It was pretty much bound to happen: first week in the books, some intriguing stuff going on in the league already and some mind-boggling surprises in the early standings (like, you know, not seeing Guangdong already 12-0 despite having played only 4 games). No one in their right mind would say that these standings are meant to remain even close to what they look like now, but with 4 games already behind us it’s time to tidy up our first impressions.
1 – Guangsha
Zhejiang Guangsha gets the nod, of course, because they just got rid of Marbury’s Beijing Ducks. Starbury, for the records, had a dreadful outing (2 of 11 from the field) and Morris, who had a 34-point game, surprisingly tracked down only 6 boards, far less than his usual averages (9,76 last season). On the other hand Guangsha has been killing it: Jamaal Franklin has the best efficiency rating so far with 36,75 per game, scores 32 ppg and gets a ridiculous number of steals: 3,8 per game. The other import, Elijah Holman, has grabbed 20 boards today to secure the W; that also gets him in the top-10 in boards per night. The team as a whole is shooting well and, mirum dictu, they’re limiting their opponents to 95 ppg a night, good for top 4 in the league.
2 – Xinjiang
They’re as a sure thing as there is in the CBA’s regular season. Perennial title contenders and unrivaled performers of Hector‘s role in Chinese basketball’s Iliad after another oh-so-tragic loss in the CBA Finals against Beijing, given the new rules limiting the use of imports in the 4th quarter they got hold of Liu Wei (who is still kicking people’s ass at 34) of young, scarily-thin center Zhou Qi who isn’t doing bad at all. And then, of course, Blatche is going on a 24 and 15 average, Crawford himself has 24.5 a night, and Korambek, Xire and Zhou Qi are averaging over 12 ppg themselves.
6 guys over the 10 ppg hump. Are you kidding me?
You may have noticed that I put emphasis on locals’ contributions on the boxing score. It’s not just about scoring, of course, but making buckets really makes it easy for your imports, who now don’t have to deal with triple teams thanks to your presence on the court. Xinjiang has 6 players scoring in double-digits, Liaoning has 5: Hudson (dark-horse candidate for a scoring title?) with 31,8, Deon Thompson with 20, Han Dejun (13,8 ppg), He Tianju (13,5) and Li Xiaoxu, who – as early as it is – is flirting with another double-double season average, going for 12 ppg and 9,8 rpg. Liaoning is first in ppg, first in apg (having Guo Ailun is helping in that regard) and was first in rpg before today’s game against Shanxi, where they caught only 32 rebounds because they shot so well there just weren’t enough boards around (71% 2pt, 47% 3pt).
They shouldn’t really be here, but since Beijing beat them in the season opener here they are. In all fairness, they’ve been middle-of-the-pack in most categories, and their imports’ stats seem subpar only to an untrained eye: Daniels is shooting terrific percentages (69% 2pts, 50% 3pts), but averages just over 10 attempts per night. A different team would feed him more, but Guangdong has had 8 reasons in the last ten years not to give a damn about what other teams think. Furthermore, Mudiay is only going to get better as the season unfolds, and today’s triple double is one of many to come.
Could have been #1 if they hadn’t suffered a loss against Guangsha, but long-term they will be just fine. Still, they lost Liu Wei, which means Marbury and Sun Yue – off topic, have I already told you about that joke that goes “hey, there’s Starbury and Sun Yue, and there’s this NBA Championship ring, whose is it?”? Oh, well, nevermind – sharing point guard duties and as a team they have been atrocious rebounders. Like, Bayi-without-Wang-Zhizhi-esque atrocious.
Nonetheless they’re a well-oiled machine, their imports actually might know the names of at least half their teammates and Li Gun and Zhu Yanxi have been shooting well, so no worries.
Justin Dentmon is getting better each and every game, and they were getting a lot of boards until Guangdong pulverized them on the glass today. I was waiting for their clash with the perennial contenders since their 3-0 start could have been a result of a less-than-traumatic schedule to begin the season. But despite the tough outing on the boards they’ve held their ground nicely, getting to the paint and scoring at a high percentage all game. Haddadi was superb and Qingdao’s experiment with two imports playing the guard spots and Hamed patrolling the paint is working nicely, and will set a precedent as the level of asian imports is growing at a ridiculous rate (see Kazemi).
Things are flowing nicely for Quincy Douby, Shelden Williams and their peers. Tianjin has good rebounding (mainly thanks to Williams), a good supporting cast in Zhang Nan (14,5 ppg), Meng Xiaolong and Tien Lei and looks set to make a second playoff push this year.
Surprisingly average up to now, this is one team that definitely doesn’t reflect its current early record. They have Bobby Brown, the lead candidate to strip Douby’s scoring record, CBA winner Ike Diogu and Gu Quan, who might (and hopefully will) be on the verge of his breakout season with 20,5 ppg four games into the competition. Not to mention Zhang Kai (11,3 ppg) and Sun Tonglin, who had 20 and 8 today. This is such a young team that you’d expect them to stumble right out of the gates, but the talent is there.
