Tag Archives: Zhang Kai

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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CBA Playoffs Recap: Round 1 – Game 1

February 24, 2012

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Beijing – 106 @ Guangsha – 103

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

Box Score

Shanxi – 90 @ Shanghai – 85

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

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

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

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Xinjiang – 95 @ DongGuan – 101

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Guangdong – 115 @ Fujian – 97

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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

February 22, 2012

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(Graphic via China Daily)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, without further ado…

(Note: all start times subject to change.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Guangdong in 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Beijing in 4

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

Regular Season Series:

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

Playoff Series Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Shanxi in 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Xinjiang in 3

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CBA Round 3 Recap

November 27, 2011

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Beijing Shougang Ducks – 104 @ Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers – 92

Beijing used a 36 point fourth quarter to pull away from four-time defending champs Guangdong to come up with the CBA’s second eye-popping result of the season. Ji Zhe, Chen Lei, Stephon Marbury, Randolph Morris and Zhu Yanxi all hit double figures for the Ducks in a highly balanced attack that only turned the ball over eight times.

The win puts Beijing at 3-0, putting them in first place with Shandong.

But, while the Ducks were able to spread out the scoring, it was their defense that powered them to their stunning win. They held the Southern Tigers to just 37% shooting and forced 24 turnovers. In his Chinese debut, Aaron Brooks had only four points on 2-9 from the field. James Singleton was one of the lone bright spots, scoring 33 points on 13-17 from the field and grabbing 15 rebounds. Zhu Fangyu had 22.

Yi Jianlian went down with a knee injury in the third quarter. He is expected to be out for two to four weeks.

Jon Pastuszek

Qingdao Double Star Eagles – 101 @ Jilin Northeast Tigers – 104

A good, competitive game was spoiled in the end by… what else, refs. Down two and inbounding with 27 seconds left, Qingdao’s Wang Gang was called for a highly questionable offensive foul after he set a screen on Jilin’s Cartier Martin. The foul led to two free throws, which Jilin converted, and Qingdao was unable to come back.

Jilin overcame Martin’s first bad shooting night of his three game Chinese career behind a balanced scoring attack that saw five players in all hit double figure scoring. Osama Dahglas lead Jilin with a nice 19-10-8. Martin finished with 23 points on 8-23 shooting.

Qingdao’s Lester Hudson led all Round 3 scorers with 50. But as is typically the case for the Eagles, the Chinese players did not step up. Nobody scored more than nine points. Center Ivan Johnson ended with 21 points and 13 boards.

Jon Pastuszek

Bayi Fubang Rockets – 92 @ Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers – 111

Xinjiang put their shocking Round 2 loss against Shanxi behind them last night at Red Mountain Stadium, dispatching visiting Bayi with relative ease. Patty Mills looked terrific running the show for the Flying Tigers in his debut, finishing off with 26 points highly efficient points and 8 assists. Kenyon Martin terrorized the rims for five highlight-reel dunks, finishing the game with 12 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists. Mengke Bateer added 15 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Tang Zhengdong chipped in with 12, which was enough to make him the sixth member of the CBA 7,000 career points club. He joins current players Bateer, Wang Zhizhi, Zhu Fangyu and retired players Li Nan Liu Yudong.

Bayi shot over 50% from the field, but 23 turnovers and an astounding -17 on the offensive glass were more than enough to do them in. Xu Zhonghao led the Rockets with 20 and Zhang Bo had 18.

Quincy Douby’s season ending injury exposed Xinjiang’s lack of depth at the point guard position. Mills will take most of the minutes at that position, but the team should feel better about the backup spot with the emergence of Ge Yang, who came over to the team two weeks ago via the CBA’s short-term transfer draft. Ge started the first quarter and was solid, keeping his turnovers down and getting the team into the offense. But, that’s secondary to the arrival of Mills, who looked really, really good in the 26 minutes he was on the court. He’s got the jets to blow by people in this league, as evidenced by his eight free throw attempts, but he’s also got a nice in between game, using pull ups, step backs and floaters from mid-range. He’s also a heck of a passer and an especially good alley-oop thrower, the latter of which will be music to K-Mart’s high-flying ears.

Jon Pastuszek

Shanghai Dongfang Sharks – 98 @ Foshan Dralions – 102

Shanghai went 0-3 with guess what, another last gasp loss in a game they were competitive in until the last few moments! Liu Wei put up 30 points and Mike Harris and Peng Fei were also full of endeavor in a gritty, tough game where neither team looked like they could take control of the game.
Foshan had the ace in the pack in Gerald Green, who implausibly became invincible for the night after two games of not really doing much, dropping 41 points including eight from downtown and had the home crowd on their feet in the final quarter when he mixed a clutch three-pointer with a swaggering dunk to help his side come back from a deficit to win the game. 
Shanghai could and should have closed out the game and will be kicking themselves that they didn’t. Wilson Chandler and the national media is coming to watch Shanghai on Wednesday. This was not the best way to prepare such a visit.

Andrew Crawford

Fujian SBS Sturgeons – 98 @ Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls – 113

Once again Josh Boone was somehow The Man for Zhejiang, making an astounding 17-19 from the floor for 40 points as the Golden Bulls eased past Fujian with J.R. Smith putting up 20 points and four assists in another under-the-radar performance. Small forward Zhang Chunjun played nicely in a supporting role, totaling 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Anthony Roberson made 45 points for Fujian including seven three-pointers and six rebounds in feisty, volume shooting performance (28 shots) that kept the score respectable. But ultimately the game belong to Zhejiang who did what they needed to do infront of their home fans.

Andrew Crawford

Zhejiang Guangsha Lions – 89 @ Shandong Kingston Gold Lions – 97

Shandong continued their surprising ascension to the top of the standings by winning their third straight game, defeating Guangsha at home. Othello Hunter went off for 27 points and 19 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive end. Shandong ended +13 on the offensive boards. Sun Jie went 6-11 from three to finish with 24 points. Alan Anderson had 15.

For Guangsha, it was once again the Wilson Chandler show. He scored 42 points and snatched 10 boards. But no one else for the Lions hit double figure scoring, a fact that has to be troubling for head coach Jim Cleamons. Dwyane Jones continued his brutal play on the offensive end, only managing six points.

While Chandler is putting up monster numbers, Guangsha should be concerned about the lack of production from its other players. Jones is on the way out for a center that will be able to score better. But having the ball in Chandler’s hands all the time is not good for the team offense because he’s not good at creating shots for other guys. This league has never seen a player this versatile and this skilled on the offensive end, and he will continue to give opposing team nightmares in that department. But, if Guangsha is going to become a top tier team, they’re going to have to figure out a way to let other people, most notably Lin Chih-chieh, some more good looks at the basket.

Jon Pastuszek

Liaoning Jiebao – 76 @ Tianjin Ronggang Golden Lions – 93

Tianjin continues to prove the NiuBBall pre-season last place prognostications wrong with their second win of the young season, this one at the hands of Liaoning. Rony Fahed, who looked so bad in the pre-season, continued his strong play, tallying 27 points and 8 assists. David Harrison, who didn’t look much better, appears to be in shape and recovered from the broken fibula that ended his season prematurely last season. He went off for 15 and 19, while Donnell Harvey had 22 points and a quiet (for him) 8 boards.

