over in NiuBBall.com’s old hood, it’s been a trio of foreign players, Pooh Jeter, Zaid Abbas and Jackson Vroman, who have helped lead the change this year in Jinan.

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The definitive NiuBBall.com CBA preview

November 22, 2012

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Stephon Marbury and the Beijing Ducks won the title last year… But will they have enough to repeat in 2012-13? (Photo: Osports)

Moreso than ever, the Chinese Basketball Association has become quite difficult to predict pre-season.

It’s hard to predict first of all because we generally stink at predictions, but more importantly that the league is as deep as its ever been top-to-bottom. There’s a more than a few reasons for that — more off-season player movement, more players going abroad to train in the summer, better coaching in-country, a commitment to strength and conditioning programs and better foreign players all round out the top of our list. But the end result of all that should be a very watchable and exciting league this season. Which is a good thing for us fans, of course.

Bad thing for NiuBBall’s annual predictions, however.

By our count, there’s 11 and possibly 12 teams (depending on how well you think Tracy McGrady is going to do in Qingdao) who have a shot at the playoffs. That’s well over half the league. If you think DongGuan is ready to make a jump (we do), then there are now four teams who could sport legitimate Finals cases. Building on Beijing’s buck-the-trend run to a championship last year, there appears to be a level of parody in the league. Pencilling in the top two, top four and top eight is no longer easy.

So as always, take what is about to come with a grain of salt and know that most likely this will all be very wrong.

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The Legacy of Bob Donewald

August 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The turnaround in Shanghai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The resurrection of Liu Wei

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

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

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

Neither have we.

3. The transformation of Yi Jianlian

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

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

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

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

4. The modernization of the National Team

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

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

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

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

5. The trophies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Soon to be extinct (maybe): The Asian Import

February 29, 2012

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Bad for fans of Chinese basketball, good for opposing players: Zaid Abbas may have played his last season in the CBA (Photo: Osports via Sina)

The Asian import rule: Instituted in 2008-09, the Chinese Basketball Association powers that be saw it within the benefit of Chinese basketball to allow the worst teams in the league to carry one Asian import player in addition to the two other normal import players. Attracting some of Asia’s best players would put the CBA on the map as the continent’s premier professional basketball league, which would improve the competition and make their Chinese players better. It’d also level out the playing field a bit and give the league more parity.

It’s been hit-and-miss over the years, but out of everything, three good players have come out of it all: ”Sam” Osama Dahglas (who played for Jilin this year, Shanxi last year), Zaid Abbas (Fujian this year, Beijing and Shanghai before that) and Michael Maadanly (Foshan). In a league that lacks watchable players, the three — all of whom are definitely watchable — are a welcome sight for China-based hoops fans.

So it’s bad news to hear the latest news out of Chinese media, which is that the league is considering abolishing the Asian import rule next season.

Optimists will bring up the same getting-rid-of-the-Asian-import-talk that dominated last year’s off-season rumor mill, and the off-season the year before as well, talk that ultimately ended with no changes to the rule.

This year, however, there has been more support than ever to do away with the rule. DongGuan’s Brian Goorjian is in favor of getting rid of Asian imports because he feels it takes playing time time away from young players, an opinion that Tianjin’s general manager shares.

And none other than Yao Ming has gone on record as saying he’s in favor of abolishing the Asian import next season, cruel words from the guy who gave Abbas his start in China two seasons ago in Shanghai. They’re even crueler when you consider he was one of the main reasons why Shanghai was able to turn itself around in 2009-10 from a nearly bankrupt six-win team into a playoff contender that nearly knocked off Guangdong in the semi-finals.

But in Yao’s case — and in a lot of other team’s cases — offing Abbas and other Asian imports from the CBA isn’t personal, it’s strictly business.

The rules on Asian imports are as follows: The four teams with the league’s worst record from the previous season are allowed to sign an Asian import in addition to the two other imports they can put on their roster. Unlike the other two imports, who are restricted to playing six combined quarters, Asian imports have no limits on their playing time, which means that technically they can play the entire game.

It’s an especially great rule for Abbas because he never gets tired, despite going dumb hard for the entire game. More minutes equals more stats, more stats equals more seasons, more seasons equals more money. All that, plus playing in Asia’s top professional league and it’s easy to understand why he’d like to continue playing in China. And it’s equally great for the team that signs him, since every team that Abbas has played for over his three-year CBA career (Shanghai, Beijing and Fujian) have all made the post-season.

But that’s where the problem is: No matter how much they sucked the year before, once a team signs Zaid Abbas, they make the playoffs. Which means a team who was in the playoffs the year before is going to be pushed out.

And now you can understand why Yao wants Abbas out: The Yao-owned Sharks, a low-budget team that doesn’t spend big on imports, feel threatened. Without Abbas last season, Shanghai missed the playoffs; this season they got in as a No. 6 seed. Likely fighting for a playoff seed again next season, Shanghai could once again be one of those teams who is pushed out of the post-season by whatever team Abbas signs for this off-season. Any team other than Guangdong, Xinjiang and Beijing probably feel threatened as well.

