Se son rose… – Weekly roundup of thoughts, ideas and peculiarities that caught my attention watching the CBA.

First of all, it’s good to be back. This blog has been kept silent for a little while, as I was observing an inevitable moment of grieving: Byron Mullens will not, unfortunately, be playing in the CBA anytime soon after Shanxi decided to cut him.

I could have said “replaced him with Jeremy Tyler”, which would sound pretty good as Tyler is at least as talented as Mullens (and hopefully not as clueless on how to make good use of it), but per Basketballbuddha.com we could quote a report from China stating that the powers-that-be in Shanxi “really want to replace him. We are actively looking for another player”.
So, yeah, he was the problem apparently. Nonetheless I had to mourn a bit; on one hand, I can still recall his glorious high school days filled up with HoopMixtape extravaganza and Cassandra’s prophecies on how dominant an NBA player he was bound to become – don’t forget that dude was 7-feet tall, athletic and had range on his shot (in hindsight, that should be a memorandum on how you shouldn’t put too much weight on the shoulders of 17-year-old uber-rangy and ahtletic shooters, since at 17 you’re too young for most things, despite what Winger had to say about it); on the other hand, well, this.

Life goes on, though, and so does the CBA, already at the end of its second regular season games as I’m writing. Of course we will not look too long at the standings after just two games, although it is eye-popping to see Guangdong already having to cope with a loss (they’re 1-1, now, following a thunderous win against Jilin); I will in fact write down a bunch of peculiarities that most game reports won’t highlight and we’ll find out, in a couple months, if they are signs of things to come or flashes in the pan.
Like Italian men often say, “se son rose, fioriranno” – roughly to be translated as “if they are roses, they’ll bloom”.

– Mudiay got off to a rough start shooting the ball against the defending champions Beijing Ducks – 6/19 from the field – but recovered with a 60% outing vs Jilin, on 12/20 shooting. It’s especially good to see him going over 50% from beyond the arc (3 for 5 today) as his main weakness allegedly is the long ball, but shooting comes and goes. Rebounding, on the other hand, is a more consistent stat line, and it’s clear that he is set to make waves in the CBA thanks to his willingness to fight for a board, especially on defense. 9 boards today and 5 vs the Ducks are great numbers for a guard.

– Having watched a good chunk of Dongguan vs Shandong today I enjoyed a couple sets to get Pooh Jeter going in the 4th quarter. Disclaimer: you don’t need to let your best iso scorer to bring the ball up the court every single time. Actually, Shandong was close to forcing an OT today by virtue of a nice crosscourt inbound pass where the first guy to come towards the ball was not the target of the inbound but the screener for Jeter, who this way got a wide open three that just didn’t go down. Of course, we’re not talking about Stan Van Gundy-like inbound magic (pun intended), but since CBA teams aren’t really used to defending advanced set plays you might as well try.

