With the Chinese Basketball Association starting on November 1st, basketball in the country is starting to slowly come back to life. By now teams have filled their rosters with free agents from both inside and outside of China and its now probably the best time to assess the quality of each of the twenty teams in the newly expanded league. This of course being China, fortunes can change very quickly for some organizations depending on the overseas players they brought in (or didn’t) and which local players managed to improve over the summer break. In the first of two segments, its time to look at the bottom half of the league based on the information that’s been available for much of the last couple of months.
11) Qingdao Eagles
Last Season: 5-29 (18th place)
Notable Players: Hamed Haddadi (C), Mike Harris (SF/PF), Justin Dentmon (PG)
Preview: Qingdao, to be blunt, have been rubbish for a while. This offseason though they gave Liu Quiping, the former coach of Yao Ming and a man once seen as one of the brightest tactical minds in China, full control of the team- including player hiring and firing. In response, Liu has completely overhauled the roster, bringing in new Chinese players and stressing the need for reliable foreign imports (so no more DJ Mbenga then…). Haddadi could put up 20 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks on some nights whilst Harris is an excellent CBA import and a proven locker room guy who knows how to work with Chinese players. Justin Dentmon will be also be a productive force at the point guard position and is a dead eye from beyond the arc. Several of the new Chinese arrivals like Liu Ziqui, Meng Lingyuan (both Shanghai Sharks) and Meng Da (Jiangsu Dragons) will help reinforce a previously wretched bench.
Last season: 21-13 (5th place)
Notable Players: Jamaal Franklin (SG), Elijah Hollman (PF/C), Lin Chieh-Hsiueh (PG)
Preview: A team that lived and died by the exploits of Jonathan Gibson promptly lost him in a preseason game last month and he is out for the year. Taiwanese floor general Lin Chih-Chieh is a solid guard that has made the All-Star team before but this is going to be a huge task for anyone to undertake. Gibson was the league’s leading scorer (32.4ppg) and a singularly dynamic player that led the team to a fifth spot in the regular season. Both Franklin and Hollman might be good pick ups but suddenly the Lions are up against it big time.
13) Sichuan Blue Whales
Last season: 14-20 (12th place)
Notable Players: Mike Efevberha (SG), Metta World Peace (SF/PF), Jet Chang (SG/SF)
Preview: A team that had little support from its Chinese roster last year and now has one less foreigner this year wants to talk about getting to the postseason. Nope, not going to happen. Chang, the high flying Taiwanese swingman is an interesting player who is coming into his second year in the CBA after completing his national service for his home country (that technically is under the threat of invasion from the country he now works in but anyway…). Efevberha will average thirty points a game and Metta World Peace will do some crazy stuff and probably get ejected as soon as he comes across a young Chinese big man looking to make a name for himself. they won’t make the postseason but they will be a lot of fun.
14) Shanghai Sharks
Last Season: 21-21 (8th place)
Notable Players: Zhang Zhaoxu (C), Michael Beasley (SF), Delonte West (PG)
Preview: A team that has seen several prominent players leave in preseason free agency, this is a roster that screams rebuilding. Zhang is a solid defensive player that protects the rim reasonably well but will not give you much on the offensive end. This basically means that Beasley and West will be given the greenest light in professional basketball whilst a young local roster tries to collect rebounds. Its perfectly possible that either of the Americans gets to 50 points at least once this season. Yao Ming, who attends every Sharks home game and watches from the owners box, should probably bring a book for when the Americans have off days.
15) Jiangsu Dragons
Last Season: 15-19 (11th Place)
Notable Players: Toney Douglas (PG), Yi Li (SG/SF), Jarred Famous (PF/C), Yi Li (SG/SF)
Preview: Once one of China’s best teams, the Dragons are in an awful spot with some players having literally sat out the previous season to get out their contracts. It would not be an exaggeration to say that half the local roster has thought about or actively tried to jump ship during the offseason. Douglas is going to get a lot shots and Jarred Famous will be a big powerful body in the paint but its legitimately difficult to see where the points are going to come from otherwise. Meng Da, the team’s erratic but still productive swingman moved to Qingdao, team legend Hu Xuefeng is transitioning to the bench, Yi Li is struggling with injuries and Yang Li is not a volume scorer. Basically this team is in a lot of trouble and the only positive here is that the situation might force the historically incompetent front office to overhaul itself before it gets completely outflanked by its neighbours Jiangxi Tongxi.