If Tianjin can continue to get production from their three imports and some added scoring from Zhang Nan (15 points), then they are a possible playoff candidate potential middle of the pack team. Sorry, got carried away with myself for a minute. Hey — they’re not as bad as I thought they’d be.

DongGuan New Century Leopards – 96 @ Jiangsu Nangang Dragons – 103

DongGuan on the other hand, is worse than I thought they’d be. They go to 0-3 after losing on the road at Jiangsu.

The Leopards are in a tough predicament. The position they relied on to facilitate the entire offense, center (via Jackson Vroman), is being occupied by Shavlik Randolph. Anyone who’s watched Shav, whether in his Duke days or in his NBA journeyman days, knows that he’s not a tremendous creator. And that’s affecting everyone, from Zhang Kai to Josh Akognon, who has really struggled with shot his shot selection and his shot making. Brian Goorjian is a tremendous teacher and coach, but I’m beginning to wonder about his ability as a personnel guy. He’s whiffed hard on his last two import selections, Courtney Sims when he was brought in to replace Jackson in the playoffs, and now Randolph.

With a young roster and a pair of imports who don’t seem to blend well together, it could be a long season for DongGuan.

Jon Pastuszek

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2011-2012 CBA Preview

November 20, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

3. Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls

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

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

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

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

Edward Bothfeld

4. Jiangsu Nangang Dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Bothfeld and Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Bothfeld

6. Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

7. Liaoning Jiebao Innovators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Bothfeld and Jon Pastuszek

8. Beijing Shougang Ducks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

9. Jilin GBT Northeast Tigers

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

10. Bayi Fubang Rockets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

Edward Bothfeld 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Crawford 

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

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

–Jon Pastuszek

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

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

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

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

–Jon Pastuszek

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Catching up on all things China National Team

June 24, 2011

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June 14th: China’s young “second team” goes down to Japan in East Asian Championship semi-finals

Coming off of a solid win against South Korea on June 12th in the last game of the group stage, young Team China entered their semi-finals game last Tuesday against Japan with a marquee win over one of their biggest Asian rivals. Knowing that a rematch in the Finals was all but assured after the Koreans beat China Taipei in the game before, the Chinese knew that their toughest work still lay ahead of them.

If only they knew.

Forcing the Chinese into 17 second-half turnovers, Japan spoiled any thoughts of a China-Korea Round Two as they stormed back from a 12 point halftime deficit to upset the hosts 72-62 in Nanjing. Though the loss is a bitter disappointment for the Chinese, their failure to win won’t have any effect on their qualification for the FIBA Asia Championship in September. As the host nation, China has already received an automatic bid and will be assured the chance to play in the official Asian qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics.

Kenta Hirose, Shinsuke Kashigawi and Kosuke Takeuchi all scored 13 points to lead the Japenese. “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu led the Chinese with 16 points.  The Chinese Second Team hasn’t beat Japan in six years, dating back to when they lost to the Japanese in the 2005 East Asia Games semi-finals.

Yu Shulong, Meng Duo, Yi Li, Dong Hanlin and Su Wei started for Team China, but with the Chinese’s spot in the FIBA Asia Championship locked up as the host nation, substitute head coach Li Nan subbed in and out freely in order to give all players ample time to showcase their ability.  Yu, Meng, Zhang Bo and Han Shuo interchanged throughout the first half in a three-guard attack, with China’s four-headed inside combo of Su, Dong, Zhang and Mo Ke doing the dirty work up front.  Facilitating mostly out of the high-post, the Chinese offense looked decent at best and positively terrible at worst.

But, by the end of the first half, China’s huge size advantage up front translated into numerous offensive rebounds and putbacks.  On the defensive side, the Japanese couldn’t get anything going in their offensive sets, and when it got late in the shot clock, the Japanese guards had trouble breaking down anybody off the dribble for clean looks.  With their domination on the glass and solid defense, China went into the locker room up 38-24, despite turning the ball over nine times.

Coming out in the second half, Japan made a few key adjustments on both ends. Ramping up the effort on the defensive end, Japan swarmed China’s big men on the catch, sending two and sometimes three men into the post. Though all of China’s bigs struggled to do anything positive offensively in the second half, Su Wei stood out as the team’s worst performer.  Looking equally inept at either scoring or passing, Su charged into defenders, lost the ball in traffic, threw the ball away and got his shot blocked en route to six turnovers.

It didn’t get much better for China’s guards.  Meng coughed up the rock seven times, most of which came as a result of forcing reckless drives into traffic.  Yu, who threw a couple of loopy passes that were picked off and converted into points on the other end, didn’t fare much better, finishing with four himself.

When Japan wasn’t racing out in transition off turnovers, they were calmly executing in their half court offense off of dribble penetration and ball screens.  Confounded by Japan’s steady second half diet of pick-and-rolls, the Chinese allowed their opponents easy access into the lane for simple lay-ups or kick outs.  Japan purposely picked on the immobile Su and Zhang on pick-and-rolls, and with the plodding duo slow to both show out and recover, Hirose and Kashigawi ran amok as China’s helpside defense refused to make even the most basic rotations.

Though the loss is disappointing, its key to remember that this was not even close to China’s best team.  Bob Donewald was back in Beijing with the team’s best players preparing for China’s trip to Australia, so this was a chance for China’s young and inexperienced players to pick up some game action.  But, don’t try telling that to Chinese fans. On a poll after the game on Sina.com, 76% of voters said the game was “a dissapointment, there’s no way they should have lost.”

In the third-place game, China beat Chinese Taipei, and Korea beat Japan in the championship.

June 16th: Before team heads off to Australia, Donewald trims National Team roster to 20

Forced to do another round of cuts in the days prior to China leaving for a an exhibition series in Australia, Bob Donewald released seven players from National Team duty.

Liu Ziqiu, Peng Fei, Duan Jiangpeng, Han Shuo, Zhang Kai, Dong Hanlin and Zhang Sontao were all axed.  Yao Ming, despite publicly contemplating retirement, remains on the roster.

The remaining players:

Guards: Wang Shipeng (王仕鹏), Zhang Bo (张博), Liu Wei (刘炜), Zhang Qingpeng (张庆鹏), Xirelijiang (西热力江), Meng Duo (孟铎), Guo Ailun (郭艾伦), Yu Shulong (于澍龙)

Forwards: Sun Yue (孙悦), Zhou Peng (周鹏), Zhu Fangyu (朱芳雨), Wang Lei (王磊), Ding Jinhui (丁锦辉), Yi Li (易立)

Centers: Mo Ke (莫科), Su Wei (苏伟), Wang Zhizhi (王治郅), Zhang Zhaoxu (张兆旭), Yi Jianlian (易建联), Yao Ming (姚明)

All except Yao, Yi, Guo and Meng went on the trip.  Yao is injured, Yi is back in the States training privately, and Guo is with the U-19 National Team preparing for the FIBA U-19 Championship.  Meng did not make the trip for undisclosed reasons.

China beat Austrailian professional club team, the Perth Wildcats, on Wednesday and will play the Australian National Team tonight.  The two teams will play again on Sunday in Singapore.

