The Missing Piece: 6 CBA teams and 6 local players that could turn them into title favorites.

Special edition. If you didn’t expect it, well, neither did I, but this was too long and fun to be just a part of our usual “se son rose…”. This game is pretty easy: there’s a number of contenders and generally very good teams, and then we all know there’s a heap of players that would deserve to be in such winning teams but haven’t been lucky enough.

But this isn’t just a “make a wish” piece of paper. It’d be to easy to say “oh, imagine if Wang Zhelin, Gu Quan and Zhou Qi all went to Guangdong and then maybe Yao Ming came out of retirement to join them as well”, but I’ll try my best to highlight top teams’ needs – ’cause they have needs as well, you know – and find players who’d be glad to join their cause.
This exercise would have been borderline impossible a year ago, mind you, but the already-widely-discussed 4th quarter rules have opened up the local market big time, and if Liu Wei can wear a Xinjiang jersey nearly anything can happen.
Maybe.

Let’s get started, then!

1 – Xinjiang/Zeng Lingxu (Foshan)

One can hardly make a point when it comes to finding flaws in the Flying Tigers’ local forces. Adding Liu Wei and Zhou Qi has possibly put them right at the top of the list in terms of local talent, and given the presence of Guangdong that’s saying a lot. That said, this team might benefit from more ball movement, as 15,2 apg are just average numbers for a team that doesn’t certainly plan on being average in any category. Enter Zeng Lingxu, who is top-15 in assists and would play alongside Liu Wei and Xirelijiang – the former is posting his lowest apg average in 10 years, the latter has just never been a point guard despite his size – allowing them to look for their shots a bit more. And it’s not like this will cause mismatches, since Zeng is 6’4″ and clearly Xire is always going to be the man to take on opposing guards. Zeng isn’t a factor on the glass, but his shooting (and his points: 16,2 per game on 50+ shooting) has steadily improved and makes him a good fit in a really efficient team in its own right. Wouldn’t necessarily be a starter, but they could really use further depth at both guard spot so they can leave Korambek at the 3-spot, where he clearly belongs.

2 – Beijing/Wang Zhelin (Fujian)

I doubted putting Wang was really fair, since he’s the future of this movement. But Fujian is playing terribly, Al Harrington is gone (probably for an NBA deal) and Wang might end this season in a bottom-four team, which might see him looking for a better team to shine in while waiting for the big call. No need to clarify how much Wang would improve every team he winds up playing for, but once again I’ll look for what the team really needs, and no contender needs him more than the Ducks. Way below average in rebounds per game, they will not let Morris go just because he can’t be a top-5 rebounder: he’s too good at everything else. Yet, despite his size, he’s not necessarily a center, but more of a LaMarcus Aldridge-esque big PF/C who is comfortable facing the basket and could use some size by his side. Wang is a classic back-to-the-basket C who rarely ventures beyond 10 feet and would make a monster frontcourt partner to RM32 by going hard on the boards and getting deep position offensively for easy post-ups. Don’t forget that Wang is meant to play at a high level – he eventually will, like it or not – and NBA teams don’t really rely on post-ups so frequently; thinking long-term Wang’d better show he can fit regardless of the magnitude his role will have (right now we’ve only seen him as a first or second option in a team, will he be as active and motivated as a role player who has to search for his own looks without bending the team’s game?) because NBA scouts have a different point of view from us CBA fanatics and will look at him not by the numbers, but by the attributes. He’s got great touch, a nose for rebounding and good size, but we still need to see his FT% go up and his defense make some good impact at least at this level. As much as he works on his shooting, being in Fujian will never help him look good as a defender; the Ducks would be a different story, though, and would give him no excuses: if his defense translates, good for him; if it doesn’t…ouch.
Beijing, meanwhile, would have a great player to rely upon now that they can’t activate the Morris-Marbury P’n’R connection that made wonders for them in the last couple of years. Could it be enough to win another title? Oh, you bet it!

3 – Dongguan/Zhang Dayu (Zhejiang)

Dongguan needs two things: interior defense and offensive consistency. Zhang Dayu, the young center from Zhejiang, provides both. This is one of the most overlooked players around the league. Hasn’t started his career with a bang, and his minutes haven’t been consistent in his first years, but as long as he’s been on the floor his numbers have steadily improved to the point that at 23 he’s now a top-6 shot blocker and a guy you can count on for 13-14 points per night with almost no letups. Exactly what this team needs, since local guys have been a bit unsettled so far. With Bobby Brown being a constant presence and Gu Quan adjusting to the spotlight he’s deservingly in, nobody will ask Zhang to be their next big thing – if only because that title hasn’t really been much of a lucky charm around there – but just to do better than Li Muhao and Sun Tonglin. He has enough tricks up his sleeve to pull that off, and with Zhang Kai slowly transitioning to the role of seasoned veteran coming off the bench he’ll play consistent minutes and get his share of touches and shot opportunities while playing in a team that will give him more visibility and a fair chance to compete for a title.

4 – Guangsha/Ding Yanyuhang (Shandong)

This has been a tough one, since pretty much every great 3pt shooting team is a playoff-caliber team (besides possibly Foshan, whose shooting prowess is a byproduct of having picked Akognon and Khatib as two of your three imports) and I was left wondering whether to pick Zhao Tailong, Li Jingyu or Ding Yanyuhang. Ultimately, despite being the worst 3pt shooter of the three, Ding gets the nod thanks to his sheer quality. He is a basketmaker whatever the circumstance, and fits well in a pretty tall lineup where both Franklin and Lin Chih-Shieh can play the guard spots.
Of course, Guangsha is the only high-quality team to shoot less than 35% from deep, and Ding will help in that regard so the Lions can open up the floor like they need to.

5 – Guangdong/Chang Lin (Jiangsu)

This is a no-brainer. Chang Lin is showing how good he is and how tough it can be to play for a middle-of-the-pack team. Despite that, he is a true power forward that can easily fill the need for another local big man to put alongside Yi, since Su Wei has found home elsewhere long ago (Urumqi, fyi). Zhou Peng has good size, but is more of a tall small forward than a true big man, and Dong Hanlin just isn’t Chang Lin. The Southern Tigers need a solid season and a big postseason run to claim back the trophy, and they just might need a few adjustments core-wise. Chang Lin is averaging 15,2 ppg and 5,1 rpg, a number that will increase without Singleton around; meanwhile no Chinese player whose name isn’t Yi Jianlian in Guangdong is averaging 4 or more boards per night. Chang’s touch from behing the rainbow has been surprisingly accurate, too, and that will help him fit in the 2nd-best 3pt shooting team in the league.

6 – Liaoning/Zou Yuchen (Bayi)

It’s always a coin toss when you involve the Army. The same time that forced Wang Zhizhi to come out of retirement would never let its only promising player go to a CBA rival, wouldn’t it?
Well, talent and money can open up multiple ways for you, and while Liaoning has the money Zou surely has the talent. Liaoning takes pride in creating talent from scratch in its facilities, but Zou is too good to let go. There’s no legitimate flaw in the Dinosaurs’ game, aside from a slightly below-average free throw rate, and yet Zou Yuchen will get to the line at a decent rate, almost 5 per game. But the talent, especially rebound-wise, is amazing and resembles that of a younger, more talented and equally fearless Li Xiaoxu; that’s a good feat now that Li is playing below his capabilities. Liaoning needs a young star like Zou to both learn some tricks from Li and to play alongside a true star like Lester Hudson, whose presence alone might help Zou get better, Li might come off the bench where his hunger will be even more devastating.

See you tomorrow for “Se son rose…”, have a nice day.

Or night.

Or whatever.

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