With the first week of the CBA in the books, its time to go over this first batch of games and extract the story lines and key issues that have emerged. A new scoring champion may well have announced himself in northern China, rebounding might suddenly be cool in the south-east and wherever a game is getting played in the CBA, the standard of defending is probably very, very bad.
1) Dominique Jones could/probably will be the leading scorer in the CBA’s scoring champion
With Jonathon Gibson out for the year, its an open race to replace the former Guangsha Lions point guard as the league’s leading scorer. Sichuan’s Mike Everberha seems a likely option but the leading contender may well be Dominique Jones down with Jilin. Now in his second year in the league, last season the former Dallas guard was with the Liaoning Jaguars (note: they may be the Leopards now but its their fifth name change in close to as many years so I’m sticking with the one I’m most familiar with) and averaged 24.6 points a game. By contrast, Gibson went for 32 a night but its worth remembering that Jones’ old team were content to ride him to a win when it suited them. In fourteen games over the course of the year, Jones put up over thirty points for Liaoning but there was also a month long stretch of games in which he went for 36, 20, 23 49, 30, 22, 48, 32, 24, 33, 40, 38. All of these scoring runs happened with only three quarters to work with so Jones’ hot hand has always been there. So far this season though, things have been insane and Jones is averaging an eye-watering 48 points a game. This obviously will not hold but unlike Liaoning, who had several decent players who wanted their shots, Jilin’s threadbare roster gives Jones permission to go wild- and he absolutely will. Pencil him in for thirty points a night from now until February.
2) Chongqing’s Arslan Kazemi and Josh Harrellson are China’s most intriguing frontcourt.
Against the Xinjiang Tigers, former New York Knick center Josh Harrellson was allowed to take twelve (!) three-point shots against a Tigers frontcourt that had three current or former members of the Chinese national team and a former NBA center of some reasonable quality (Andray Blatche). It helps that ‘Jorts’ is a 38% shooter from downtown (by CBA standards at least) but what is also very useful for the American is that the team’s power forward, 6″7, 225lb Arslan Kazemi, is a rebounding monster. Curiously, Kazemi was one of the many Sam Hinkie draft picks in the summer of 2013 when Philadelphia blew up their roster and built for the future by looking at anyone who had a talent for doing something basketball related. The former Oregon player, a mid-second round pick that year, does indeed have one very particular talent which is dominating the glass. Against the Tigers, Kazemi had eight offensive rebounds despite going up against a front court that was mostly 7″1 or above (he would score 19 + 19 on the day). Harrellson can let it fly safe in the knowledge that his shot will either make it or could get sucked up by his power forward on the rebound and put back in for points Kazemi’s current numbers; 15ppg, 16.5rpg. Get on the phone to your man from Iran, Mr Hinkie.
3) Defense is still an afterthought in the CBA
Back in 2012 when Daniel Panaggio came to Shanghai and demanded intensity on both sides of the court, his Sharks teams turned round the worst defensive record in 2011 to become the most watertight team in the league twelve months later. Restricting teams to a league best 89.4 ppg was genuinely mind blowing in the CBA- only five teams that year gave up less than three digits and the second best defensive team in the league (Xinjiang) was only holding their opposition to 96.3ppg. Shanghai’s stingy defensive remains the fourth best in the CBA since the league started recording the statistic (Xinjiang held teams to 88.2 ppg in 2009 and 85.9 ppg in 2011 whilst Guangdong also went for 85.9ppg in 2007). Guangdong’s 88.9 ppg last season was the only time since 2011 that a team has managed to get below the Sharks’ mark and most teams went for triple digits once again. This season, the numbers are equally jarring; the Zhejiang Bulls have allowed 125.7ppg whilst Jilin have given up 127.5ppg. Part of this could be that the season has just began and some teams are still getting used to their new foreign players. Another factor is that whilst the league’s defensive inefficiencies remain the same, the quality of incoming American players is only getting better. Given the CBA rule changes to the fourth quarter, it may also be that teams are throwing the kitchen sink at each other in the middle phases of the game to establish enough of a scoring cushion for when they are reduced to just one foreign player on the court. Either way, its been great for the neutrals from not so good for fans of good defense.
4) Emmanuel Mudiay is having growing pains.
In news that should surprise no-one, Emmanuel Mudiay is going to need time to adjust to life as a professional. The future NBA draft pick had a solid game on Wednesday against Jillin, going for 29 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals as he went 12-of-20 from the field in 32 minutes. There were also 6 turnovers, which accounted for more than half of Guangdong’s total number of giveaways during what was a fairly routine 135-111 win over the Jilin Tigers (because in China a game with almost two-hundred-and-fifty points in four quarters of basketball is still routine). Mudiay has openly talked about the leap to professional basketball being tough but also that the CBA, with its various quirks and bad refereeing makes for a confusing adjustment process. Given that the league is increasingly flush with very solid point guards, the teenager is also one of the least experienced players in that position and will be coming up against more proven operators who have spent time at the NBA level or are established Euroleague imports. Sina Sports noted that Mudiay came out against Jilin seeking to make a point after a quiet debut game against Beijing’s Stephon Marbury, who at thirty-eight was playing in the NBA before the Tigers guard was able to walk. This undoubtably contributed to the turnovers but the raw talent is there.