June 20th: CBA announces roster for FIBA U-19 World Championship

With the FIBA U-19 World Championship set to tip off in Latvia on June 30th, the CBA announced the official roster for the tournament.

Guards: Wang Zirui (王子瑞), Guo Ailun (郭艾伦), Luo Hanshen (罗汉琛)

Forwards: Zhai Xiaochuan (翟晓川), Gu Quan (顾全), Ju Mingxin (鞠明欣), Wang Pu (王璞), Zhu Xuhang (朱旭航), Sun Tonglin (孙桐林)

Centers: Xu Tao (徐韬), Wang Zhenglin (王哲林), Li Muhao (李慕豪)

China has been drawn in Group D with U.S.A., Egypt and Serbia.

This is considered to be one of the best U-19 teams China has ever fielded.  Beyond Guo, who should be one of the better players in the tournament, China also boasts Li Muhao, Gu Quan and Zhai Xiaochuan among a roster that is expected to at the very least make it out of the group stages.

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China National Team roster announced, Yao Ming included among 36 others

April 11, 2011

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On Friday April 8th, the Chinese Basketball Association announced the 37-player Men’s National Team roster that will train at the China National Sports Training Center in Beijing this spring in preparation for the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship.  The competition, which will be held in Henan, China from September 15-25, is the the qualifying tournament for FIBA Asia for the 2012 London Summer Olympics men’s basketball tournament.

With both the CBA and NBA seasons still in progress, the roster has been split up into three separate groups, each of which have different mandatory dates to report.  Group 1, which is comprised of 11 players whose teams did not make the CBA playoffs this season, officially reported to training yesterday afternoon.  Group 2, which has 21 players, all of whom played playoff basketball, will report sometime around May 1st, while Group 3, China’s NBA players, will join everyone at a later date.

Among the usual names like Yi Jianlin, Wang Zhizhi, and Liu Wei is Yao Ming, who despite missing most of season with a stress fracture in his left ankle was selected by the CBA to represent the National Team this summer in Beijing.  Though he’ll be required to report, Yao’s selection is almost certainly only symbolic — throughout the year the CBA has maintained they will exercise extreme caution in allowing Yao to recover from yet another serious injury, and have even implied that the big man’s National Team career could very well be over, even if his ankle heals properly.

Yao, who will spend time in China this summer, was happy after learning of his selection.

“It’s an honor to be selected to the National Team.  If my foot allows, I’ll be right there to cheer them on,” said Yao to a Chinese reporter in Houston.

Unlike in the United States and other Western countries, Chinese players are required to serve on the National Team if called upon.  Since players were raised and trained by the state, as opposed to Western players who received coaching from club teams, schools and amateur associations, the top Chinese athletes have only their country to thank for their development, and thus athletes’ priorities to their country come before those of both their professional team and themselves.  The superiority of the state over the individual in sports is one of the main cultural differences between China and the West.

The roster will be paired down in June as Team China will play a number of warm-up games in preparation for the Asia Championship.

Group 1:

Sun Jie (孙杰) Guard, Shandong*
Guo Ailun (郭艾伦), Guard, Liaoning
Yu Shulong (于澍龙) Guard, Jilin*
Zhong Cheng (钟诚) Guard, Jilin*

Liu Ziqiu (刘子秋) Forward, Shanghai
Peng Fei (彭飞), Forward, Shanghai
Duan Jiangpeng (段江鹏), Forward, Shanxi
Zhang Xuewen (张学文), Forward, Shanxi*
He Tianju (贺天举), Forward, Liaoning

Li Xiaoxu (李晓旭), Center, Liaoning*
Han Dejun (韩德君), Center, Liaoning

Group 2:

Chen Jianghua (陈江华) Guard, Guangdong
Wang Shipeng (王仕鹏) Guard, Guangdong*
Zhang Bo (张博) Guard, Bayi
Han Shuo (韩硕) Guard, Bayi
Liu Wei (刘炜) Guard, Shanghai*
Sun Yue (孙悦) Guard, Beijing Aoshen
Zhang Qingpeng (张庆鹏) Guard, Xinjiang*
Xirelijiang (西热力江) Guard, Xinjiang

Zhou Peng (周鹏) Forward, Guangdong
Zhu Fangyu (朱芳雨) Forward, Guangdong*
Dong Hanlin (董瀚麟) Forward, Guangdong
Wang Lei (王磊)Forward, Bayi
Mo Ke (莫科) Forward, Bayi*
Ding Jinhui (丁锦辉) Forward, Zhejiang Chouzhou*
Yi Li (易立) Forward, Jiangsu*
Zhang Kai (张凯) Forward, DongGuan*
Meng Duo (孟铎) Forward, DongGuan

Su Wei (苏伟) Center, Guangdong*
Wang Zhizhi (王治郅) Center, Bayi*
Zhang Zhaoxu (张兆旭) Center, Shanghai
Zhang Songtao (张松涛) Center, Beijing Aoshen

Group 3:

Yi Jianlian (易建联) Forward, Washington Wizards
Yao Ming (姚明) Center, Houston Rockets**

Reserves:

Mengke Bateer (巴特尔) Center, Xinjiang*
Tang Zhengdong (唐正东) Center, Jiangsu
Wang Zheng (王征) Center, Guangdong

* Denotes 2010-11 CBA All-Star
** Denotes 2010-11 NBA All-Star

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CBA Semi-Finals Preview

April 1, 2011

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Jiangsu’s Antoine Wright celebrates his game winner at the buzzer to sweep Zhejiang Chouzhou in Nanjing. (Photo from Xinmin.cn)

Round One of the CBA Playoffs went into the books last Sunday when DongGuan closed out Guangsha on the road to win their best-of-five series three games to one.  It was the only series that went more than three games.  As expected by most (except apparently for me), all the favorites won out: Xinjiang swept Beijing and Guangdong took care of Bayi in straight sets, Jiangsu won three straight close games against Zhejiang Chouzhou.

The semi-finals start on Sunday with the same 1-2-1-1 best-of-five format of Round One, with the lower seeded team hosting Game One.  The next two will be played by the higher seeded team and if necessary, Game Four will go back to lower seed and Game Five will be played at the higher seed.

Though highly uninteresting on paper, the first round made headlines not for good basketball, but rather for poor, corrupt officiating that affected the result of Xinjiang and Beijing’s Game Two matchup in Urumqi, and Jiangsu and Zhejiang’s Game Three in Nanjing.

As with the first round, the semi-finals are highly unlikely to see any upsets.  But, because we got you like that, we’re previewing the action anyways.

 

#1 Xinjiang (31-1) vs. #4 Jiangsu (20-12)

 

Jiangsu 109 @ Xinjiang 93, Round 8
Xinjiang 113 @ Jiangsu 103, Round 24

The Road:

Xinjiang over Beijing, 3-0
Jiangsu over Zhejiang Chouzhou, 3-0

Going up against a shorthanded Beijing team in round one, Xinjiang perhaps thought they could waltz right into the semi-finals.  But, as the Flying Tigers quickly realized from the outset of Game Two on their home court, heavy underdogs Beijing, playing with absolutely nothing to lose, wasn’t going to go down without a fight.  Perhaps exposing a chink in Xinjiang’s almost invincible armor, the Ducks posted up their guards against Quincy Douby and Zhang Qingpeng with great success, scoring lots of points in the paint while racking up fouls.

