Now that we’ve analyzed the match-ups involving seeds number 1, 2, 7 and 8, let’s move on to the 2 remaining quarter-final bouts, Qingdao-Shanxi and Beijing-Jilin.
# 3 Qingdao vs #6 Shanxi
Qingdao has been very impressive for a 3-import (and, consequentially, former bottom-5) squad, and most of their success is a direct result of their summertime import choices: believing that Haddadi could be much better than what his Sichuan stint could have indicated and pairing him with a top-notch shooter like Dentmon and a perennial CBA star import in Mike Harris has ultimately given them an edge in virtually every game, as Haddadi’s unlimited time on the floor (being an Asian import he isn’t subject to any kind of minutes restriction) has forced most teams to subdue. Shanxi, another 3-import side, has opted for the expertise of veteran Zaid Abbas as an Asian import while feeding the team’s all-out attacking style with two elite scorers in Von Wafer and Jeremy Tyler. Both teams’ conformation might suggest that they might fare better in the regular season than in the playoffs due to how game-changing Asian imports are against weaker teams due to them not being affected by the one-import 4th quarter rule. Nonetheless, both teams have won big games even vs top-2 teams. A couple tips might help us focus on the series’ nuances:
1) Harris and Wafer are matchup nightmares. Will they guard each other?
Harris is really enjoying his swingman role as the only foreign at the 3-spot in the league (except maybe for Beasley, who won’t be in the playoffs). Too big for guard imports, too quick and adept as a shooter for big men, he basically gets paired up with local players and thrives on making them look silly. On the other hand, Wafer is a big guard whose scoring prowess is at an NBA level, and gives up just an inch compared to Harris. Since Dentmon isn’t a defender and could never stand his ground against a much bigger Wafer, Harris might guard him. And since Abbas is more of an interior defender just like Tyler, Wafer might want to check Harris at least to make sure he doesn’t get open looks from the perimeter. All seems to point to this 1-on-1 encounter. But will it ever take place?
2) Will at least one local player make some kind of impact on the series?
As good as having 3 foreigners is, the requirement of having been a bottom-5 team the previous season is a pretty good sign you probably don’t have a scintillating local roster. The only local player worth paying some attention to here is Duan Jiangpeng, who is a spot-up shooter for Shanxi. We might add that Qingdao’s Zhang Chengyu has 11,2 ppg, but he’s also on a good shooting stretch that might end any day (and probably soon will, looking at his career percentages), and that’s it.
Key matchup: Jeremy Tyler vs Hamed Haddadi
Quite obviously, the key face-off is down low. Haddadi has been the season-changing presence in the paint with his size on defense and complete game on offense, making his teammates better. Tyler is a great rebounder and interior scorer who might give up a bit of size to the Iranian (4 inches), but can’t afford to give up ground. If Haddadi is kept on check there’s no reason Shanxi can’t win the whole series, being a far more athletic team.
What does Qingdao need to do?
Qingdao hasn’t finished the season in a resounding fashion, with 3 losses in their last 5 games. It’s all about how tough Harris and Haddadi will be to cover. If they manage to get all the opposing defense’s attention, then Dentmon will kill from beyond the rainbow and most locals can bury a three-pointer at a decent rate. It’s all about letting the two big guys go to work.
What does Shanxi need to do?
It’s all about stopping Haddadi first, and Harris second. If they manage to solve the riddle and find out how to guard them, then Qingdao isn’t nearly as tough a team to face for Shanxi’s offense and athleticism.
Prediction: 3-1 Shanxi.
#4 Beijing vs #5 Jilin
Beijing’s foreign core is slowly aging and Coach Min has made adjustments in order to avoid wearing veterans out. As a result, Morris has taken charge of the leading role for most of the season, while Marbury has played significant minutes only in big matches. It was supposed to be Sun Yue’s season, but instead it’s certainly been Li Gen’s year. His touch has been excellent from everywhere on the court, and his role has expanded big time. Jilin, meanwhile, has ended the season with a 10-game winning streak in which Jones has been a true MVP candidate, even putting up a near triple-double of 57-15-9 vs Liaoning. Let’s dig a bit deeper:
1) Jilin’s locals contribute more than you would expect.
Beijing’s locals, since their first championship stint, have always been an integral part of the plan to the point where saying they’re good sounds obvious. Jilin’s numbers highlight mostly Jones and Madanly’s contributions as a deadly tandem and Bowles’ interior scoring, but their locals are not puppets. Zhong Cheng and Ang Lee are two good interior presences that provide some rebounding to complement Bowles, while Cui Jinming is another laser that spreads the floor for Jones’ drives. Their rotation might be short, but it surely is sweet.
2) Who will be Beijing’s leader?
The Marbury era slowly seems to come to a close, as Morris clearly is the one who’s given key possessions oftentimes. But, the CBA being a guard-oriented league, is a non-dominantly-rebounding big men a valuable first scoring option for a contender? Or will Marbury’s role be split between Morris and other guards like Sun and Li? This series will pretty much put this to the test right away, as no other team can play a complete force like Jones at the guard spot (except maybe for Shanxi having Wafer), and forcing him to take bad shots will be key.
Key match-up: Jones vs Marbury
In the end, however, Jones’ dominance will force Marbury to come out early in the playoffs. Li Gen isn’t quick enough and Sun isn’t physical enough, so the face-off will be on both ends, especially when Beijing has to defend against him. Once again, Starbury faces a young gun willing to beat the master, but there’s more than the defensive end to it: if he can convince Jones that defending him is still a priority even at 37, then this series might be easier than you’d think.
What does Beijing need to do?
Keep Jones out of the paint is a priority, as he’s only a 33% 3-point shooter this season. Stopping his drives also means that the shooters Jones is surrounded with (Madanly and Cui above everybody else) will have less space. Consequently, you want to make the other guys create their own shots. Then, if they make them, good for them; Beijing can only ask so much to its defense.
What does Jilin need to do?
Keep track of the shooters on the floor as they’re many for the Ducks. Then, force Morris to get rid of the ball as he’s too good of a shot-maker on the block. On the offensive end it will all be about letting Jones go to work, then the floor will be open for spot-up looks.
Prediction: 3-2 Jilin.
As usual, take care and enjoy the playoffs, as this year they will be very balanced.