We’ve finally turned the page. The first half of this regular season is in the books and some sentences have already been handed out. There basically is a chunk of 8 teams far behind, among which some have already given up. That, in itself, probably isn’t a surprise, as isn’t unheard of to see so many import changes. Most of those newcomers, however, aren’t competing for a playoff spot; how much personal success will be a priority in their half-season in the CBA?
Let’s get to the first half of our rankings, now.
1 – Liaoning, 21-1 (0)
No more unbeatable, are they? Well, maybe just technically, since they lost to Qingdao just due to Han Dejun’s missed free throws and their third-worst outing from deep of the season (31%, their standards are pretty high). Since then, they’ve just about breezed over anybody. A career season for most locals, a career season for Hudson himself (he’s averaged more points per game in 2012, but his percentages are in the 50-40-90 club this year), 1st team in rebounds per game, 2nd in assists per game, steals per game and 3-point percentage, 3rd in field goals made per game, top team in fewest boards per game conceded, top-5 in FG% conceded, top-3 in 3pt% conceded. There’s just little to add, this is the best team in the league. And it’s not even close.
2 – Guangdong, 19-3 (0)
The perennial contenders have picked up their pace with the help of Will Bynum, who is providing the expertise and passing Mudiay was probably just too young to give on a nightly basis (sometimes people forget it, but he’s 18. He was going to make some mistakes and there was no point in expecting otherwise). Always a good decision-making team, Guangdong has been shining on the offensive end: 1st in FG% and apg, top-4 in ppg. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without Yi’s stellar season. The former NBA, whose failed attempt to establish himself in the Association is at least partially due to a complete misunderstanding of what kind of player he was going to become (he really is an Al Horford kind of center, not a big stretch 4), is having his best season: 27,2 ppg on 62,2% shooting. Ironically, this is also is worst season rebounds-wise with 8,9 per game, but in general Guangdong isn’t grabbing many boards. However, they’re 1st in offensive boards conceded per game and 2nd in total rpg conceded, and that’s what matters. Furthermore, Wang Shipeng is slowly making his way back into the starting lineup as the Tigers progressively look like their playoff selves.
3 – Guangsha, 17-5 (0)
Solid rebounding team (3rd overall), and looking at their offense that’s the only elite stat. Their strength, in fact, is their defense: 3rd overall in fg% conceded (while only being top-8 in 3pt% allowed – much of their defense affects inside attempts) and 3rd in spg. Franklin has been an excellent scorer and a reliable rebounder, Holman has been a defensive presence and a maniac on the glass. There’s little certainty on who will follow lead among the locals, but one thing’s for sure: Lin Chih-Chieh will be relied on, since big opponents will require Holman to stay on the floor in the 4th (happened just today vs Shanghai) and the Taiwanese will run the show on the offensive end. Wang Zheng will probably see his minutes rise as he’s having a career season on the offensive end, but is an x-factor on defense. My bet: the fifth guy will be the second-year youngster Li Jinglong. As young as he is, he might just be the only guy to give them what they miss: a shooter to stretch the floor at the 3 spot.
4 – Beijing, 17-5 (0)
Another team that allows good percentages from deep but is still top-4 in fg% conceded, this team gets solid looks from everywhere on the floor and is top-3 in 3pt%. Being good at everything sometimes is enough, especially when you have huge playoff experience and are the title holder. It’s Morris’ era, now, and Marbury is content to let other guards dominate the actions probably because he can afford it: Sun Yue is keeping it honest with his defense and size, Li Gen is finally back at his Qingdao form. As long as the shooting is there for the other guys (especially Zhu Yanxi, since he’s one of the few guys everybody seems to look for when he’s open), this team will win games. When their constant pick-and-pops will stop producing, it’s going to be harder. But will that moment ever come?
