Shark Fin Hoops Comment: Short Term Thinking Will Be Costly To Shanghai

The Shanghai Sharks will keep interim coach Wang Qun at the helm for the foreseeable future. The Chinese coach replaced Daniel Panaggio in January of this year after the Sharks began their freefall down the standings in the wake of Gilbert Arenas’ injury. A few weeks ago, he was confirmed as the new full-time head coach of the team.

This is a fairly delayed reaction to the retention of Wang Qun as head coach but is still worth pondering about.

Firstly, the decision to keep Wang Qun on as coach is, as Jon Pastuzek notes, extremely significant for Shanghai;

With Wang on board, the Sharks will undergo big changes both in front of and behind the scenes. A major difference will be the departure of a system-based offense. Both of the Sharks previous head coaches, Bob Donewald Jr. and Pannagio, implemented specific offenses (Donewald, motion; Pannagio, triangle) that were brought to the club at the request of Yao [Ming], who felt a more rigid systematic style of play was needed to develop an overall philosophy and long-term development plan for the club. Beyond that, it’s likely there will be changes going on in other aspects, such as youth development and the overall process in scouting, game preparation and more. In short, the days of the Sharks trying to run things like an NBA-styled franchise are probably gone.

Those changes are already beginning as it appears that at least one or both of the Western members of the Sharks assistant coaching staff will be moving on.

Frankly speaking, the decision to abandon a more systematic, “American” project is a frustrating turn of events for Shanghai if simply from a playing perspective. Though less so under Donewald, Panaggio helped bring his Chinese players into the game via the triangle offensive and for at least the latter’s first season, it wasn’t simply a case of giving the ball to the Americans and clearing out.

Under Wang in the second half of the season, the Americans did everything, as it is with the vast majority of CBA teams. With Shanghai due to get three overseas players next season due to their bottom five finish, there will now be even more opportunity to dump the ball into the hands of the foreign players and hope for the best.

More worrying still is that if the retooled team make the playoffs with three imports (as they really should), than this approach will be inadvertently validated and the benefits of a more systematic style in Shanghai get disproved, albeit by chance.

This is not good for Chinese basketball, let alone for the growth of Shanghai’s young players. Under Panaggio’s system, the triangle opened up shooting opportunities for whatever player had the open look. This was why unlikely Chinese bench players like Meng Lingyuan had the opportunities to make a real impact for Shanghai in 2012/13. Under a more traditional CBA style, those opportunities are gone and Chinese players simply get the best seats in the house for prolonged periods of laowei hero ball. It might win more games right now but how its going to help the long-term development of Shanghai’s young players remains a mystery.

The scaling back of Yao’s desire to modernise his hometown team is another example of Chinese basketball’s refusal to think beyond the short-term or to modernise. Obviously, as a competitive sports team, Shanghai want to win right away but equally, what happens when a foreigner goes down and a Chinese player has to carry the load instead? Oh wait, he’s never had experience of taking a big shot or shouldering responsibility in a crucial passage of play (this is basically what happened to Shanghai when Arenas went down). Equally, the Guangdong Tigers’ Chinese roster, the corner-stone for their recent CBA dominance, didn’t grow on a tree somewhere near Baifu Square. That stuff  requires thinking two, three, possibly four seasons into the future and helping local players establish themselves in a roster.

After China’s poor showing in the last Olympics and without a Chinese player in the NBA, one could suggest that the quality of players in China has hit a lull. With that in mind, the last thing a team in the CBA should be doing is stunting the opportunities that local players have to develop in big game situations.

At this point, it’s also important to note that the Sharks do not need to be saved  by American coaches or should be obliged to use Western models for running a team. Like most institutions in China, it will be perfectly content doing things its own way. Equally though, it should be noted that under the Donewald/Panaggio years from 2009-2013, Shanghai went to the play-offs twice in four seasons whilst before that, Shanghai spent almost every season with a losing record to its name. A different approach was hugely beneficial for Shanghai and to suddenly scrap it all after one bad season and return to a more traditional Chinese style of running a team will be a huge blow for the Sharks in the long-term.

Obviously this really only covers the playing style and the use of the first team roster. I have no idea how it is going to alter the youth team coaching or the other elements but I’m not optimistic. Let’s come back in three seasons and see where the team is after a few years of more inward thinking. Not at the top, methinks.

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