That’s only one layer of the issue, though. The other one is the decline of the Bayi Rockets from a once-proud dynasty into a nice fluffy doormat. Tied to the slow, gradual erosion of their star player, Wang Zhizhi, Bayi slipped off the face of the standings this year finishing the season in 14th place at 10-22. The 22 losses were the most ever in Bayi history, just one of many records for futility the team set this year. Things got so bad in fact that during the team’s nine-game losing streak, fans gave the old xia ke chant (yelled when fans want their coach to be fired) to their legendary head coach, Adijiang.

As one of the bottom four teams, Bayi normally would be eligible to sign an Asian player. Of course, as we all know, Bayi isn’t normal. They represent the People’s Liberation Army and thus aren’t allowed to sign any foreign players to their team.

In the scope of basketball, Bayi is a relic. With both the quality of Chinese and foreign players improving every year, Bayi stands no chance of ever getting back to the top of the CBA. An unavoidable sign of the times perhaps, but as Bayi still remains a national interest, going 10-22 is simply unacceptable for both team, league and maybe even country. So no — getting rid of the Asian import won’t put the Rockets back on the same level as Guangdong, but it would pull some of their competition back down to earth. And if they could find another player or two, maybe they’d get back into the playoffs.

Which brings up the age-old question of whether Abbas is good enough to be a regular non-Asian import, something that Shanghai asked in the summer of 2009 before ultimately deciding that he wasn’t.

A case could be made though for the 2011-12 NiuBBall Defensive Player of the Year (what, like there was any doubt?). Despite his offensive shortcomings, dude does play his freaking butt off during every second of every game, is capable of guarding up to three positions and rebounds the heck out of the ball. Abbas was selected for the CBA All-Star Game for the first time this year, and rightfully so if I may add. Maybe he wouldn’t put up the 25 points per game that most teams are looking to get out of their imports, but would anyone be surprised by nightly tallies of 18 points and 15 boards?

Abbas isn’t happy with what he’s been hearing and sounds like a guy who’s resigned to his fate — all the more reason to believe that this is going to happen.

Unfortunately, at least the way I see it, no team in China would be willing to sign him as a regular import player. There’s always a guy out there, with out without experience in China, who teams feel can put up huge scoring numbers. And at the end of the day, that’s what teams want — guys who can put up huge scoring numbers. Which means, sadly, we may have seen the last of Abbas, Dahglas and Maadanly in the CBA.

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Round 1 – Games 2 and 3

February 27, 2012

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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

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

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

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

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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

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

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

Guangdong awaits the winner of Xinjiang-DongGuan.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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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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Bothfeld: Fujian defeats Guangsha behind Zaid Abbas’ determination

February 2, 2012

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In NiuBBall’s season preview, we predicted that with the addition of Zaid Abbas, Fujian could see a drastic turnaround from their disastrous 2011 season, in which they went 8-24. On Tuesday night, Abbas and Fujian proved that they are deserving of their 15-12 record on national television by beating Guangsha 132-125 in a double overtime thriller.

After struggling offensively in recent weeks, Guangsha was hot in the first half, led by Lin Chih-chieh’s 17 points. However, while their offense was flowing, their defense was stagnant. Abbas hit myriad of mid-range jumpers and every time it seemed like Guangsha was about to make run, he grabbed a key offensive rebound or came up with a big steal. He and Will McDonald, who P.J. Ramos had a difficult time guarding on the perimeter, led Fujian to a 63-61 halftime lead with 43 combined points.

After the game, Guangsha coach Jim Cleamons lamented his team’s first half defense, “Our defense in the first half was not very good. We just got beat in one on one situations. We didn’t follow the game plan. We have to be aware and help each other.”

Earlier in the season, the third quarter was when Guangsha would take control of games. Against Fujian, they came out sloppy and committed numerous sophomoric turnovers (including three botched inbounds plays). Fujian took advantage and built a nine-point lead heading into the fourth.

Having stayed in Hangzhou to work on his shot instead of vacationing over the Chinese New Year holiday, Wilson Chandler went to work in the fourth. With Abbas covering him, Chandler muscled his way by him for easy baskets in the lane. Although Chandler was hot, Guangsha couldn’t get any stops on the defensive end, and still found themselves down 95-105 with 6 minutes remaining.

Chandler would not be denied and after a thunderous block of Will McDonald’s lay-up attempt, scored six points in the final 3 minutes and was responsible for the game tying assist with 39 seconds left. Will McDonald missed an open 3 and Guangsha’s Zhang Wei passed up an open jumper only to have the shot clock expire with only a second remaining.

With both teams struggling in the first overtime, Guangsha received a gift from Fujiang Coach Joseph Stiebing, whose frustrations with the spotty officiating boiled over and was given a technical foul. Up with a minute remaining, Guangsha squandered their late lead and allowed Fujian to force a second overtime.

Fujian controlled the second overtime from the get-go, scoring the first 7 points of the frame. During a timeout, Guangsha already looked defeated, if not exhausted. Wilson Chandler hit two late threes to cut into the lead, but Fujian always had an answer and earned an impressive 132-125 victory.

There’s no doubt the player of the game was Zaid Abbas, who accumulated a whopping 25 points, 25 rebounds, 8 steals, 4 assists and 2 blocked shots. He was everywhere.