Looking at the numbers, it’s incredible how Shandong has made it thus far to an even record. One of the lowest scoring teams in the league, they’re not particularly fast or accurate when creating offense. On the other hand, though, their defense has been stellar: besides their easy win vs Bayi, where they conceded a 50-ish field goal percentage, Shandong has limited its opponents (2 of the 3 were Dongguan and Guangdong!) to a 42,9 shooting clip, bottom 3 in the league. Having faced such tough opponents without letting the game to be played at their rhythm bodes well for this team long-term. The offense needs more efficiency, however.
Here’s a team that is getting carried by one great player, and that player is newcomer Errick McCollum. Flirting with a 35-8-6 average is beyond any comprehension, and when you add Charles Gaines who is averaging 26 and 16 (with 8,3 offensive rebounds per game, which just leaves me in awe) you’re gonna fight for a win regardless. Of course there’s a bottom three defense and a less-than-oh-my-god-yes supporting cast, but there’s room for improvement.
So, Dominique Jones is averaging 43 points per game. I don’t really need to say much more than that, that’s a good team with a couple good local players in Zhang Biao and Cui Jinming and a jolly in Madanly, who has only played the first two games. Not much efficiency, and not much defense, they need more from Bowles if they want a shot at playoff contention.
A quite flat start of the season for Abbas and a guys-please-come-back-here-it’s-not-funny supporting cast that should probably be used differently (I’d play Duan Jiangpeng muuuuch more than 22 minutes per game) has morphed this team into a classic example that will be featured in “How to play basketball in China: practical example of extremely useful set plays like ‘give the ball to an import and get the hell out of his way’ and ‘I hear my number called so rarely I don’t even think I can remember it'”, a true best-seller that is just a couple hundred pages away from glory and fame.
Started from the bottom, now we here, Foshan might say. “Here”, by the way, in this case equals to “still bottom, but not so bottom”. No lie, actually this team is not a bad one at all: top 3 in 3pt%, pretty efficient overall, they suffer a bit on the boards as Kravtsov is better suited as a rim protector and Akognon doesn’t really have the body of a massive rebounder. With a little help from the locals (Zeng Lingxu has been good, shooting over 60% to get 14,8 ppg) they might try to contend. Maybe.
What happened to this team? Close to making the playoffs last year, this year defense has been conceding too many shots (not necessarily on target, as they’re giving their opponents middle of the pack percentages, but shots in general: top two in the league). Wang has started a little slower than last year, Zhao Tailong has been great (22,5 ppg), Harrington is killing it. If Fisher finds his shots and the defence steps up a bit they might still be in good shape. But will they?
They’ve lost some close games, and their schedule hasn’t been too easy. A middle-of-the-pack team by all means where Douglas and Singleton haven’t been too bad, but neither too good, and the supporting cast has been better than advertised, they might turn it around with more rebounding and chemistry. Yi Li should be keeping up on those 16 ppg, we’ll see about Chang Lin (22,5 ppg), who has never played much back in Beijing.
Good shooting covers a multitude of sins, they say. But what about bad shooting?
This team has shot in the low 40s up to now, and probably World Peace is not the shot creator he thinks he is. Efevberha has scored a lot but, again, inefficiently. That’s pretty much it.
It’s not too bad, for a newcomer, to have already won once after 4 gamedays. McDonald, as you’d expect, has been an absolute beast. Costner, although showing good numbers, hasn’t been nearly as efficient. Kamrani is a good playmaker and scorer especially inside, but isn’t a factor on the glass. Lie Xibin has had a great game in their lone win at the expense of Foshan, but that’s about it, and we couldn’t really ask for much more.
The Sharks may have had 4 tricky matchups, but they just don’t seem up to the task at the dawn of this season. Bottom 3 in ppg and shooting percentage, dead last in apg. The defense isn’t too bad – after all Max Zhang is still patrolling their paint – but the offense is nowhere near where it needs to be. Of course, we all want West to be healthy, and without him this team can’t look the same, but nobody stepped up, Beasley started firing away – exactly what you don’t want to happen – and that’s where a team’s efficiency is bound to drop. In case someone is still wondering, making your imports carry all the offense’s weight is NOT a winning strategy.
Please, ladies and gentlemen, please: I’m honored to introduce you to the worst defensive team in the CBA! By virtue of conceding around 123 ppg and over 55% from the floor this first-year novelty of a team is experiencing growing pains that resemble those a young kid would experience if he gave birth.
To a dragon.
Besides that, the team isn’t horrible to watch on the other end, and features Willie Warren who is having a good season and Kazemi, 54th pick in 2013 by the Wizards (then traded to Philadelphia, which probably is the reason why he’d rather not set foot on an NBA parquet anytime soon), is the best rebounder in the league right now with 16,5 a game. There’s, of course, my beloved Jorts, or Josh Harrellson as the plebs prefers to call him, who isn’t shooting very well, but slumps happen.
I don’t feel comfortable writing about the Army’s team anymore. Is it fair? They have no foreigners due to a self-imposed rule – after all it is the National Army – and they attract no local talent. Not that they really know how to make them feel free and safe, either.
The result is a helpless and frankly saddening team who scores around 85 ppg in a league where a good half of the league scores more than 105 points any given night. And I don’t see anything that could help them.
This is it, for now, see you wednesday for the second edition of “se son rose…”.
Of course, unless Bayi makes me cry so hard I need to stray away from Chinese hoops for good.