Up for most of the game, Beijing saw its tremendous effort undercut by and endless sound of whistles that ultimately led to Randolph Morris, Zaid Abbas and Ji Zhe all fouling out by the end of the game. With the officials clearly on Xinjiang’s side, Beijing was never allowed to get ahead by too much and when the game was close down the stretch, Douby took over to lead the regular season champs to an unlikely – and probably undeserved – victory.

Jiangsu meanwhile also relied on some home-cooking by the officials in their Game Three.  Antoine Wright’s series clinching buzzer beater was allowed to go down because the time-keeper started the clock about one second later than he should have, which guaranteed Wright enough time to get his shot off.

The two teams will meet in the semi-finals on the heels of both of these questionably officiate games.  But, unfortunately for Jiangsu, it looks like they’re going to share the same result as their opponents from the round before.  The Dragons’ big man in the middle, Tang Zhengdong, has been suspended by the team for violating team rules for the third time this season and starting point-guard, Hu Xuefeng, is still recovering from a nerve injury and is unlikely to be healthy in time.

That means that Liu Yahui and Yi Li are stuck guarding the far stronger, far more physical and far better James Singleton, Jerome Moiso is left to handle the Mai brothers and Megke Bateer on his own, and Wright is probably handed the task of guarding Douby for every minute of the series.  Not enough size and not enough bodies for Jiangsu to win a game this series, which is too bad considering Wright can do a solid job on Douby with his length, and that Jiangsu played Xinjiang pretty close in Round 24.

Key Matchup: Liu Yahui and Yi Li vs. James Singleton

In Round 24, Jiangsu went zone for large portions of the game to try and limit Singleton from overpowering the Dragons’ feather soft forwards.  Without Tang in the middle, they’ll likely resort to the same strategy, but it may not make a difference – Singleton thrives off of intimidation and physicality, and Liu and Yi simply don’t have the attitude or the physical to stand up to him for a prolonged basis.  Singleton struggled against Beijing – expect the energetic forward to gradually wear down Jiangsu on the inside.

 

Prediction: Xinjiang in 3

 

#2 Guangdong (25-7) #3 DongGuan (25-7)

 

DongGuan 112 @ Guangdong 103 (OT), Round 15
Guangdong 124 @ DongGuan 108, Round 32

The Road:
Guangdong over Bayi, 3-0
DongGuan over Guangsha, 3-1

This series would be totally different if Jackson Vroman hadn’t fractured his hand before the start of the playoffs, or if Zhang Kai hadn’t hurt his ankle at the beginning of Game Three last Sunday.  But, injuries are part of the game and they are unfortunately the only aspect of the game that can completely swing a series in another direction.  Kai, who missed Game Four on Wednesday with the ankle, won’t be 100% for their series against crosstown rivals, Guangdong and that’s a big deal.  Kai finished third in MVP balloting behind Mengke Bateer and Wang Shipeng, and has been one of the major reasons why DongGuan has exceeded all expectations this year.

DongGuan fans can take some solace in the fact that Vroman’s replacement for DongGuan, Courtney Sims, got better as the series went along against Guangsha.  He went for 20 points and 15 rebounds in Game Four, and looked a lot more comfortable within the offense than he did a week ago.  And for us, that’s understandable: Coming off of the plane to the sight of Guangsha’s enormous Puerto Rican center, 7-3 Peter John Ramos, wasn’t the warmest of welcoming presents for the 2010-11 D-League All-Star MVP.  Matched up against Marcus Haislip, who is a similar height a build, might be a better matchup for him.

But, Guangdong’s deep and experienced roster of national team players have been here before – they’ve won six out of the last seven CBA championships, remember? – and even though they had a disappointing regular season, they’ll have their sights firmly set on getting back to the finals where Xinjiang will likely await them.  The Southern Tigers have been relying on a scoring by committee concept on offense.  Lester Hudson has been scoring the ball a little bit better recently as well, and could  see his number called more often this series, as he’ll have a favorable matchup against the much smaller Josh Akognon.

DongGuan was a nice story this year, but Guangdong will be pretty big favorites entering this one.

Key Matchup: Lester Hudson vs. Josh Akognon

 

With Sims adjusting to his new team, the offensive load was placed squarely on the small shoulders of Akognon and he came through in a big way in the deciding Game Four: 43 epic points, 21 of which came from beyond the three-point line.  Akognon, a slight guard who isn’t physically strong, is a streak shooter who can get hot in a hurry.  But, as we saw when he was matched up against Tianjin’s Vernon Hamilton last February, Akognon struggles with stockier, physical guards who can get up into his body and push him further out on the perimeter.  Hudson, who is similar in build to Hamilton, might give Akognon a lot of problems which could force Sims to take on a bigger role on offense.  Being that Sims has only four games under his belt for his new team, that wouldn’t be a good thing.

 

Prediction: Guangdong in 4

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CBA Playoffs Preview

March 23, 2011

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The CBA playoffs start tonight with all eight teams tipping off tonight at 7:30pm.  The first and second rounds are a best-of-five series, while the finals will be best-of-seven.  For the first round and semi-finals, the format will go 1-2-1-1, with the lower seed hosting game one before going on the road for two games on the road.  All potential Game Fours will be played in the lower seed’s arena, while the deciding Game Five would be played on the higher seed’s floor.

To get you ready for all the action, NiuBBall is previewing every first round series, pointing out key matchups and making predictions.  So let’s get right to it.

 

#1 Xinjiang (31-1) vs. #8 Beijing (16-16)

Regular Season Series: Xinjiang 2-0
Beijing 72 @ Xinjiang 103, Round 1
Xinjiang 105 @ Beijing 85, Round 18

Beijing fans have waited a long time for a trip to the playoffs – four years to be exact – but, unfortunately for the Ducks, it’s going to be a very short stay in the postseason bracket.  Save for a random Rodney White explosion in Round 20 that put the only blemish on the regular season champs’ record this season, Xinjiang has steamrolled the entire league en route to a 31-1 record. Led by the best foreign duo in the league, Quincy Douby and James Singleton, and supported by CBA MVP Mengke Bateer and Chinese National Team shooting guard, Zhang Qingpeng, Xinjiang will have the advantage over Beijing at every major position.  The Ducks swapped out Joe Crawford for Orien Greene with the hope that Greene could stay in front of Douby, but due to a FIBA suspension Greene received for tampering with urine samples in an attempt to dupe drug testers that hasn’t expired, Greene won’t be allowed to play.  That means Beijing will only be playing with one American import, which will make an already impossible task that much more hopeless.

Key matchup: Beijing’s domestic guards vs. Quincy Douby

With Orien Greene out of the picture for Beijing, the Ducks will have to rely on its Chinese guards to matchup with Douby, the most prolific scorer in the league.  Xie Libin, Lin Xuelin and maybe even Chen Lei will all get their shot, but let’s be real: Not even Greene, who was considered a defensive ace at one point in his career, would have been able to check City Weekend’s unofficial CBA MVP.  If he feels like it, Douby could average 40 for the series.

