Why the Guangdong Southern Tigers are the best team in the CBA (even when they’re actually not): a statistical analysis

One thing you need to adjust to quickly when you approach the CBA is the imports’ status, which appears to be somewhat godlike especially in terms of expectations. Import players (generally americans) need to bring their A-game on a nightly basis on the offensive end, whilst on defense…well, not so much.
CBA local fans, managers, executives, they all look at the individual stats to value foreign players.


We may have a further look at why this doesn’t translate so well on the court, but there might be an easier way already: the most successful team in the CBA follows the opposite trend.
The Guangdong Southern Tigers, in their last six seasons have had their most prolific foreign scorer in Aaron Brooks (2011/2012, 22.3 ppg). Aside from him, only two other imports in the same time span have averaged more than 20 points per game (Lester Hudson, 21.6, and Marcus Haislip, 21.7), and none of the three has shot below 52% from the field. To make a comparison, in the last three seasons the league’s leading scorers (respectively J.R. Smith, Shavlik Randolph and Jonathan Gibson) have never reached the 50% mark, although frequently getting pretty close.
But is it just a matter of imports? Well, for the Tigers it definitely isn’t: their leading scorer is former NBA power forward Yi Jianlian, and their other local talents have all been shooting at a good clip: the only player shooting below 40% percent is the experienced shooting guard Wang Shipeng, who sported a not-so-unsatisfactory 39,8%. Meanwhile the Beijing Ducks, who have beaten them to win the Championship twice in the last three seasons, have had at least a third of the team letting it fly below that mark for two seasons.
Ironically enough, they had this unhealthy trend going in 2011/2012, when again only one Tiger (Wang Shipeng again) shot under 40%. And they beat them.

Undoubtedly these stats could (and possibly should) be seen as indicative of how wide the gap is between Guangdong’s local players and the other chinese players populating the league. But there’s one more stat line that might indicate otherwise.
The 3-point percentage is one category where the Tigers have been doing well (1st in team percentage), but their individual numbers are not outstandingly better than other good teams in the league. Looking at the most efficient players shooting from the arc last season, only Zhu Fangyu is in the top 15. What’s really outstanding is their discipline: of all the Guangdong players who have shot below 35% from the arc only Royal Ivey shot more than 1,5 three-pointer a game (not by chance, since he was the latest addition in the team and probably never was given enough time to get accustomed to the system).
Comparing this stat line to other teams will make even me blush: Liaoning have had Guo Ailun shooting 2.17 threes a game at a 30,8% clip, Dominique Jones 6 threes a game under 28%, Yang Ming 2,69 per game at an abysmal 23,7%; the Dongguan Leopards have let their leading scorer Bobby Brown shoot almost 9 threes per game at 32,3%, Zhao Jie contributed with 2.83 treys per game shooting 32,8%, while Donte Greene has shot 30,7% from downtown on 5.56 attempts per game; the Shanghai Sharks, another good team with a great import in “mr 75” himself Quincy Douby have had captain Liu Wei shooting 29% on 3.85 threes, Cai Liang 24,7% on 2.62 threes, Douby 31.7% on 6.20 attempts from the arc.

Simply said, Guangdong (and, to some extent, Xinjiang) exhibited more disciplined shot selection: they have bad shooters like every other team in the league, but they don’t let them shoot that much.
Is this something scouted by the executives in the CBA? I think so.
Are they going to address this problem by picking, at the very least, less trigger-happy imports? They just signed Al Harrington.
Does that count as an answer?

(p.s. Al, I love you, nothing personal)

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