Its not just the NBA that is in full swing. The Chinese Basketball Association is almost at its halfway point and with Round 16 in the books, there are plenty of big stories to break down. This time around it breaking down the biggest injury story in the league this season as well as Hamad Haddadi being one of the outside shots for regular season MVP.
Mudiay Isn’t Done In China Just Yet
The ongoing saga involving Emmanuel Mudiay simply won’t die down. The most famous NCAA exile since Brandon Jennings has been injured for the last few weeks and Mudiay’s employees’, the Guangdong Tigers, eventually decided to bring in a short-term replacement for their ailing star. Will Bynum, the textbook definition of an NBA bench point guard, is now the man with the ball in his hands for the Tigers but don’t expect that to continue to be the case.
Bynum had a nice game on debut for Guangdong, going for 11 points, 8 assist, 6 rebounds and 2 steals. That’s the sort of slow but steady production expected in the Spurs-esqe Guangdong team- but ultimately until February comes along, no-one will really care. The context here is important; this time last year, the Tigers walked through the regular season with their best ever record but became unstuck against the chaos machine that is the Beijing Ducks. Running most of the plays then was Royal Ivey, a similarly low level guard that ultimately couldn’t lift Guangdong by an extra 2-3% in crunch time. The end result was that the Tigers lost 3-2 in a brutal playoff series. Yet unlike Ivey or Bynum, Mudiay gives Guangdong something they don’t have; a slashing, speedy blur at the point guard position. The future NBA draft pick has divided opinion among some CBA watchers but my own feelings are that he is an unpredictable X factor whose first games against professional competition have been marred by natural rookie errors. Those turnovers will be ironed out through trial and error but what will remain is a player of real quality that can still help Guangdong in the postseason. With all of that in mind, I would be amazed if the teenager was not playing for the Tigers in Febuary.
Hamad Haddadi Is China’s Most Exciting Big Man
The ‘third foreigner rule’ is a fairly complicated bylaw within the CBA but it basically allows for teams who finished in the bottom five of the CBA from the previous season to bring in a third overseas player of Asian extraction. This has evolved to mean recruits from the Middle East and notable current ‘third’ foreigners include Fatah El-Khatib (Lebanon), Zaid Abbas (Jordan) and Arslan Kazemi (Iran). However, the most prominent and impactful of these players is currently Hamad Haddadi, the Iranian center for the Qingdao Eagles. The cornerstone of the revamped Eagles team, Haddadi is averaging 21.4 points, 15.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game. He even got a 14 point, 18 rebound, 10 assist triple-double in his previous game for Qingdao against the similarly high-flying Shanxi Dragons.
Haddadi is a fascinating two-way player in the CBA but also an ideal fit for an Eagles team that has long looked to foreigners to provide strength at the center spot (Chris Daniels and PJ Ramos are previous examples of Qingdao’s love for hefty big men). Yet what is undoubtably helping Haddadi is the man on the sidelines, calling the plays; Liu Quiping. Known by some as ‘Little Zhuge Liang’ after an ancient Chinese military strategist, Liu was also the coach that developed Yao Ming from a goofy, absentminded teenager into a future NBA All-Star during the 1990’s. Haddadi is obviously no Yao but Liu is a proven master at making the most out of big men and the coach is opening the playbook for his center. As a result, we’ve seen Haddadi shooting midrange shots and even stepping back to the three-point line- but there as also been the soft hands to marvel at. In his last five games, the big man has been dishing out over five assists a game and setting up the Eagles’ perimeter shooters for great looks. Qingdao, now 11-5, are enjoying their best start in the CBA era and this owes a lot to the 7″2, 270lb big man and the coach that has made him China’s most unlikely stat stuffer.
The New Boys Are Suffering
The CBA’s recent expansion may have been a nice idea on paper but the league’s most recent arrivals are not enjoying their new life. The 3-13 Sichuan Blue Whales (promoted in 2013), 3-13 Chongqing Dragons and 2-14 Jiangsu Tongxi (both promoted in the 2014 preseason) are the worst teams in the league by a country mile. The reasons for this though are simple; new CBA teams struggle because their local players are typically cast-offs from other teams or untried youngsters hastily brought up from youth ranks. For Chongqing and Tongxi, they also didn’t have enough time to recruit better import players other than from a small pool of journeymen. Because there is no draft, there is no way of getting better quicker. It’s a slow, painful slog that could take a decade to change.
This in turn will be a real test for the CBA, because under the current system, it’s very difficult for new teams to enjoy any real success for a long time- something fans and sponsors aren’t going to be thrilled about. This might work in America, where Seattle would take any kind of expansion team to get back into the NBA- but in China, where the CBA is a decidedly second tier priority to most local basketball fans, think again. Metta World Peace has helped make Sichuan relevant and interesting but the other two teams are not going to bring in big crowds with the promise of a blow-out loss and Josh Harrellson shooting 34% from the field. It’s a strange situation for the lower levels of the CBA and there isn’t an answer that can change things quickly.
Can Liaoning Really Stay Unbeaten?
Thanks to Lester Hudson’s 27 points, Liaoning beat Jilin 87-85 on the road and remain on top of the CBA standings. The Jaguars are now 16-0 and are terrifying the rest of the league with their potent mix of outside scoring, low post nastiness and rabid defending. The question now is for how long can they stay perfect? The Bayi Rockets went 30-0 across the entire 1995 regular and postseason whilst in 2009, the Xinjiang Tigers finished 31-1 in a reformed CBA regular season.
For this current Liaoning roster, their next six fixtures are against teams in the bottom half of the table and by the time Xinajing come to Benxi in late December, Liaoning could be 24-0. On top of this, all of Liaoning’s main rivals; Beijing, Guangdong, Dongguan and Xinjiang now have to travel to the Jaguars’ home arena if they are to break the streak. It’s still a long way off but 36-0 doesn’t seem as unlikely as it first seemed.