With talk about both Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin running for the NBA draft in the near future, young Chinese players haven’t been talked about this much since Yi Jianlian was a young prospect almost a decade ago. Now, in the first of two parts, Marco Catanzaro breaks down some of the other young players that need to be studied closely.
While twelve games are beyond us and some of this season’s traits are slowly but steadily panning out, we’re still lucky enough to experience a bit of reshuffle in local player power rankings. No longer just Yi Jianlian and Wang Zhelin, now new locals are slowly making up for lost time and joining the party.
Granted not all of them will reach Yao Ming-esque numbers anytime soon, but after the last three years suggested a worrying void of local talent, now guys like Gu Quan and Zhou Qi are quickly climbing to the top. Yet, whereas Zhou’s NBA fit is obvious and Wang Zhelin still has time to turn this season around and show he’s worth a second-round shot, most of that other local talent is here to stay.
So with that in mind, let’s get down to business and look at who’s who:
1 – Cui Jinming – Jilin (19 ppg, 51% FG-41% 3pt, 2.5 spg)
Already a promisingly good shooter in his first two seasons, Cui J (the J stands for jump shot) has kept his percentages on point at a much larger clip while doubling his steals per game ratio. This bodes well for a 23-year- old kid who is just about to enter his prime. Playing for Jilin hasn’t helped, as despite having Marcus Williams in total beast mode, the team has been awful (3-8 so far). But as the local market is at an all-time high in terms of movement, there’s no reason why he won’t eventually make it to a more consistent and stable team. Meanwhile, he’ll be just fine playing around guys who love the wider penetration lines his presence provides and will keep feeding him the ball– a value that’s never lost on the 23-year-old sniper.
2 – Zou Yuchen – Bayi (14.9 ppg, 5.2 orpg, 2.8 bpg)
The less heralded of the two big time rookies to make an impact last season (Zhou Qi was the other), Zou Yuchen is climbing to the top very quickly in a Bayi team that has completely forgone relying on senior players. Instead, the Rockets have opted in favor of a development-based approach that is devoid of true winning aspirations.
But this being the CBA, the Rockets’ plan is actually getting them more wins than the old boys provided one or two years earlier. Zou is a big reason for this and is shooting over 50% from the field (just as expected of a big man) whilst 82% from the line is certainly a helpful tool for an offense that hasn’t quite exploded yet (sarcasm intended: they average 80.8 ppg in a league where the sixth least prolific offense puts up triple figures on a daily basis). Zou’s impact is also heightened by the lack of imports of his Bayi team. Over five offensive rebounds per game (fourth in the league) and almost three blocks a night (third in the league) are a very comforting thing to put on your resume when you’re 6’8″ – maybe – and haven’t yet shown the potential to fit into a stretch big man role. Of course, his appeal still has ways to go given that he doesn’t shoot consistently from mid-range. But his career, at least as far as the CBA is concerned, looks very promising.
Originally brought up as a defensive specialist, the 6’9″ swingman has physical tools to match up with any guard while still leaving something to be desired weight-wise to defend big men. Once known as another victim* of Dwight Howard’s dunk-o-maniac prime, the 26-years-old is now coming through on the offensive end as Zhu Fangyu’s heir apparent. Guangdong is shining– especially on the defensive end, where the team has the best defensive rating in the league, and that’s thanks to a well-timed reshuffle in minutes. Veterans like Zhu Fangyu and Wang Shipeng are still a big part of the side but Gao Shang and Zhou Peng getting way more minutes explain why this team looks much fresher and defensively dominant.
*- Regarding the video above, however, ZP: if Dwight swings your arm away, don’t just give up on being physical. Come on, now.
4 – Zhai Xiaochuan – Beijing (13.8 ppg, 1 spg, 2.3 orpg)
Although he saw progressively less and less minutes until last year’s playoffs (where he then emerged as a key member of the Ducks for his combination of size and athleticism), Zhai Xiaochuan has finally gotten over the hump this season. Multiple championships after that (despite being only 22), Zhai is probably just a three-point shot away from being a possible NBA call now that the automatic Draft eligibility is out of the way. Being a lanky 6’9″ shooter has already helped He Tianju (who is a better marksman than Zhai but not as defensively able) get a Summer League call. That, and maybe another championship, might be just what Zhai is hoping for. After all, at 22 he’s already achieved almost everything a Chinese player could ask in his home league.