Se son rose… – week 3: of Delonte West, Andray Blatche, how to carry a team and the next great Chinese big man, who may not be Zhou Qi.

Week 3 is in full swing; Delonte West is gone and his team has won both one-import games, Tongxi is playing with just an asian import, Blatche is averaging unreal numbers (27,3 ppg 14,6 rpg 4,6 apg 2,3 spg) and shooting 41% from deep, McCollum is paying the price for lonesome greatness, Bobby Brown is piling up assists and shooting a full 4 attempts per game less than last season.

Phew, where do I even begin?

1 – Bobby Brown and the girl who will not be loved.
First off, let’s talk about the quintessential second-year import: Bobby Brown. When he first set foot on a CBA court we all discovered we were being treated, apparently, to a Douby-esque player (did you know that Quincy’s first CBA season was right in the 50-40-90 club, by the way?). What’s happening this season, though? Shooting less, being a tad bit less aggressive, feeding teammates, getting more involved on the boards.
There’s probably one key difference between him and mr 75. Douby changed team every year, even after the CBA Finals achievement in Xinjiang. He became a legend by virtue of his scoring prowess and his numbers alone, not by his teams’ achievements. You’d have to know him personally to understand whether that happened by design or not, and I unfortunately don’t. But it sure happened.
Bobby Brown presumably came to the league with a similar mindset: come here, get buckets, get visibility and hopefully get an NBA contract. But then we all know how it goes: you hear that you won’t win a championship here, that Guangdong is the Alpha Male and every title is theirs to lose, if ever; then you meet them in regular season, and as good as they are, heck, they’re humans, they’re beatable. You don’t even get to the Finals, but that perception of a league where you can score but never win the big prize starts to sound like the girl you can have sex with everytime you want but will never fall in love with you. I never thought I would use such a frank and trivial metaphor in here, but there, I’ll say it: if it was all about fucking her, you’d have left already. You did it already.
Brown is not here to get buckets anymore; he’s here to win, and every shot opportunity he passes up to create for a teammate is not just a pass, is a call to arms. He needs to know who’s with him, who he can trust in come crunch time.

2 – Errick McCollum is CBA’s Atlas.
Meanwhile, we have our new Douby-esque newcomer; his name is Errick McCollum, dude’s averaging 44,4 ppg along with 7,8 rpg and 6,8 apg, but yesterday’s 58-point, 15-assist and 10-boards effort proved not to be enough: his team lost by 5. He’d already lost vs Qingdao despite scoring 63 points, but this loss is terrifying for a mathematical standpoint.
Let’s see why: Zhejiang converted 28 2-pointers and 9 three-pointers for a total of 37 total field goals. Now, McCollum made 17 field goals and dished 15 assists. 17 + 15 equals to 32. He’s contributed to all Zhejiang field goals but 5.
At the line Zhejiang has converted 20 out of 24 attempts. ALL those attempts were McCollum’s.
Hadn’t he been on the court for them Zhejiang would have, of course only in theory, scored 5 FG and no FT.
If you have a different definition of “carrying a team” let me know, I’m curious.

3 – Andray Blatche, the Magic Johnson with Puso.
It wasn’t a sure thing at all. Blatche isn’t the definition of chill and tranquillity and China is a nerve-racking country for the unready ones. But Xinjiang isn’t by any means your typical CBA squad: they are tragic, intense, proud and feature tough guys in Xirelijiang and Su Wei. Blatche couldn’t have chosen a better place in the Middle Kingdom: the Flying Tigers want to win, have the right personnel to make Blatche feel less lonely on the court, yet (differently from, say, Guangdong) will let him break free for an isolation play or to handle the ball in fast-break situations. Turns out that all the circumstances are fitting nicely, as Blatche is motivated to do more than just look for his shots.
You’ve seen the numbers above, but just in case I’ll rewrite them here: 27,3 ppg 14,6 rpg 4,6 apg 2,3 spg, 41% 3pt.
In the whole league’s perspective he’s 3rd in rpg, 11th in ppg, 12th in assists and steals.
That is flat out crazy, and the assist numbers are rapidly increasing, never dishing less than 5 dimes in the last 4 games – you never expect a huge heap of assists from someone playing his first 3-4 games alongside players he never shared the floor with – and going for 7 even in today’s losing effort vs Jiangsu.
His play has been very convincing, and he’s never been forced to play C because the Mongolians are already stacked in that position despite Tang Zhengdong’s injury. He therefore can elect to float on the perimeter to facilitate or establish position in the post – something he should do more – and score with his back to the basket. His isolation plays, of course, have set him apart just as they did in his FIBA World Cup stint. He’s too mobile, strong and skilled even for a healthy number of NBA counterparts
and even his somewhat loose behind-the-back dribble he resorts to so frequently rarely gets him in trouble at this level.

4 – Tongxi, you belongxi! (uhm…)
Tongxi has certainly proved to deserve its place in the league despite the less-than-scintillating results reaped. Liaoning is a beastly team lately and no one really expected them to make anything happen against them. Of course Liaoning got the best of the newcomers, literally crushing them on the boards (20 offensive rebounds) and from the arc (11 of 22, 50%), but Tongxi played a balanced game, as nobody took more than 11 shots and everyone took at least 2 and got to the line 24 times, a bit more than their usual average with import players on the court. Kamrani surprisingly didn’t take many shots as he probably felt a bit cold, but dished 8 assists. Xie Libin has led the team with 21, and at least up to now seems way more accurate from the field than his Beijing stint would have hinted.

