Part three of the CBA preview is a go! Today, we’ll evaluate the Jiangsu Tongxi Monkey Kings, Liaoning Leopards, Shanxi Dragons, Shandong Bulls and Shanghai Sharks and see whether improvement is in their path or if there will be some disappointment once the season is over. Part One and Part Two can still be read here.
Notable Players: Von Wafer (SG/SF), Sani Sakanki (PF/C), Luke McMorrow, Cai Lilong (SG/SF)
Last Season: 10-28 (17th Place)
It’s not really fair to slam Tongxi for how weak they were last season. They were absolute beginners in the CBA and gambled on mostly newcomers to the league when looking for foreign aid. However, the team isn’t that cringeworthy and got decent shooting from Cai Lilong, to name one player. Moreover, last year Qingdao showed how much you can improve with just three foreigners.
For one, Von Wafer is a beast and an absolute get for Tongxi (the reason why other teams passed up on him is his suspension that will take him away from play for some games right at the start of this season). Sani Sakakini is also a fascinating player and his mission to drag Palestine into relevancy within Asian basketball has turned him into an incredibly versatile and smart player without sacrificing an ounce of his well regarded rebounding prowess. Given that this is Tongxi we’re talking about, they’ve helped themselves to the ultimate versatile big man, which is truly a special commodity at the Asian import spot (and isn’t subject to minutes restrictions, may I remind you). Tongxi have also gambled the last foreign spot on Liam McMorrow, a towering big boy from the Phillipines Basketball League. Its an interesting team so now let’s watch them fight for relevance. Liaoning Leopards
Notable Players: Lester Hudson (PG), Shavlik Randolph (PF/C), He Tianju (SF), Guo Ailun (PG/SG), Han Dejun (C), Li Xiaoxu (PF)
Last Season: 33-5 (2nd place; beaten in six games in CBA Finals)
In terms of what to expect this season, it’s rather hard to say. In the CBA Finals last year, Liaoning let chances slip from their hands and that always hurts. But this year, their roster is impressive. He Tianju played with the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA Summer League, Guo Ailun is always good and they’ve now got a hold of the talented Shavlik Randolph– a definite improvement on Deon Thompson. The big key, however, is still going to be Lester Hudson. The American point guard was a no brainer for MVP last season, and remains both a perennial CBA star and certified game changer.
Yet the fascinating issue will be how some of the players handle getting so close to the CBA title. For many of Liaoning’s Chinese players, this was their second loss in the championship round. Some whisper that last year’s CBA Finals’ loss hurt Guo more than everybody else on the team because it was his automatic eligibility year for the NBA draft. The stage was set for him to make a good impression to scouts, maybe even steal some of the flashlights from Hudson and hope for his name to get called. Granted, it was a very dim glimmer of hope, as Guo had virtually no chance of getting drafted. But his time to shine caught him probably off guard, as Beijing won and Li Gen proved himself as the true Chinese star in the series. Han Dejun also missed key free throws in Game 5 of the Finals and that will haunt him. Missing a free throw happens and nobody should be slammed or mocked for doing so. Yet for him, especially at the end of a very good season, that could be a confidence breaker. Time for Han to prove his nerves and self-trust haven’t suffered. The same, however, needs to be said for the whole Leopards team.
Notable Players: Dominique Jones (SG), Duan Jiangpeng (SF)
Last Season: 27-11 (6th Place; eliminated in play-off quarter-finals)
For my money, Dominique Jones is the most gifted scorer in Chinese basketball and has become a dominant offensive player who makes teams better by his sheer presence. Meanwhile Duan Jiangpeng is one of the best local shooters in the CBA and has become the face of a local roster that seems to constantly need three imports despite having very decent individuals.
The reality, though, is that this roster will still come down to Jones. If ‘Nique plays like ‘Nique, he can be a force to be reckoned with against every team. The rest of the roster is up in the air. Will they follow the American’s lead? Will they just give up early? Hard to say, honestly, as it is difficult to navigate Chinese players’ psyches and motivations. Not sure they will make the playoffs again but at the same time their name shouldn’t belong in the bottom, either.
Notable Players: Pooh Jeter (PG), Michael Beasley (SF/PF), Tao Lin (C), Su Ran (SG), Ding Yangyuhan (SF)
Last Season: 18-20 (11th Place)
Huge adjustment and growing pains beckon for Shandong as Beasley and Pooh really are two first options in a team that, naturally, can only have one. Will Shandong be the odd team out in a league where everybody seems keen on establishing a hierarchy in their foreign roster? Can they actually win while doing so? Will the team gel together quickly enough or is some turmoil in store? The names and resumes on this roster should catapult Shandong right up there with the best of them in this league. But we said the same about Xinjiang last year and, well, look where they ended up…
Regardless, Jeter remains the heart and soul of this team. The Ukranian-American (no, really) was supposed to leave for good last season and went on to get some glory in Limoges, France. The fracture with the front office was apparently healed– and under a new head coach in former Fujian boss Aleksandar Kesar, here Jeter is again. However, Beasley was an unexpected addition to the party, albeit a very good one. Last year’s CBA All Star Game MVP was an absolute force in Shanghai, where he adjusted to a number of different roles ranging from ball handler (after Shanghai let Delonte West go) to obvious lead scorer. Fittingly, in Shandong he will now have to adjust to a different scenario where he may not be option number one nor even finish games on the floor. Tao Hanlin, an emerging big man will now also have to complete tougher-than-average tasks in the paint as Beasley really is more of a 3 than a 4. Ding Yanyuhang and Sui Ran, probably the real faces of Shandong’s local roster, also have overwhelming reasons to look at this season as a career-defining one. Sui came back last season from a long-term injury and needs to reassert himself. Meanwhile, Ding, the real promise of the Bulls back in 2013 when they made the Finals, took an unlikely and worrying step back last season. He needs to remind everyone he’s still the man around Shandong.
Notable Players: Zhang Zhaoxu (C), A.J. Price (PG).
Last Season: 17-21 (12th Place)
What to expect this season? Not too much. As good an owner as Yao Ming is, his 1999-2001 self (where he was basically Wilt Chamberlain 2.0 in the CBA) could get back on the court and this team would still be average at best.
A.J. Price, a long time NBA backup, hardly fills the main import role the year after the same team had Michael Beasley. No knock on Price, who has always been a trustworthy NBA player (probably more trustworthy than Beasley himself, some GMs would think) but will he show he has enough star power to guide Shanghai out of the gutter? Meanwhile, ‘Max’ Zhang is a true behemoth in the paint given he is 7’3″ and has shot-blocking instincts and a fairly soft touch on his shot. That said, he needs to live up to his capabilities. He’s a huge player who played NCAA basketball and doesn’t lack talent or smarts but his inconsistency is a real deal-breaker for a guy you wouldn’t break a deal with. This season he’s turning 28 so no more promises, Zhang. Just facts, please.
So yeah, not enough star potential going on here. Maybe they get something out of Ren Pengpeng so they can say they at least have youngsters to brag about. Not that we believe that will happen either.