– Despite much ado about it and ear-deafening claims that the new one-foreigner-in-the-fourth-quarter rule would help this or that team, in its early stages of implementation what this rule really helps is good coaching. Having only one import on the floor really forces coaches to create something, since even an iso play would probably cause a double team. You really need to stretch the floor and get good shooters in position, which means less lingering around the arc acting like it’s none of your business if you’re a Chinese player.
What I haven’t really caught up on is how you pick which import will play most of the 4th, and I suspect this will only get clear with time. Today Shandong has played Pooh the majority of the time but then Raduljica checked in for the final minute, in a fashion I’m not a big fan of and that didn’t get them great results, as Miro was called for an offensive foul on one possession and wasn’t involved in the other, after which Jeter was sent back on the floor because at that point a 3-ball was needed. I might suggest coach did it because he felt some rim protection was needed, but they were down twice and needed offense. Raduljica is a good offensive player, but swung an elbow to Sun when he got the ball, and the following offensive possession never saw him involved. Dongguan, conversely, had no doubt in keeping Brown on the floor the whole quarter, despite his lower-than-usual shooting percentages.
I also got to see Xinjiang vs Sichuan last friday, and both teams’ use of imports in the 4th quarter was a tad bit more diverse: they started out with Blatche vs Efevberhaprobably due to the fact that when you have Liu Wei you can keep your big man as the only foreigner for a while (as said earlier Raduljica today got a good chunk of minutes, and that’s thanks to a backcourt of Sui Ran and Ding Yanyuhang that’s decidedly above average for local guys), then Crawford checked in, then World Peace/Panda Friend checked in. When Blatche got back on the floor and squared up against MWP the game lit up big time, and that’s what probably got Xinjiang running. A key element to a good CBA team given these new crunch-time rules is having local players that can buy into that feel: there are too many players that like to play with that kind of swagger and nasty, and you can’t have your Chinese players just do stuff on the floor. You have to show off a bit, or import who dominate the ball for your team (and usually don’t know your first name, since they play for a different team every season) will have a hard time noticing and trusting you.
The point is that Chinese players are not taught that swagger, they must have it in them by nature.
In that sense, I like the way Yu Shulong tried to show MWP and everybody else that he had that, that he wasn’t scared at all, and you really need to let your presence be known if you wanna partake in the action. On the other hand, of course, Xinjiang had a number of guys who didn’t need to show off because their game and their history speaks for them: Liu Wei is a big part of Chinese basketball recent history, Su Wei needs a couple screens to show why Marbury fans hated him so much, and Xirelijiang, well, is Xirelijiang.
And because he is who he is things started to happen: two big three-pointers (and two mind boggling turnovers) and at least two defensive stops by virtue of him basically demanding to be World Peace’s one-on-one defender – MWP is good, but creating shots has never been his forte – sealed the game for a Xinjiang victory. Of course, Xire’s first thought after the final buzzer was to go shake hands with his opponent (and, I suppose, personal hero) in perfect NBA fashion.
I could actually elaborate even more on how important it is for a Chinese player to get noticed by his foreign teammates; at a first glance this doesn’t sound all that right: aren’t they the uberpaid guests who should justify their salary? Maybe, but that perception turned whack as soon as one of these “guests” turned out to be Tracy McGrady, a China’s all-time favourite, and when asked about Chinese players basically showed he couldn’t remember a single name. Understandably a Chinese player would want his name to be brought up in a similar occasion at least by a teammate of his (a commodity T-Mac’s fellas couldn’t even ask for because they frankly sucked), and just as understandably the main men in Chinese basketball, a movement who is going through tough times, must look at the T-Mac episode as one more source of light fully displaying how little is going on in terms of nurturing promising young players.
Meanwhile, though, Wang Zhelin has bloomed big time, Zhou Qi looks to be something more than another Li Muhao or Han Dejun and the quality of foreign players has dramatically increased.
That means that players who fare well in the CBA will do so in a league whose level and reputation is climbing, and their exploits will suddenly look way more valuable and translatable to bigger stages.
Will that happen overnight? As long as guys like Wu Ke brain fart for a missed two with their team down three and 3 seconds remaining on the clock I suppose it won’t, but eventually things will get better as the local players face increasingly tougher challenges. Xire standing up to World Peace is of course the good example, but in that same game Makhan Korambek has transitioned from “young player who might guard somebody” to “he has guarded both World Peace and Jordan Crawford just in the fourth quarter of the first game of the season”. He was pretty much eaten alive by both, but now we know. Now he knows. Maybe next time he’ll be ready; and if he isn’t, at the very least we found out about him.

– Harrington is averaging 35 ppg. We’ll see how many shots he’ll take from Wang, but I’d rather not see Wang shoot the ball too much, if he really wants to be seen as a valuable NBA tool the key is efficiency and rebounding.

– Speaking of efficiency, Zhou Qi is 10-11 from the field up to now. I don’t expect this trend to keep that kind of pace, but I’d love to see that kind of season from him: efficiency, blocks – 8 in 2 games! – and patience. He doesn’t need to be the key contributor, he needs to be a GOOD contributor.

– Sky high scores in the first two rounds: a sign of things to come or early-season corrida defense?

That’s all, folks, for now. You’ll hear back from me soon, as they can’t deprive me of another Byron Mullens.
Unless, of course, they take Josh Harrellson away from the league; that’d mean war.

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