So it seems that improbable CBA comeback stories come in twos. Arriving a couple of days after Von Wafer found a way back to China despite a six-game ban for brawling in a play-off game, Marcus Williams, victim of one of the most absurd suspensions in CBA history, is now also on the verge of returning.
Williams is a known commodity in China– albeit for a couple of reasons. After a breakout 2009/10 season with the Zhejiang Bulls, in which he averaged 29.7ppg (including 44.2% from 3pt range), 8.2rpg, 5.4asp and 2.4spg, the American was quickly pegged as a go-to scorer at the CBA level.
But it was with the Shanxi Dragons the following year that Williams got white hot. Along with hard-as-nails power forward, Charles Gaines, Williams transformed an unheralded Dragons team into a terrifying juggernaut that nonchalantly destroyed almost every team it came across. It helped that Williams was playing within a Yang Xuezeng’s offensive system that this website will continue to shamelessly praise as the most entertaining in the CBA. Relying heavily on a point-forward running a quasi run-and-gun playbook, subsequent players who were recruited to be Yang’s key component have produced huge numbers; Quincy Douby averaged 31.6ppg and once scored 75 points in 35 minutes, whilst last year Wafer was going for 32.5ppg.
Williams, though, was the coach’s original protege and averaged 32 points that season, including an astonishing 64% from 3pt range. No-one could stop the Dragons, who easily made the CBA play-offs for the first time in their history, and were seen by many as a dark horse contender for the title itself. It took a winner-takes-all Game 5 against the eventual winners, Beijing, for the Dragons to be eliminated. Even then, a lot of people feel strongly that the league colluded to ensure the Ducks, led by golden boy Stephon Marbury, made it to the Finals instead of the small market Shanxi team.
Both Williams and Gaines returned the following year and even without Yang, Williams was still averaging over 30 points a game until he was suspended midway through the 2012/13 season. The reason for this ban, you ask? Weed. Basically Williams tested positive for a casual street drug that he probably smoked in his hotel room whilst wiling away the time in the Dragons’ rather isolated home city of Taiyuan. For that, the American was banned for the entire season; an extreme punishment that was probably more about attacking the Dragons’ unpredictable and increasing uncontrollable owner, Wang Xingquan.
Williams did his time on the naughty step and even came back for another spell with the Dragons the following season but Shanxi’s brief spell as a contender was over. The American did not even feature in the 2014/15 season for any CBA team and it appeared that he was going to be part of the league’s past rather than its present.
But then in June of this year, Williams was announced as one of the unlikely foreign participants in the National Basketball League (NBL). Typically regarded as a sideshow distraction during the summer months, the NBL has recently become something of a staging ground for overseas guys wanting to try to get a CBA contact. Williams was once such American who saw the NBL as his way back to the top table of Chinese basketball and has been putting on a show ever since. At present, he is averaging 41.2ppg, 12.0rpg, 4.4apg and 4.5spg for a team from Harbin in Heilongjiang province.
In turn, those stats have been enough to reportedly earn him a CBA contract before the NBL has even finished. On Monday, David Pick, who is rarely wrong on these kind of things, tweeted that Williams is headed to the Jilin Tigers.
If that is the case, it appears Jilin have themselves a bargain. The Tigers surprised everyone last season by making their way to the CBA play-offs thanks largely to Dominique Jones, who averaged 36.8 points a game. But having lost Jones to Shanxi, who themselves were trying to replace Wafer following his six game ban from Chinese basketball, Jilin needed to find a foreign guard that could get you buckets in a hurry. Fortunately, the team’s front office didn’t have to look too far or too hard, given that one of the most reliable scorers in the history of the CBA just happened to be playing semi-pro basketball in a neighboring province.
So Williams seems on the verge of coming back to China after a year’s absence and should be raring to go. Meanwhile, Jilin, who want to return to the postseason despite having a roster that is anything but play-off appropriate, will be giving their new American scorer all the shots he can handle. The possibility that Williams has yet another season of averaging well over thirty points a game seems very likely, particularly if Jilin spent their money wisely on the right foreign big man.
Though it’s unfair to define Williams by the suspension that ended his second season in Shanxi, he is arguably best known in the CBA for that moment. But when Williams is in his groove, there is no better all-round player in China. If the defense backs off, the American is money from beyond the arc. Let him get to the rim, he can finish in traffic. Send the double team and Williams will invariably make a smart pass. Its also hard not to root for the American, who has endured a considerable amount of BS during his time in the CBA. Hopefully, now Williams can make up for lost time and continue to torch defenses across China, if only for old time’s sake.