5 – Qingdao, 16-6 (0)
The best team in ppg owes a lot to Haddadi, Dentmon and Harris. We’ve already said a thousand words about their performance – especially concerning the Iranian. Now, though, that this team has every right to think about the postseason, the old and usual rotation problems will need solving: which locals are going to get the nod against top-notch opponents? Lu Wei has taken it to the next level with the game-sealing shot vs Liaoning, but it’s an episode, after all. Aside from Zhang Chengyu nobody gets 25+ minutes per game, and that lack of stability is to be overcome before the end of regular season. Right now, though, as a team there’s little to complain about: they’re also top-3 in rpg allowed and FG%.
6 – Shanxi, 16-6 (+1)
Another 3-import affair looks for a playoff spot. Great shooting (top-2 in FG%) and few turnovers (bottom 4) combined with a top-4 performance in limiting opponents’ rebounds. Tyler and Wafer have been as good as advertised, we know it, but Abbas still needs some love. Approaching his 6th season with 6 different teams all coming from a bottom-four campaign (he’s always taken the Asian import slot), he’s never missed the playoffs in 5 tries and odds are that he won’t miss them for another year, all this while en route to what could be his 5th double-double season in a row. All that while being the less talented of all 5 asian imports this year, all that while playing much less, shooting much less and much better. We bow down to you, big Zaid. That said, this team has at least two reliable shooters among locals in Duan Jiangpeng and Hong Zhishan (the diminutive off-guard, quite frankly, is an excellent shooter and his percentages speak for themselves): if there’s one dark-horse candidate for a deep run, it might just be them.
7 – Xinjiang, 15-7 (-1)
An average stat line is surprising what Xinjiang provides us with, with the only good spots coming, not surprisingly, from the bpg line (Zhou Qi has much to do with that). Having already reached import number 4 with half season still ahead of them, this team’s lack of patience is probably making things worse. And yet, there’s a load of teams raising questions while playing the regular season who have then played brilliantly in the playoffs. Why shouldn’t we predict that for a team that has Liu Wei, Xirelijiang, Blatche, Telfair, Korambek, Zhou Qi, Tang Zhengdong and Su Wei? Let’s be realistic: they’re likely to fight back and surprise many. Right now, though, they’re just a smidge above the league average in just about everything, and obviously that’s not what everybody expected.
8 – Jilin, 13-9 (+1)
They don’t necessarily shoot extremely well, but they indeed shoot a lot (2nd in FGA per game) and they grab boards (4th in the league). Everything about their defensive stats, however, screams “you’re not making the playoffs” potential; will they find a silver lining and solve that – while maybe stopping that inconsistent trend that makes them lose to Tongxi and win vs Xinjiang? Import play has been of the highest order from Jones and Madanly (Bowles has been a bit less stellar, but still pretty solid given the minutes played), but no local has shot more than 7,6 attempts per game.
9 – Dongguan, 12-10 (-1)
Average team stats (they have conceded a very low 3pt%, though) equal to average results. That’s now how Dongguan should have fared, but young teams do that. Now it’s time to secure that playoff spot, though, and with Gu Quan taking a huge step back and with little accuracy coming from most locals, it’s maybe time to look elsewhere. Not very far, though: Sun Tonglin is silently putting up great looking numbers in terms of rebounding and accuracy. Don’t forget that he’s as young as Gu Quan. Personally, however, I still feel like they eventually will make the playoffs, maybe with some contribution coming from the often overlooked Zhang Kai, whose inconsistency is a byproduct of his age, not his talent.
10 – Foshan, 12-10 (0)
Foshan’s guys probably have the softest touch in the league: first in 3pt%, 2nd in FT%. Subpar rebounding and lackadaisical defence have held this squad back, though, and considering that no player has underperformed (maybe Kravtsov could score more, but he wasn’t regarded as that kind of player anyway and his percentages are good at 61%). Could it already be the ceiling for this team?
See you for part 2 (possibly on Tuesday instead of Monday, but it’s not a sure thing, so stay tuned), take care!