Prediction: Xinjiang in 3

#2 Guangdong (25-7) vs. #7 Bayi (17-15)

Regular Season Series: Guangdong 2-0
Bayi 89 @ Guangdong 116, Round 10
Guangdong 116 @ Bayi 95, Round 29

Heading into the playoffs, Guangdong is in the unfamiliar position of underdog for the first time in seven years.  Failing to nab the top seed since 2004-05, the Southern Tigers will go up against one of their biggest rivals, the Bayi Rockets, who won the league title in 2006-07 at their expense.  The win is notable, because it put the breaks on a potential Guangdong seven-peat.

Last year, Guangdong swept Bayi in the first round and this year is expected to do the same.  Bayi, still depending on the creaky 34 year-old Wang Zhizhi, will have trouble matching up against Guangdong’s athletic foreign guard-forward combo, Lester Hudson and Marcus Haislip.  Haislip went for 31 in their Round 29 win and will likely enjoy similar outputs against Wang and Mo Ke.  Guangdong also has the luxury of being able to depend on its large reserves of National Team players, with Zhu Fangyu, Wang Shipeng, Su Wei and Zhou Peng all able to carry their teams’ offensively for entire games if the matchups are right.  Bayi will have a lot of pride on the line, but it won’t be any match for Guangdong, who will no doubt come out with something to prove after hearing all season that they’ve taken a backseat to Xinjiang.

Key Matchup: Marcus Haislip vs. Wang Zhizhi and Mo Ke

Because of Guangdong’s great domestic roster, Haislip won’t have the pressure of some of the other imports this post-season, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be expected to just put up mediocre numbers.  Haislip was brought in to try and take some of the load off of the aging and fatigued Guangdong frontline, and so far has done a decent job, averaging 22.6 points and 6.6 rebounds a game.  If Guangdong is going to add another title to their trophy case, however, Hailsip is going to have to up his game a little bit.  He’ll have a good opportunity to put up some good numbers against the older, slower and far less athletic Wang and Mo.  Maybe feasting on three straight double-doubles will give the former University of Tennessee standout some confidence.

Prediction: Guangdong in 3

#3 DongGuan (25-7) vs. #6 Zhejiang Guangsha (18-14)

Regular Season Series: DongGuan 2-0
DongGuan 115 @ Guangsha 112, Round 7
Guangsha 100 @ DongGuan 110, Round 26

Guangsha has turned into a somewhat trendy pick to pull off the upset after DongGuan’s offensive centerpiece, center Jackson Vroman, went back to the States to undergo season ending surgery on a fractured finger a little less than two weeks ago.  Replacing him on short notice will be Courtney Sims, who comes over to China after playing most of the season in the NBA D-League.  Sims, who has had a couple of NBA call-ups over the years in between winning D-League MVP in 2008-09 and D-League All-Star Game MVP last February, while not the passer that Vroman is, can rebound, block shots and score reliably facing the hoop.

Some feel that Guangsha’s massive 7-3 Peter John Ramos could have himself quite a series against the more slender Sims, but we think DongGuan is too well coached to just simply wilt without Vroman.  Head coach Brian Goorjian has had the New Century Leopards practicing together for almost nine months, which has been one of the reasons why the team was able to finish the season above all pre-season expectations.  Their chemistry and cohesiveness is what sets them apart from other teams, and although not having Vroman impacts their stuff on offense, they still have highly capable players in Josh Akognon and Zhang Kai.

Key matchup: Courtney Sims and Zhang Kai vs. Peter John Ramos

Ramos has preyed on opposing post players all year, averaging 24.5 points, 14.2 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game on 63.9% from the field, and could potentially go off against against the 6-10 Sims and Zhang.  DongGuan’s number one priority will be keeping Ramos off the offensive glass.  The Puerto Rican national grabbed 3.6 offensive rebounds per game this year and could very well eclipse that number against the physically weaker DongGuan front line. Ramos’ biggest advantage over opponents on both ends is obviously is 7-3 275 pound frame, but if he’s forced to come out on the perimeter to guard Sims, his effectiveness on the defensive end could be minimized.

Prediction: DongGuan in 4

(4) Jiangsu (20-12) vs. (5) Zhejiang Chouzhou (19-13)

Regular Season Series: Tied 1-1
Jiangsu 101 @ Zhejiang 95, Round 4
Zhejiang 88 @ Jiangsu 86, Round 19

Throw out the two teams’ Round 4 result because at the time, Ricky Davis and Mike James were still running suiting up for Jiangsu and Zhejiang respectively, soon to be on their way out of the league.  Since then, both rosters have changed dramatically.  After both teams got off to rough starts to the year, Zhejiang brought in point-forward Marcus Williams and Jiangsu signed five-year NBA veteran, Antoine Wright.  Both have had successful stints with their teams, turning around poor early season records into middle seeding position for the playoffs.

With little separating these two teams in Round 19, this series looks like it could come down to injuries: Jiangsu is limping into tonight’s away game with their starting point guard, Hu Xuefeng out with a knee injury and big man, Tang Zhengdong, dragging a gimpy knee that has plagued him all year.  Factor in Zhejiang’s Williams, who other than Douby has arguably been the best import in China this year, and the blue collar Josh Boone, who is totally fine with just rebounding and setting good screens, and the Golden Bulls look like a great upset pick.

Key Matchup: Antoine Wright vs. Marcus Williams

How good as Williams been since arriving in Zhejiang midseason?  The Golden Bulls have gone 17-6 in his 23 games with the team, including 11 of their final 12.  So good has Williams been in fact, that Zhejiang sits Boone for the entire first half in order to allow their star import four quarters of uninterrupted basketball.  In 41.5 minutes per game, Williams put up 29.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.4 steals, crazy numbers that are only made even crazier by the fact that he finished the year with four straight triple-doubles.  At 6-7, Williams’ ball-handling combined with his length makes him a tough check for most players, but Wright, who is 6-7 himself, has spent the last five years in the NBA and won’t be intimidated in the least.  The individual matchup is arguably the first-round’s best, and could go a long way in deciding the outcome of this very close series.

Prediction: Chouzhou in 4

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CBA All-Star Weekend’s substance can’t match it’s style

March 23, 2011

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We’d say Wang’s facial expression pretty much wraps up our feelings on All-Star Weekend.

Two and a half years ago, I stood up on my first day of teaching a Nanjing University oral English class, eager to start on my eight class journey aimed at turning a bunch of shy English speakers into confident, seasoned orators.  By my side, a nicely organized six-lesson unit on debates that would start with the basics and conclude with an actual judged debate. Since Chinese students have been programmed at a young age not to pipe up in class, I figured this would be a great way to get my kids passionately talking at each other about stimulating and interesting topic matter, while also learning how to think about all sides of potential issues.

This debate is going to be awesome, I repeated out loud to my students over and over again on the first day of class, making sure to add extra emphasis on the word awesome to really drive in the profound awesomeness I truly felt the unit was going to exude.  Judging by their wide-eyed expressions and attentiveness, I guess I was being pretty persuasive.  This was definitely going to be awesome.

