In a change to last season’s preview (in part because nether myself, Marco nor Patrick can decide who is going to finish where in the 2015/16 standings), this season at Shark Fin Hoops, we’re going to breakdown all twenty teams in the league, profiling who we think is going to do what. This season is arguable the most unpredictable in years, with several legitimate title contenders and a number of sides that could surprise anyone on their day. So, in the first of four parts, here is the breakdown of the Bayi Rockets, Beijing Ducks, Chongqing Dragons, Dongguan/Shenzhen Leopards and Fujian Sturgeons.
Notable Players: Xu Zhonghao (C), Zou Yuchen (PF), Han Shuo (PG/SG), Arsalan (PG)
Last Season: 7-31 (19th Place)
After humiliating themselves to the point that they essentially forced club legend Wang Zhizhi out of retirement to win them a couple of games, things could be even worse this time around. Unable to sign foreigners due to the team’s historic links with the People’s Liberation Army, Bayi are having to rely on their young players as they try to to rebuild in a rapidly changing CBA. If they had money, they could have chased high-level local free agents like Beijing’s Li Gen and Xinjiang’s Tang Zhengdong but that wasn’t a possibility either.
Let’s be clear, this team will be bad, no matter how much pressure the league puts on referees to help out the grand old man of Chinese basketball. That said, Zou Yuchen is a potential star for Bayi and after averaging 14.0ppg, 9.6rpg and 2.1bpg in his rookie season, the power forward will be looking to continue this improvement into his sophomore campaign. The dream scenario for Bayi, that Zou and fellow second-year player Arsalan (son of iconic Bayi point guard and current head coach, Adiljan), grow into a decent one-two punch is really the only reason to tune into Bayi games. I’d be genuinely amazed if this team won 10 games, let alone sniffed a top half finish.
Notable Players: Stephon Marbury (PG), Randolph Morris (C), Sun Yue (PG/SG/SF)
Last Season: 27-11 (4th Place; Won CBA Championship)
After winning three out of the last four CBA titles, Ducks fans have never had it so good. The problem, though, is how the team play their hand amid the increasingly high stakes of the CBA. Last season, the league banned multiple foreigners on the court during the fourth quarter— a move that directly affected the Ducks’ ability to dominate in crunch time. Somehow, head coach Min Lulei figured out a way around this and still won a title. But now, things will be even harder after Li Gen, who was arguably the best Chinese player during the last CBA postseason, left in free agency. Already unable to use Stephon Marbury and Randolph Morris to pick-and-roll teams to death, now Min also has to do without his best local player. The Ducks will make the postseason once again but a lack of fourth quarter scoring other than from Marbury (Morris is often on the bench by then) and an increasingly injury prone Sun Yue could ultimately be their downfall.
Notable Players: Dorell Wright (SF), Mahdi Kamrani (PG), Esteban Batista (PF/C)
Last Season: 4-31 (20th Place)
Knowing anything about this team is hard.
They might even be playing in Beijing by the time the season gets underway (edit: they are already). However, one thing I can be sure about is that this team will be nakedly reliant on their foreign guys. Mahdi Kamrani is a perfectly useful point guard that spent last season with Jiangsu Tongxi (so he knows what a shoddy CBA team looks like) whilst former Atlanta Hawks big man Esteban Batista has both a bad ass name and a decent NBA and Euroleague resume.
Ultimately, the Dragons will live and die by Batista’s old man low-post game and hope that Dorell Wright, who took a CBA gig over a decent NBA bench role, can also get hot. It is worth noting that Qingdao rode three foreigners to the play-offs last year but this Chongqing team was somehow (SOMEHOW!) even weaker in terms of local roster strength. At the very least, the Dragons will be a potential banana skin but anything else would be unlikely.
Notable Players: Bobby Brown (PG), Li Muhao (C), Gu Quan (SF), Sun Tonglin (PF/C)
Last Season: 25-13 (8th Place; Eliminated In Play-Off Quarter-Final)
Another team who may or may not be relocating. Yes, the Leopards have formally changed both their name and their logo but this is also Chinese basketball so I’m hedging my bets lest a random government official in Dongguan somehow gets the move called off at the last second. Basically, until I turn on my TV in a couple of weeks and the Leopards are in Shenzhen, nothing is 100% settled.
Another issue for the team is that their long standing coach Brian Goorjian is gone to regional neighbors, the Guangdong Tigers, and no-one is sure what happens now. Does this mean that the team’s young talent finally get their training wheels taken off and ball out in glorious fashion? Or will the team, without Goorjian’s strong influence, collapse amid the pressure of a new move from sleepy (albeit prostitute-addled) Dongguan to the megacity of Shenzhen? The form of Bobby Brown will be a big factor in determining the final outcome but the Leopards are a legit mystery this year.
Notable Players: Wang Zhelin (PF/C), Fadi El-Khatib (SG/SF), Dwight Buycks (PG/SG), Nikoloz Tskitishvili (C)
Last Season: 10-28 (16th Place)
Ahhh, it is a year ending in an odd number so that must mean a good Fujian season! A popular target of Shark Fin Hoops for their shameless yo-yo’ing between good and bad to get a third foreign player every other season, this year, Fujian will be pretty useful. For starters, Fadi El-Khatib is a deliciously crafty Lebanese swingman that will win a couple of games by himself this season. Dwight Buycks will probably average 25ppg+ and 8apg this season. Homegrown shooting guard Zhao Tailong is streaky but shot 40% from 3pt range last year.
Yet the big attraction is Wang Zhelin, who is no longer the great hope of Chinese hoops but remains a back-to-the-basket supremo at the CBA level. Fujian, who are directly responsible for Wang not improving, have once again found a way to cover up his lack of midrange game by bringing in NBA bust Nikoloz Tskitishvili, who may not be popular in Denver but should space the floor enough to give Wang room to bang. All this firepower is pretty mouth watering and if the starters stay healthy, this team ticks all of the boxes of a potential play-off team.