Big Men, Bigger Value; Hamed Haddadi, Shavlik Randolph Return To China As Free Agency Hots Up

w570f06In an increasingly guard driven league, it is important to remember that an overseas power forward or center is absolutely critical to a CBA team. A good big man tends to solve many problems overnight and a middling franchise can often upgrade its front court with just one phone call to the right player.

So it goes without saying that a decent big man is able to get himself paid in China. Though they tend not to finish games anymore due to the rules on foreigners in the fourth quarter (aka ‘the Stephon Marbury/Randolph Morris clause‘), an overseas front court player still makes a huge difference. For one, they deter guards from exploiting the terrible perimeter defense in the CBA and trying to get at the rim on every possession. They also provide tend to provide above-average rebounding in a league where too many of its local big man can’t seem to jump over a phonebook.

In recent years, two big men have emerged as hot ticket items for any CBA team looking to upgrade and now it seems like both have been snapped up to for next season. The first, Hamed Haddadi, is coming back for a third season in China and has already made a huge impact on the league. After the 2013/14 season with the Sichuan Whales (where it seemed nothing went right for the expansion team other than lucking into the Iranian), Haddadi then went to the Qingdao Eagles and was amazing in the offense of Liu Quiping. Under the veteran head coach, best known in China as the man who moulded Yao Ming into an NBA player, Haddadi shone as an offensive pivot. He made buckets but Liu’s system also let him create them, meaning Haddadi flirted with triple-doubles several times during a season in which unfashionable Qingdao went all the way to the CBA semi-finals.

But according to media in Iran, Haddadi is going back to Sichuan for the upcoming season and if its true, this is a move that makes a ton of sense. Under FIBA guidelines, the Iranian counts as an Asian import and therefore can be signed by teams who finished the previous season in the bottom five as a third foreign player (i.e. not an American). Although a very notable figure in Chinese basketball is dead set against the third foreigner rule, those teams that can make use of it rarely turn the offer down. Haddadi is the best possible player that can be brought to China under those rules and now Sichuan will load up their backcourt with American shooters. Also important to this situation is that the Whales recently signed Yang Xuezeng as head coach. Having walked away from the Shanxi Dragons job for a second time in five years, the much travelled tactician is now setting up shop in Chengdu and Haddadi, like he was in Qingdao, represents an ideal fit for Yang’s all-guns-blazing offensive system. In it, an American point forward will bring the ball up the court,  local shooters stretch the floor and an overseas big (in this case, Haddadi) will be deployed as the frontcourt battering ram. Based on the previous successes enjoyed by big men in Yang’s system, pencil in the Iranian for 25 points a night.

The other big fish (no pun intended) is Shavlik Randolph. Making his return to the CBA after a year in America with the Phoenix Suns, Randolph is everything a CBA team needs. Not only is he hugely experienced with Chinese basketball after playing with four different CBA teams, he has also shown he can carry an offense and led the league in scoring back in 2013 with the Foshan Long Lions. Liaoning are also expected to resign Lester Hudson, the two-time CBA Overseas MVP and between the point guard and Randolph, this could be an absolutely lethal one-two punch. After years of flattering to deceive, Liaoning finally made it back to the CBA Finals last season only to be eliminated in six games by the Beijing Ducks. A big factor in the Finals loss was that Hudson found himself being smothered during critical passages of play and the team’s American power forward, Deon Thompson, was good but not exceptional when it came to keeping the scoreboard moving. Whilst Thompson was a pretty good CBA player and deserves another chance in the league, Randolph is absolutely an upgrade for Liaoning. The Leopards have brought almost everyone back from last year’s Finals team and are now going all-in to try win their first title since 1994.

What is interesting now is that both of the two biggest free agents are already off the table and those teams without a stellar big man will be scrambling around for other options. Shelden Williams has been hugely productive for Tianjin for the last two seasons and could be the best possible option left on the table along with Eli Holman (who may well be going back to Guangsha anyway). After that, the Swiss army knife of the CBA, Chris Singleton, (who averaged 22.5ppg, 12.6rpg, 2.6apg, 3.0spg and 1.9 bpg with Jiangsu) and Arsalan Kazemi (who can’t shoot but had multiple games of 20+ rebounds a night) should also be getting phone calls. Although there is a log jam in terms of signing overseas guards, it looks like the big men shopping spree is now finally underway.

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