5 – MVB(easley)
Beasley’s Shanghai Sharks have won both games where he was his team’s only foreigner. Of course, after West’s release the one-import condition is going to be short-lived (I’d expect a newcomer before the end of the week, if not earlier) but has forced local players to take some responsibility. And Shanghai has more than a few players capable of carrying some of the weight. I’d go so far as to say that if I were Yao I wouldn’t get another import. You’d be looking for scoring, but Beasley has so much offensive talent that there’s frankly no excuse for him to be less than an MVP candidate in this league. He’s that good, that talented, that natural on the court, and on top of all this he’s 6’10” and can track down rebounds. Today he was exquisite, 42 and 17, but there have been quite a few exquisite performances this season. What makes his different is that this could easily be this good night in and night out.
Shanghai came from a 70-87 deficit to start the fourth and conceded twelve points in the fourth en route to a 101-99 win.
As good as Beasley could be, he can’t win alone, and that’s where locals become key. Shanghai has scored 31 points and they probably were the least assorted in franchise history: all post-ups or three pointers coming from post-ups, with very few exceptions which were nonetheless isolation plays by big men or offensive putbacks. Beasley, paradoxically, didn’t even shoot that much during the comeback run (but he had the decisive basket on Shanghai’s last possession). Mostly it was Tseng or Fan Chenglin posting up smaller defenders because they played with a tall lineup where Tseng was pretending to be a 3 on offense and then guarded the opposite 4 on defense, switching with Beasley (who in his last 4 seasons in the NBA has mainly played the 3 spot). This tall lineup of Meng, Fan, Beasley, Tseng and Max Zhang gave the Sharks 1) a reliable offensive game – at that point, it was all about moving the ball and feeding the post, and turnovers got cut down – and some rhythm 2) interior defense.
Let me italic that: interior defense. Just a quick look at the scoring averages tells us that the CBA knows no defense, be it on the perimeter or in the paint; thus, especially when talking about a (momentarily) one-import team that dwells the bottom of the league, all kinds of emphasis must be put on the sheer concept of Shanghai having interior D. And yet, there is no doubt that a team that can count on Max Zhang is going to make the offense second-guess shots at the rim. But for once everybody really clogged the lanes, everybody pushed the issue on both ends, everybody actually wanted to win more than anything else. And that gives us two valuable questions to find answers to: a) is Shanghai really a bottom-half-of-the-league team potential-wise? b) are we totally sure that having one or two imports is that crucial if that import and the local guys are either talented or stout enough to at least keep it close during the 2nd and 3rd quarter if their disadvantage disappears in the quarter that counts the most? Of course the answer to n. 2 would be yes in most cases, but Shanghai has little to lose and a lot to gain, not to mention that if there’s one CBA owner that could break a habit no one’d be better suited than basketball legend Yao Ming.

Bonus 6 – The next great Chinese center you haven’t noticed yet.
Being a die-hard advocate of highlighting Chinese contributors (be it by shooting well, grabbing rebounds or showing a tough, healthy attitude) I like to give kudos to those local players who post up good stats. For example Wang Zhelin is top-10 in rebounds, and that is good news for Chinese Basketball. I like Max Zhang’s 9.6 rpg, as well, and I cannot forget about another stellar season for Yi, 17th in the league with 25,8 ppg. But after following the league for a while you come to expect some guys to show up. Yi is always going to be good, Wang showed last year that basketball-wise he is a man, Li Xiaoxu grabs boards, Max Zhang gets a lot of weak stuff out of his paint and we can all finally agree that Gu Quan’s 18,9 ppg are his coming out party as a Chinese star, given that his percentages are above the 50-40-90 margins. It’s a welcome surprise to see Chang Lin putting up 17,1 ppg (although 49% from 2 is a stat line that must improve, he’s not gonna shoot above 50% all season long), as it is to see Ding Yanyuhang keeping up with last year’s great numbers – dude is a ’93 and is already on the verge of a third double-digit scoring season in year 4 of his career, while improving to 5 rpg as well – and making himself a valuable assets for China’s National Team. It’s even more heart-warming to see Zhao Tailong and Zeng Lingxu score 17 per game; the former is shooting 58,2% overall and 50% from deep, way above his already not-too-shabby career average, which is around 34%, while the latter has seen his role expand big time and has improved his shooting percentages by far.
But the dearest surprise comes from a rookie: averaging 1,9 blocks per game (6th in the league), 14,1 ppg and 11 rpg (11th in the league), ’96 6’9″ big man Zou Yuchen is Bayi’s lone consolation in a season where they had to force Wang Zhizhi out of retirement and back in business. Some of those numbers are unquestionably inflated by playing for a bad team, but being 4th in the league in offensive rebounds per game has nothing to do with his bad teammates and lots to do with him being flat out good, as is his 56,3% overall. Lookin’ pretty.

That’s all, for now. Until next time, see you!

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