16) Chongqing Dragons
Last Season: 15-3 in National Basketball League (Promoted from NBL to CBA in 2014)
Notable Players: Josh Harrellson (C), Arslan Kazemi (PF), Willie Warren (PG)
Preview: There is a real chance that Chongqing catch teams by surprise this year. Having three foreigners helps (obviously) but Harrellson will give a solid serving of beef to the Chongqing front court whilst point guard Willie Warren could become a reliable bet to put up twenty points a night if his perimeter shooting gets to 35% or above. Kazemi, a 2013 second round pick by the Philadelphia 76ers is there to pick up rebounds and could be the sort of inspirational defensive lightning rod that Zaid Abbas has been for the last six seasons in the CBA. Chongqing’s head coach, former European coach of the year Dragon Raca, boasts legitimate pedigree and has been coaching the team for four seasons so knows how to get the most out of the roster and also can handle the madness of Chinese basketball.
Last Season: 11-23 (15th Place)
Notable Players: Fati El-Khatib (SG/SF), Josh Akognon (PG), Vyacheslav Kravtsov (C)
Preview: Foshan are bad. As in super bad and should be contracted or moved somewhere else and the bureaucratic nightmare of trying to force the Lions ownership group to sell up is surely the only thing stopping the league from trying. On paper though, the Foshan team that has been put together will be good enough to eek out a couple of decent results but they will still be a basement dweller or there abouts. Long-time CBA import Josh Akognon will be the point guard and primary scorer for the Lions. Thirty-five year old Lebanese folk hero Fati El-Khatib will be also trotting out for the Lions and should slot in along the wings depending on who else is on the court. Former Phoenix Suns big man Vyacheslav Kravtsov is a big body that will help them defensively but might end up clogging up the paint for young power forward Zhu Xuhang, Foshan’s best player. Former national team coach Jiang Xingquan is still in charge and although the grand old man of Chinese basketball is undoubtably a legend in the country, his old school ways of handling things are twenty years past their sell-by date.
Last Season: 12-22 (14th Place)
Notable players: Dominique Jones (PG/SG), Denzil Bowles (PF/C),
Preview: Former Liaoning guard Jones is an interesting pick up for the Tigers whilst Denzil Bowles is a no-thrills big man that will give the team reliable low post production and is a 75% free-throw shooter. Twenty-three year old small forward Zhang Biao might continue to improve but he is a third-option at best and there isn’t a lot of scoring support from the rest of the local roster. Syrian point guard Michel Maadanly is a tall, streaky shooter that doesn’t pass very well, meaning the absence of Osama Daghlas, arguably the best Middle Eastern point guard available to the CBA teams, (and a Jilin player last year) is mystifying.
19) Jiangsu Tongxi
Last Season: 14-4 in the National Basketball League (Promoted from NBL to CBA in 2014)
Notable Players: Will McDonald (PF/C), Brandon Costner (SF/PF), Mahdi Karimi (PG)
Preview: Having been moved up to the top tier of Chinese basketball, Jiangsu have straight away tried to cram the roster full of experienced foreign players to help carry the scoring load. Iranian point guard Mahdi Karimi has been an established fixture in his country’s national team, who in turn have squeezed out China for basketball dominance in Asia over the last couple of years. He is decidedly shoot-first and will chuck it from the perimeter if he sees daylight. Thirty-five year old McDonald is a nice player that stretches the floor and will give his front court partner room to work with. Costner spent the last year in the D-League and can play either forward spot. The rest of the team are graduates of the team’s youth team or cast-offs from other CBA teams so Tongxi seem set to win or lose games depending on their foreign players. One ongoing factor though is the discord at the neighboring Jiangsu Dragons over in Nanjing, who have players still agitating to leave. Should those players get their wish, Tongxi would be the most likely place for them to go given they are close by and have roster spots that could be freed up.
20) Bayi Rockets
Last Season: 6-28 (17th Place)
Noteable Players: Tian Yuxiang (PG), Zhang Bo (SG), Xu Zhonghao (C)
Preview: Bayi were terrible last season and that was with beloved center Wang Zhizhi, who despite being thirty-seven and having the acceleration of a grand piano being pushed up a hill, was arguably the team’s best player. This will supposedly be the final season for legendary former player turned head coach, Adijan, who had won a couple of titles with Bayi from the bench in the early 2000’s in addition to the half dozen CBA titles he collected as starting point guard for the Rockets in the mid 1990’s. Wang, now a coach for the team, will presumably be the heir apparent but it remains to be seen if the Rockets will even be around in the next couple of years. Another terrible season for the last remaining military team in Chinese professional basketball and that could be it. It may seem a small detail but the team that carries the name of the People’s Liberation Army can’t be seen to lose this many games every year and the organization could soon fold to protect further loss of face The only hope for Bayi is that some of their new talent beds in and continues to put up decent numbers. Tian Yuxiang had a solid first year in Ningbo running the point whilst twenty-four year old Xu Zhonghao is an uncompromising low post bully who has been made captain upon Wang’s retirement and could push on to become a reliable double-double big man.