He may not be a known name in Chinese basketball but He Tianju may about to become a very unlikely NBA player. News broke on Monday that the streaky Liaoning forward has been offered a try-out with the New Orleans Hornets and Chinese media duly reacted with barely constrained amazement.
On paper, the move makes a certain degree of sense for New Orleans. Despite losing minutes and seeing his scoring numbers go down this season, He emerged as a lights out shooter who could be relied upon to make clutches threes when called upon. The player also started almost every game for a Liaoning team that went to their first CBA Finals since 2008 and was voted in as a starter in the CBA All-Star game.
But what is more important for NBA scouts- who it should be noted are becoming a increasing presence at CBA games- is that He has solidified himself as a premier three-point shooter. This season, the forward was taking 5.2 attempts a game from beyond the arc, making 42% (a career high) and its not hard to see why foreign scouts might like to bring He in for a closer look. Critically, the player is still only 25 and has played both forward positions this season.
Make no mistake, He is still a long shot to make the team but the forward is still a fascinating option given that New Orleans have an emerging superstar in Anthony Davis and would love to surround him with shooters. Three-point shooting has traditionally been something that Chinese basketball tends to do well at and He is arguably the latest outstanding marksman in the CBA. In 2005, the Houston Rockets were reportedly very interested in bringing in the Guangdong Tigers’ Zhu Fangyu, who was then coming off a outstanding season of his own but nothing ever materialized. He could be the logical successor to Zhu, who has easily been the best shooter in the CBA for the last decade, and in an eerie coincidence, He will now also get a shot at the NBA just as the Liaoning player begins to hit his peak years.
What is also fascinating is if Liaoning will actually let the player leave. The Jaguars have had no problems with stopping players leaving the team in the past (most recently, Guo Ailun’s move to Greek giants Panathinakos in 2012). Generally speaking, the reason why foreign teams don’t try to bring CBA players out of China is the sheer bureaucracy that such a move might attract. But given that we are now firmly entering the realm of speculation, its also worth noting that Liaoning were the subject of a massive fine from FIBA eight months ago and might be tempted to let He go to the NBA if New Orleans were willing to help pay off some of that fine. It is also possible that Liaoning might simply just not allow their player to leave whilst he is still under contract. In recent days, the Jaquars GM has told a Chinese newspaper that the team hopes He “can cherish this opportunity to learn more”, so it sounds like Liaoning are playing their cards close to their chest.
So in the seemingly endless CBA offseason, this could be a fascinating story to watch develop at a time when most basketball coverage in China revolves around players’ weddings and random exhibition games between touring teams of ex NBA players. He is a player that does one thing very well and in an NBA that is taking more and more three-point shots every season, bringing in a marksman like He on what will be a minimum rookie deal could turn out to be a bargain.