With the CBA season now underway, its time to once again acknowledge the good, the bad and the ugly moments of Chinese basketball with Niubball head honcho Jon Pastuzek. Topics for discussion this time include Qingdao’s widely anticipated poor form, Tianjin’s entirely unexpected winning record and some lengthy talk about the Shanghai Sharks.
AC: Well, first and foremost. we have to talk about Tracy McGrady’s Qingdao Eagles. Their roster looked pretty bare on paper but in reality its even worse. 0-5, nothing is coming from the Chinese players, DJ Mbenga’s been awful and they’ve already sacked their coach. McGrady must be wondering what he got himself in to?
JP: Yeah and it’s too bad, because McGrady has put together some pretty solid games individually. But you’re spot on — his Chinese teammates are bottom of the barrel and he’s getting no help from Mbenga either. I never really thought this Eagles team was a good fit for T-Mac; above all else, his strong suit is his playmaking abilities and right now there’s just not enough people to take advantage of the openings that he creates. With two tough games against Beijing and Liaoning coming up, things could get worse before they get better.
AC: I wonder if they can fix it at all though- Mbenga is probably gone because as much as I like ‘Congo Cash’, he looks awful in the Qingdao uniform. The problem is though, they can’t simply go out and find an all new roster of Chinese players. Its early days but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles finish bottom this year.
JP: Yeah the word in Chinese media is that they’re already looking for someone to replace him. If they upgrade that position, they’ll be in better shape, but I agree. Right now bottom four is looking like a very real possibility.
AC: We should probably switch it around and look at Shandong at the top of the league. Having seen them myself, I can confirm they look the real deal. Pooh Jeter has been amazing and Zaid Abbas and Jackson Vroman will eat you alive in the paint- in the same way Qingdao are pretty bad right now, Shandong are very, very good.
JP: And they’re both teams in Shandong! Must be frustrating for Jilin/Qingdao couples. I watched them last night against Liaoning and they looked fantastic. They’re a tough guard. Vroman and Abbas are two fantastic high post players and a lot of their early offense looks are through them. They’re so unselfish and they play with such high motors. Jeter has been great as well, he’s scoring at a good clip but his shot selection is still acceptable. You can tell the Chinese like playing with these guys; all of them are talking to their teammates and being positive from the bench.
Sun Jie is benefitting from the good looks he’s getting off the three of them, Din Yanyuhang has been stellar as their top Chinese scorer and Tao Hanlin and Wu Ke are good depth up front. I’m buying this team big time.
AC: They do look difficult to stop, I’ll agree. We should probably also talk about the injury woes at Shanghai and Xinjiang. With the Sharks, Arenas has been out for almost a fortnight now but the Chinese roster and DJ White have stepped up big to cover his absence but down in Xinjiang, they’ve lost both their American players. Given the Tigers’ history for meltdowns, can you see this situation getting crazy in the same way things exploded this time last year or is this a saner Xinjiang team now?
JP: I think anytime you lose both foreign players for a few games there’ obviously going to be concern, but two things to keep in mind: First, both injuries don’t appear to be serious and both Singleton and Wafer should be on the court soon. Second: It truly appears that new coach, Cui Wanjun, and the changes they made in the front office this summer have had a calming effect on the entire team. Whereas last year they may be sounding the alarm, I think there’s a more long-term approach in place. They let Shanghai come back on them and sneak away with a win in their own building though — without Arenas as you mentioned — and that has to hurt.
AC: Indeed, although even that Chinese line-up looked fairy strong so if they get Singleton and Wafer back soon, they’d be up there with Guangdong and Shandong. Has there been a team or a player whose impressed you so far this season? For me, its been Osama Daghlas who is cursed by not being North American to always play for a team that finished in the bottom five the previous season. He is just a top drawer point guard. Infact Tianjin in general have been excellent although I don’t know how long they can keep it up for.
AC: He’s been great and is a key reason why that team is 3-2. No team needed a point guard more than Tianjin. But he’s not my choice and I have a feeling you’re going to like my answer: Liu Wei. He looks great. He’s playing with a nice step and looks pretty fresh, which is surprising considering he’s coming off a very long summer with the national team. With Arenas out of the lineup and with some tough games to open up the season, he could have just packed it in, but being the competitor that he is, he’s instead taken the load upon himself to lead his team to some victories.
AC: Good call, sir. I absolutely do like the pick and might have gone there myself had I not wanted to come off too much like a homer! Everything you say is spot on- he’s been on fire early on this season although I think it’s probably also worth mentioning the excellent form of DJ White and Tseng Wen-ting. Those three have carried the team in the early stages of this season.
On the flipside, is there anyone/ any team that you have been disappointed or surprised in so far this year? Qingdao is obviously the front-runner but we both thought they would be rubbish so is there anyone else who looks terrible early on?
JP: Everybody else is pretty bunched up in the standings right now, so it’s tough to say. For me, Qingdao is far and away the most disappointing team. Lets go back to Shanghai though what are you seeing from your Sharks five games into the season? Is this team legit when Arenas comes back?
AC: I think a lot depends on the Gilbert Arenas that comes back. The Sharks obviously need that extra scorer to carry the load and there have already been concerns about his health. If Gilbert can put in 28 mins a night and average 15ppt, it should be fun times in the Yuanshen, if not, well, let’s not think about that.
In terms of what I’ve seen so far, I’ve been very happy with the team- Zhang Zhaoxu isn’t having a fantastic start to the season but Tseng Wen-ting has glossed over this really well. The bench has also been solid but ultimately this season is still going to come down to Arenas. In basketball terms, the Sharks need him because eventually DJ White and Liu Wei are going to have off nights but also pragmatically speaking: a) Arenas will bring casual fans to the arena; b) the local press have collectively lost their shit over the Arenas absense and I feel that the organisation just want him back so that focus will actually shift to what is happening on the court.
JP: One question before we leave: Is the top Sharks blogger required to wear Li-Nings by the league? Or are you getting fined as well?
AC: Yeah, I saw that news today. Hey, I’m not making as much money as I used to so if someone wants to send me some Li-Nings, they know where to find me. An XXL, please if anyone is reading this!