But, as my students and I quickly found out after the first unit, “Introduction to Debates,” learning how to debate isn’t awesome at all.  In fact, its quite boring.  Trying to get people excited about how to add support to your reasons and how structure rebuttals effectively, no matter how awesome I kept telling my students this was all going to be, only led a good portion of my class to put their foreheads on the front of their desk, the preferred sleeping position of Chinese students everywhere.  No matter what I did to try and get my class back to that first day, my weary students zoned in a semi-catatonic state as I implored them to be enthusiastic about the definition of the word “resolution.”

What I learned was twofold: First, that I probably wasn’t cut out to be an English teacher and two, no matter what you say or do, you can’t get people amped up for too long on stuff that sucks.  Like learning about debates.

As I sat in the MasterCard Arena (formerly Wukesong Arena)  during the CBA All-Star Game this past Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think back to that same hyped up six-lesson unit that ultimately bored my class to sleep.  Except instead of falling asleep after realizing the game was permanently stale, fans at the arena just got up and left in the second half.  When you’re not forced to sit through a three hour oral English class, it’s way more comfortable to go home and sleep in your own bed.

The connection from the game to my class in Nanjing was easy to make, since both suffered from the same basic problem: Despite being dressed up on the outside as the best thing ever, both the game and my lesson plan were exposed as completely unengaging and dull.

And like the 40 or so students who sat eager and wide-eyed at the repeated emphasis on the word awesome on that first day of class at Nanjing University, I believe that fans at Wukesong were honestly on board with the All-Star experience at the beginning.  The crowd got into it from the start after a cool video on the jumbotron morphed into a pretty slick on-court dance/acrobatic routine, complete with dynamic lighting and sound effects.

That was followed by what was to me the unquestioned highlight of the weekend and possibly the entire season: Guo Ailun, China’s young 17 year-old point guard who played on the Senior National Team last summer in Turkey for the FIBA World Championship, taking the floor with mic in hand to sing (very seriously, I might add) Rong Yao, “Glory,” in front of an almost full stadium of basketball fans.

To an outsider, having a 17 year-old professional basketball player perform a song during a nationally televised All-Star Game would seem quite strange, ridiculous even.  But in China, where the local population’s unbridled love for karaoke extends all the way to pre All-Star Game entertainment, giving it your all to sing a song called “Glory” is not only acceptable, its flat out niu bi, even if he did lip-sync it (which he most definitely did).

After a pretty solid performance by female pop star, Zhang Liangying, the lead up to the game continued to entertain. For the player introductions, it was genuinely charming to see the league embrace more of its “Chinese-ness” by having the starters come out onto the court with their families, instead of trying to copy the NBA by having crazy set-ups and backgrounds like the CBA usually does.  Like many others, Bayi’s Mo Ke came out with his mother and father by his side, and DongGuan’s Zhang Kai emerged from the tunnel with his pregnant wife standing next to him.  Stephon Marbury, whose family was unable to attend, carried a little Chinese girl onto the floor.  Quincy Douby came out with his translator.


(Fast forward to around 9:30 for the player introductions)

Though the pre-game entertainment was generally entertaining, that’s not to say there weren’t awkward moments. Zhang Qingpeng’s courtside proposal to his girlfriend was weird and seemed staged.  During the pre-game starting five introduction ceremony in a hope to lather up the crowd for Wang Zhizhi’s introduction, two lines of scantily dressed cheerleaders banging huge drums hanging from their neck failed miserably (with an assist from the night’s MC, CCTV-5′s Yu Jia) to get a “Wang Zhizhi!” chant from the crowd before the big guy came out of the tunnel.  The situation already soaked with awkwardness, Big Wang took it to another level by grabbing the mic and yelling ni men jiu shi wo de rong yao.  In English, that would literally translate into “you [fans] are my glory,” but I think it’s actually closer to “it’s an honor to have you as my fans.”  The reaction from the crowd was minimal and I don’t blame them.  After all, would you get excited about a waaaaay past his prime 34 year-old who’s only moves at this point are a stepback jumper and a herky-jerky shot-fake step through making his umpteenth appearance in the All-Star Game?

Once the actual game started, it became pretty evident rather quickly that a: no, you wouldn’t excited about watching a waaaaay past his prime 34 year-old do his thing and b: the pre-game fluff was nothing more than a crappy cover up for the league’s unexciting on-court product.  Like in almost every other CBA game over the years, the night broke down into a one-on-one scoring battle between the two opposing imports, which in this case turned out to be Quincy Douby and Stephon Marbury.  The Chinese players, who looked like they were just going through the motions, seemed content to just sit back and watch and contributed very little to the overall flow of the game as a result.

By the game’s end, Douby and the North edged out 115-114 over the South, Douby finishing with an All-Star Game record 44 points.  But like I said, hardly anybody was there to see it.  Despite being close in the last five minutes, a good portion of the stadium had already made its way out of the stadium, driven out by sheer boredom and an overall disconnect from the game.

Besides the apathetic nature of the game, which unlike the NBA All-Star Game comes without the periodic crowd pleasing alley-oops and breakaway slams, halftime probably contributed to the exodus, too.  After a predictably nondescript Skills Competition and Three-Point Shootout ended, the Slam Dunk Contest fell victim to several botched dunk attempts and a poorly executed Blake Griffin knockoff dunk by Fujian SBS’s Zhao Tailong, who dunked not over, but around a huge Anta shoe to bring home the title.  Needless to say, Chinese fans, who are quite aware of Griffin’s car dunk, weren’t impressed.  Tired of it all, many just got up and left.

So what can we take away from all this? Like trying to convince college freshman that learning about debates is awesome, acting like the CBA All-Star Game is this amazing thing only fools people for so long (two quarters, to be exact).   If the CBA is ever going to be a sustainable and legitimate entertainment option for fans around China, it’s going to have to figure out a way to create a bond with its fans. 16 years into the league, people shouldn’t have to be saying that. But, until the league comes up with a way to make the quality of their game better, fans are going to continue to be largely indifferent to Chinese professional basketball, which is a shame; unlike English students and debates, the Chinese have a profound passion for roundball.

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Everything you need to know about All-Star Weekend

March 18, 2011

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We’ve gotten quite a bit of e-mail about All-Star Weekend this Saturday and Sunday in Beijing — where it’s being played, who is participating, what events are being held, etc.

All participants will report in Beijing tonight.  Tomorrow night at 7:00pm, the CBA’s brightest young stars will play in the All-Rookie Game.  At halftime, the preliminaries for the Three-Point Shootout and Slam-Dunk Contest will commence.  Those who advance will go onto the finals, which will be played after the All-Star Game on Sunday night.

All-Star rosters are structured the same as domestic CBA rosters: Two imports per team, one starter and one reserve.

