This might not be an extra-verbose edition of my power rankings. I’ve just watched Fujian lose to a Beasley-less Shanghai side that didn’t exactly work its tail off to win, and really the Sturgeons’ pessimist attitude left me speechless.
No fight, no urgency, no drive. Wang Zhelin, who put up decent numbers (18-9), looked uninterested, and this is especially sad: a talent like him should be in playoff contention.
But despite being a bit confused by that, there’s much to write about: Liaoning beating Guangdong in a torrid overtime brawl, Shanghai trying to make some kind of run (we’ll talk about it in part two, though) and the growing divide between the top and bottom halves of the league: from 6th to 10th place all teams are tied up at 8-5; the 11th place goes to Foshan (or Tianjin) with 6-7. It already looks like a pretty wide divide since it’s only the end of Day 13, yet it might already be a bit late to make up for lost ground.
Let’s get down to business, then!
1 – Liaoning (0)
You can’t get better than number 1, but if you could Liaoning would totally deserve to. After 2 and a half quarters of Youtube-video-stuck-on-buffering quality basketball vs Guangdong, of all teams, they managed to get out of the hole, force an OT and win the game. All of that vs Guangdong, and I know I’ve already said it; it just needs to be stressed like that. He Tianju is shooting a career high 42% from deep, Hudson is around 46% on 10 attempts per game. Combine with a top-of-the-league rebounding effort, career-best averages all around the stat sheet for Han Dejun – points, FG%, FT%, boards, assists, even dunks if you’re interested – and a solid if short rotation and you get the best team in the league.
Curious stat: He Tianju, although on a small number of attempts per game, is shooting 96% from the FT line. When it’s going your way, let it happen.
2 – Guangsha (+1)
Out of sheer WTFness: how did they beat Xinjiang coming from 16 down to start the fourth quarter when the one-import rules should clearly benefit Xinjiang? That said, Guangsha is hardly the team that will run up the score on you, but a 7-win streak in a pretty inconsistent league gets you right to the top floor (well, unless the top floor is already occupied by someone exhibiting a longer streak). Franklin is clearly the closer on this squad, while Holman concentrates on effort plays and inside scoring punch. Despite that, they play pretty much equal chunks of minutes, around 33 a piece, and while Lin Chih-Shieh plays 30 mpg as well, nobody else plays more than 20. Deep rotation, pretty clear hierarchy and a good all-around roster revolving around their star foreigners (Lin is Taiwanese, but as you may know Taiwanese players are considered Chinese by the CBA – in perfect local fashion, I might add).
3 – Beijing (-1)
The transition from Starbury’s era to Morris’ one was already completed last year, but its consequences still surprise us. And they shouldn’t: Marbury is going to take some rest this season. He’s going to have some down games, he’s going to get people doubt he still has it, he’s going to do whatever it takes to get himself in good shape for the postseason. And at 37 all this has got to happen. Morris, Sun, Li Gen and to some extent even Zhai and Zhu don’t need him to be at his best every single time to get a good seed. Postseason, then, is postseason, and until then there’s no use in judging. Similarly, there’s little need to draw hasty conclusions from today’s loss vs Shanxi: it’s the first time this season that they have shot below 50% from inside the arc.
4 – Guangdong (0)
For the third straight week Guangdong is #4. And as crazy as it is putting it in perspective considering their recent history, this might just be accurate long-term. Liaoning has played terribly for a whole 30 minutes, you can’t let them win. Yet, Guangdong can’t really stop Liaoning going full throttle, nor Xinjiang with Blatche getting help from his local fellas, and maybe not even Beijing. Sure enough, they haven’t been able to so far.
Mudiay has missed the last three games (foot injury), too. Once again, given the growing gap between top teams and bottom teams Guangdong really shouldn’t be afraid to miss the playoffs. They will get their seed, however they play, by virtue of their sheer quality. Playoffs, though, are different stuff, and they know it better than everyone else. Will they elevate?
5 – Xinjiang (0)
Three of our top five teams have kept last week’s spots: rankings are stabilizing as the season unfolds. Su Wei has taken the starting role back from Zhou Qi’s hands, Blatche has been terrific, but some teams have been even more terrific, and Xinjiang needs to be more consistent and win every affordable game without falling asleep.
6 – Qingdao (+3)
They deserved to be up here after that horrible week. We asked ourselves if it was a sign of things to come, but they’ve found the strength to stay focused. Three wins on three tries this week, the Eagles are the perfect example of how to use the extra asian import: get a great asian player (Haddadi) and if he’s a big man get two perimeter imports like Dentmon and Harris. Since this is a two-import, big-man-and-guard league, get a small forward. Harris has actually already played a lot in the league as this kind of mismatch player (usually playing closer to a big man role despite being 6’6″, but he played alongside big men like Anthony Myles as well) and is an all-time all-CBA veteran player who could probably be one of the greatest storytellers in the league’s history if he ever elects to open up about some experiences he’s been through. If they had a good local roster as well they’d be nearly illegal given how good their foreigners are. But perhaps they wouldn’t have been bad enough last season to get the third import option now.
7 – Dongguan (-1)
They’d better not sleep on their opponents: they look the best out of all them, but consistency is key, and a loss to Tongxi is a major and concerning testament to their lack of it. Some of their rotation guys have generally underperformed (see Meng Duo, Luo Hanchen, He Zhongmian…) and if they don’t step up it’s going to be a useless battle: even if they make it to the playoffs, they might get knocked out of them in the first round, even if Brown keeps playing marvelous basketball and flirting with a 30-5-8 average.
8 – Jilin (-1)
Truly, whichever of these 5 last teams I’m mentioning gets some rhythm will likely get a playoff spot, and a decent one at that. Jilin hasn’t, of course, been consistent nor has it benefited from major local talent, but they’re another three-import team, their asian guy being the seasoned Madanly, who is playing really well (42% from 3 on 10 tries a game). Probably something better could have happened on the boards, but Bowles is in his second season in Jilin and CBA teams need familiar faces and consistency: switching key players every year doesn’t help your local roster/coaching staff. Jones has recovered from a bit of a slump a couple of weeks ago, and Jilin is covering ground really fast.
9 – Shandong (-1)
It’s too early to say that the Raduljica experiment hasn’t worked, but so far the silky-handed Serbian hasn’t certainly impressed (15,7 ppg, 8,1 rpg). Whether it is because he can’t adapt to the system (European players are almost never taught to play as ball-dominant scorers) of because the system hasn’t adapted to him (I wouldn’t, personally, feed him in the post so much: he’s much better as a short-roll or pick-and-pop threat from my personal perspective) we still don’t know. But someone’s gotta sort it out quickly, Pooh will not wait forever for his second title shot.
10 – Shanxi (-1)
I wasn’t really sure this team could seriously foster playoff ambitions, and yet they’ve lost just by three points vs Guangsha and won against Beijing. Inconsistency has probably fooled me, these guys might make it. Another three-import team and another bet for the odds’ overcomer himself, Big Zaid Abbas. Tyler and Wafer have been excellent, Zaid is recovering from a slow start. How far can they go with basically no local help, though?
See you for part 2, take care!