Jim Cleamons offered Abbas praise, “He’s a very athletic player. I think his athleticism and length bothered Chandler on his shot.”

Chandler, who has been mired in an offensive slump, broke out with 36 points and 21 rebounds on 11 of 28 shooting. He did a great job of getting to the line, but only made 10 of his 16 attempts. As a team, Guangsha missed 9 of 31 free throw attempts and was beat on the boards, 63-51.

“We knock down our free throws, we do a better job of rebounding and we might have a different outcome,” said Cleamons.

Guangsha will hit the road and play Xinjiang and Shanxi this weekend before returning home for three of their final four games. Now in sole possession of 5th place, Fujian will look to finish off the season strong and secure a playoff bid.

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CBA Round 27 Recap

January 31, 2012

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Fujian – 90 @ Shanghai – 94

A nervy Shanghai Sharks held on to beat the Fujian Sturgeons after a flurry of clutch three pointers pulled the home side away from danger in the closing seconds of the game. Anthony Roberson was a constant menace for the visitors and lit up the Sharks at times in the second half. A commanding performance from Liu Wei and some gutsy three-pointers from Wang Yong were critical to giving the Sharks victory but this was a game that could have gone either way in the crucial stages but for once, the luck was with Shanghai.

Roberson scored a game high 39 points that included 7 three-pointers, whilst Zaid Abbas (17 points, 16 rebounds) and Will McDonald (17 points, 11 rebounds) got themselves double-doubles. For Shanghai, both Liu and Mike Harris made 20 points, whilst Wang got 15, Marcus Landry scored 13 and Zhang Zhaoxu got 10 in an evening of high drama.

A relieved Coach Panaggio was happy with a tight victory but knows that away games against Xinjiang and Shanxi are coming round the corner and that his side can’t relax for even a second. ‘I’m very happy with the win but we were somewhat lucky’, he noted in a concise press conference. With the squad still adjusting to the loss of Ryan Forehan-Kelly, the Sharks’ boss was also quick to praise a number of players who have stepped up since the forward injured himself in December, particularly Liu Ziqui, who had a strong defensive game and made the crucial shot to ensure victory for the Sharks; ‘we’re a better team when he’s playing at the level he’s at [right now]‘. The Sharks’ will need all the big contributions they can get now that the post season is getting closer and closer.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

DongGuan -109 @ Guangsha – 114

The battle of third and fourth place ended with a big home win by Guangsha thanks to a bounceback 28 point, 10 rebound effort by Wilson Chandler. Jin Lipeng, coming off his usual spot on the bench, had a much improved 18 point performance, while Lin Chih-chieh cashed in 23. P.J. Ramos clocked in with a double-double – 21 points and 11 rebounds.

Josh Akognon went off for 40 points, Shavlik Randolph had 29 points and eight rebounds.

With the win, Guangsha is now even with DongGuan in the loss column. But because DongGuan has a larger head-to-head point differential, they own the tiebreaker in the event that both teams finish the year with the same record.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Zhejiang – 104 @ Tianjin – 112

In a shock upset, 14th placed Tianjin took out J.R. Smith and the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls. In his first game for Tianjin, newly signed Herve Lamizana thrashed the visitors for 37 points and 12 boards. Donnell Harvey also got into the 30-10 act with 34 points and 12 rebounds.

J.R. Smith went for 37 points on a staggering 19-22 from the free-throw line, but once again it was his sister, Stephanie, who stole the show. Midway through the third quarter, she got into it with several Tianjin fans and before finally exiting, threw up two middle fingers to the entire stadium.

Zhejiang has now lost six out their last eight are currently out of playoffs sitting in ninth place.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Jiangsu – 97 @ Beijing – 116

Jiangsu remains winless on the road and Beijing continues to take steps to lock up the No. 2 seed with plenty of time to spare in the 2011-12 season. Zhai Xiaochuan set a career high with 25 points, a nice accomplishment that was only made nicer by the 12 rebounds he snagged. As they have for most of the year, Beijing got it done with balanced scoring as five players put in double-digit point totals.

Still on the shelf with injuries, Chen Lei an Lee Hsueh-lin did not play. But their returns are expected within a week or two and when they do finally hit the court, they’ll give the Ducks a much needed boost in depth that they sorely lack at the moment.

Box Score

Shanxi – 110 @ Shandong – 125

The Brave Dragons’ Year of the Dragon got off to a terrible start in Shandong after they lost in convincing fashion to team all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. In one of the rare games where you’ll see both teams trot out an all Chinese lineup for the first quarter, Shanxi went into the intermission down 16 points before scurrying into the locker room at halftime down 25. Shandong’s Wu Ke, who is averaging 8.5 points on the season, looked like a superstar with a highly efficient 25 points on 7-11 shooting and 13 rebounds. Alan Anderson had 21 and Othello Hunter pitched with a double-double of 19 and 12.

Jon Pastuzsek

Box Score

Foshan – 94 @ Xinjiang – 103

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Jilin – 94 @ Guangdong – 107

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Qingdao – 103 @ Bayi – 91

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