Here’s the official schedule:

Friday: Player Registration
Saturday, 7:00pm: CBA Rookie Game; Three-Point Shootout and Slam-Dunk Contest Preliminaries (at halftime)
Sunday, 7:00pm: CBA All-Star Game; Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout and Slam-Dunk Contest Finals (after the game)

Rookie Game Roster:

North: Tao Hanlin (Center, Shandong), Li An (Center, Jilin), Yu Changdong (Center, Shanxi), Guo Ailun (Guard, Liaoning), Lian Ming (Forward, Liaoning), Zhang Zhihan (Forward, Tianjin), Shen Tunjun (Guard, Tianjin), Han Chongkai (Center, Beijing), Chen Shidong (Guard, Beijing), Sun Weibo (Guard, Xinjiang)

South: Gu Quan (Forward, DongGuan), He Zhongmian (Guard, DongGuan),  Ren Junfei (Forward, Guangdong), Li Yuanyu (Center, Guangdong), Zhang Zhaojun (Center, Zhejiang), Ji Xiang (Forward, Shanghai), Zhang Chengyu (Guard, Bayi), Jin Jiming (Guard, Foshan), Zhao Dapeng (Guard, Guangsha)

Skills Competition Participants:

Guo Ailun, Liaoning
Xie Libin, Beijing
Yu Shulong, Jilin
Lin Chih-Chieh, Guangsha

Three-Point Shootout Participants:

Stephon Marbury, Foshan
Quincy Douby, Xinjiang
Zhang Qingpeng, Xinjiang
Lee Hsueh-Lin, Beijing
Zhang Bo, Bayi
Sun Jie, Shandong

Slam-Dunk Contest Participants

James Singleton, Xinjiang
Zhang Xuewen, Shandong
Wu Nan, Jiangsu
Zhang Ji, Tianjin
Wu Ke, Shandong
Zhao Tailong, Fujian SBS

North All-Star Starters:

Guard: Quincy Douby, Xinjiang
Guard: Zhang Qingpeng, Xinjiang

Forward: Zhang Nan, Tianjin
Forward: Li Xiaoxu, Liaoning

Center: Mengke Bateer, Xinjiang

North All-Star Reserves:

Guard: Yu Shulong, Jilin
Guard: Lee Hsueh-Lin, Beijing
Guard: Sun Jie, Shandong

Forward: Chen Lei, Beijing
Forward: Zhong Cheng, Jilin
Forward: Zhang Xuewen, Shanxi

Center: Randolph Morris, Beijing

Head Coach: Jiang Xingquan, Xinjiang

South All-Star Starters:

Guard: Stephon Marbury, Foshan
Guard: Wang Shipeng, Guangdong

Forward: Zhang Kai, DongGuan
Forward: Mo Ke, Bayi

Center: Wang Zhizhi, Bayi

South All-Star Reserves:

Guard: Liu Wei, Shanghai
Guard: Lin Chih-ChiehGuangsha

Forward: Zhu Fangyu, Guangdong
Forward: Yi Li, Jiangsu
Forward: Ding JinhuiZhejiang 
Forward: Marcus Williams, Zhejiang

Center: Su Wei, Guangdong

Head Coach: Li Chunjiang, Guangdong

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Marbury, Douby headline CBA All-Star Team

March 7, 2011

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Last week, the Chinese Basketball Association announced the starting lineups for the 2010-11 CBA All-Star Game to be held on March 20th in Beijing’s Wukesong Arena (that’s the place where the 2008 Olympics balled at) after fan voting came to a close late in February.

You will ask this question at some point during this post, so I’ll just save everybody the time and answer it now.  Why is CBA All-Star Weekend (March 19-20) held a week after the last game of the regular season?

Maybe it’s because the regular season is so darned boring, the league needs to entertain its fans so they don’t go into a state of comatose just before the start of the playoffs.  Or maybe it’s because teams play three games a week non-stop in the month leading up to it, so they give a one week break to the eight teams who’ll be playing post-season.  Or maybe — just maybe — it’s to guarantee the participation of all of the league’s foreign players, the majority of whom are playing for non-playoff teams, and are thus itching to go back to their home country as soon as possible.

The latter won’t be a problem for the All-Star Game, however, as both foreigners have their reasons (albeit very different ones) to stay and play in Beijing.

Headlining the North All-Stars is Xinjiang’s Quincy Douby, who’s 29.8 points per game has helped lead the Flying Tigers to their first ever regular season title in team history.  NiuBBall.com’s unanimous choice for CBA MVP has looked like a video game with all of the cheat codes enabled on offense for parts of the season, and will be aiming to carry his individual and team regular season success into Xinjiang’s first ever league championship later this month.

Two of Douby’s Xinjiang teammates will be joining him in Beijing, guard Zhang Qingpeng and center Mengke Bateer.  The rest of the starting lineup will be filled by Tianjin’s Zhang Nan and Liaoning’s Li Xiaoxu.

For the South All-Stars, everybody’s favorite wai yuan, Stephon Marbury, will try his hardest to best his one-up his scintillating barrage of three-pointers from last year’s ASG that netted him the game’s MVP.  Though Foshan won’t be playing in this year’s playoffs, Marbury has been embraced by Chinese fans wherever he’s gone and has stated his desire to remain in China for a long time.

Joining Marbury at guard will be Guangdong’s Wang Shipeng.  DongGuan’s Zhang Kai will start at forward with Bayi’s Mo Ke, and Wang Zhizhi, also of Bayi, will start at center.

Similar to league rules that restrict the amount of foreign players on each team and the minutes that each player can play, each side is only allowed two foreign players, one starter and one reserve.  The reserves will be selected by coaches at some point prior to the big weekend.

Besides the boost in exposure, players will have an opportunity to cash in based on how well they can please the crowd during the game: Dunks and threes are worth 3,000 rmb a pop, and a buzzer beater will net a player 10,000 rmb, which means if three-point ace, Josh Akognon, is selected as a reserve, the league is going to be out a ton of money.

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CBA Spring Festival Awards

February 3, 2011

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There’s still five minutes left for us to get in our New Year wishes to our readers, so let’s do it: Happy Year of the Rabbit to you and everyone else.  We hope the upcoming year is one that’s full of happiness, peace and endless good pick-up run.  If you’re not into playing, then we hope all the hoops you’re able to watch is only of the great variety.  And if you’re not into watching or playing, then why are you here?

The waning minutes also gives us an opportunity to dish out our Spring Festival Awards.  Because of the New Year, the league has been off since January 28th and like the rest of the county, won’t get back to work until February 10th.  We think the stoppage to spend quality holiday time with family is refreshing in the non-stop world of professional athletics, so to keep in the spirit of recharging and renewing, we’re satisfying our reader’s needs for mid-season awards by handing out an abbreviated set of unofficial hardware.  Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Foreign MVP: Quincy Douby, Xinjiang

With no disrespect to DonGuan’s Josh Akognon, Beijing’s Zaid Abbas, and our Chun Jie MVP’s teammate in Xinjiang, James Singleton, nobody is having a better or more impactful season than Douby, who’s arrival in Western China has not only transformed the identity of the repeat league runners-up, but the entire power balance of Chinese domestic basketball as a whole.

For the last seven years, its been Guangdong at the top followed by everyone else.  The Southern Tigers have had two sets of three-peats, one from 2003-04 to 2005-06 and another from 2007-08 to 2009-10, with the Bayi Rockets stepping in in 2006-07 to prevent a potential Boston Celtics-esque seven-peat.  Frustrated by coming up short the last two years at the hands of the Guangdong dynasty, Xinjiang, unrestricted by a foreign player salary cap that had limited the quality of offseason signings in years past, went out in the offseason to bring in Douby and Singleton, and the results have been impressive: a 17 game win-streak to start the year and an 18-1 record overall, including a thumping win over their rivals in Guangzhou back in December.

Singleton’s all-around play on both sides of the court has been huge (just check out his stats a little later), but it’s been Douby and his super efficient bulk scoring that has catapulted the Flying Tigers as the clear favorite to take home the crown this year.  Averaging 28.6 points on 54% shooting alongside 4.7 assists and a league leading 3.6 steals, the ultra-quick Douby has turned into this year’s Smush Parker, an ungaurdable force in the backcourt that has been able to control the game by any means necessary, whether it’s repeatedly attacking the lane and getting to the free-throw line to convert at 92%, scoring on a variety of floaters and creative finishes at the rack, and/or driving and kicking to wide open teammates.  Talk to any Chinese who follows the league about Douby and you’ll hear the same three words: Fang bu liao.  There is no way to guard him.

That reality that has caused a westward power shift this season.  Because the thing about the CBA, as one person connected to the league bluntly told me over the weekend, the dominant offensive strategy for almost every team has become “get the ball to the foreigner and get out of the way.”  That shouldn’t come to most as advanced basketball trigonometry — anyone who has watched professional Chinese basketball for even five minutes knows that everything on offense goes through the wai yuan (foreign aid, what the Chinese call import players).

But this year the dependence on foreign players to shoulder the scoring load has become even more pronounced than in years past.  Just one Chinese player, Bayi’s Wang Zhizhi, is in the the league’s top 25 scorers. Another four are within the top 40.  For Chinese who view the development of their national team as more important than watching foreign players dominate the ball, the trend is obviously disappointing and the league’s struggle to balance the two sides will continue to be an ongoing issue in the future.

This year, though, the ongoing issue for opponents will continue to be Douby.  Like the wai yuan conundrum that faces CBA officials, containing Douby is likely to remain an unresolved problem for defenses for the remainder of the year. Which is totally fine by Xinjiang.

Domestic MVP: Zhang Kai, DongGuan

Though Zhang Kai gets points for playing through a Randolph Morris elbow to the dome that resulted in ten stitches at the hospital on January 5th and a bleeding right eyebrow in DongGuan’s first game of the year that required heavy bandaging, the real reason why he’s taking home our Chinese MVP award is simple: Dude is the best local player on the second best team in the CBA.

Zhang’s 15.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and nearly a block and a steal per game has been a major reason why DongGuan has pretty much quieted all early season doubters who questioned their fast start to the year.  Australian head coach, Brian Goorjian, has continually sung the praises of his star Chinese player on and off the court, singling him out as one of the hardest workers during practices and games.

Of course, like the throngs of Kobe admirers in Los Angeles and around the country who annually clamor for their beloved #24, Bayi Rockets fans in China will be demanding that Da Zhi (Wang Zhizhi) brings home the hardware, and Guangdong will likewise be demanding the same for Wang Shipeng or Zhu Fangyu.  But, it’s Zhang’s improvement in all areas of the court coupled with his team’s record that gives a pretty big edge at this point of the year over the perennial candidates.

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwyane Jones, Fujian SBS

It’s tough to single out anyone for defensive dominance in a country that seems to be completely allergic to the concept of bending knees and moving feet on defense for more than two seconds in a row (that includes most of the foreign players here, too).  So we can’t help really but look to Jones, a guy who pretty much wins by default because a: he genuinely cares about defense because b: he can’t really play offense.

The latter has been a problem for second-to-last SBS, who like all teams in China, want their high-paid foreign player to earn his money by putting the ball in the hoop.  As we’re pretty familiar with Jones’ game from his days St. Joe’s and his seasons in the NBA, even we could have told Fujian that expecting 25 points a night out of a guy who relies mostly on putbacks and hustle plays to get buckets wasn’t the soundest of plans.

On the defensive end, however, Jones has been excellent.  He’s been cleaning up on the glass (17.2 a game) better than most aiyi’s do on windows, swatting a respectable 2.1 shots per contest and has been averaging about 4.5 sour looking faces after an opposing team scores (about 4.4 more than the next leading player).  Putting up good stats and actually caring at the same time?  In China, that’s good enough for us when we hand out DPOY awards.

Coach of the Year: Brian Goorjian, DongGuan

Dishing out awards have been pretty straightforward thus far in the eyes of this blog, and the trend continues with Goorjian, who has worked absolute wonders coaching in his first year in China.  Brushed off as the younger, uglier baby brother to neighboring Guangdong since their promotion into the CBA in 2005-06, the 17-3 New Century Leopards have won dual bragging rights in the standings and in head-to-head matchups with DongGuan coming up win a Round 15 overtime win in the two teams only matchup of the year so far.

While the rest of the league’s potential playoff field was investing big money on big-name players, DongGuan went with the less heralded duo of Nigerian-American Akognon and Lebonese-American, Jackson Vroman.  Most of those experiments failed miserably, yet the returns on the both of Akognon and Vroman have been through the roof — Akognon is on our MVP shortlist and Vroman has established himself as one of the most versatile and hardworking post players in the league.  Outside of Singleton and Douby, you’d be hard pressed to find a better pair of imports.

Then there’s the vastly improved all-around play from domestic players Zhang and Qiu Biao.  Like with Xinjiang, scoring is down for most of DongGuan’s local players as increased reliance on foreigners to carry offenses has had an effect on individual Chinese statistics, but efficiency is up across the board, especially for Biao, who is shooting 14% better from inside the three-point line and 4% better from outside.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s all due to Goorjian.  He coerced the team’s Chinese roster into training together a whopping nine months before the start of the year, and got Akognon and Vroman to enter the country a lot sooner than other teams’ foreigners.  The team is always well prepared and cares more on defense than other teams, and the chemistry that the team built up in 3/4 of a year practicing together has contributed greatly to their record.

That type of dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed by the CBA.  We’re hearing loud whispers that Goorjian is next in line to replace Bob Donewald as head coach of the Chinese National Team, whenever that happens.

Like we said: Picking Goorjian is pretty straightfoward.

All-CBA 1st Team:

Guard: Douby, Xinjiang (28.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.7 apg, 3.6 spg, 54% fg, 39% 3pt, 92% ft)

Guard: Akognon, DongGuan (26.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.5 spg, 48% fg, 40% 3 pt, 85% ft)

Forward: Charles Gaines, Qingdao (32.1 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 2.5 spg, 60% fg)

Forward: Herve Laminzana, Tianjin (25.6 pgg, 10.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 3.9 bpg, 1.8 spg)

Center:  Randolph Morris, Beijing (28.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.1 spg, 1.4 bpg)

All-CBA Second Team:

Guard: Stephon Marbury, Foshan (24.3 pgg, 6.6 apg, 1.6 spg, 56% fg)

Guard: Antoine Wright, Jiangsu (22.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.4 spg, 38% 3pt)

Forward: Singleton, Xinjiang (20.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 1.3 spg 70% fg)

Forward: Abbas, Beijing (16.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 1.5 spg, 57.7% fg)

Center: Wang, Bayi (21.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 1.3 spg, 84% ft)

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