In the second part of his wide ranging look at high profile Chinese basketball, Marco Catanzaro takes a look at how the Chinese National Team will fair in the 2016 Olympics. With some in the Middle Kingdom getting a little anxious that it could go winless for the second Games in a row, where the wins can come from remains a point of contention. Now its time to find out if and how they might rise.
The Olympics are hard enough for good teams because of the sheer presence of Team USA. No one really has a shot at scaring them outside of maybe Spain (and that’s an optimistic call already). In Group A, China should be ahead of at least Venezuela; France, USA; Serbia and Australia are far tougher opponents. But if China can beat the Venezuelans and scrap one more win, that will get them to the next round.
As I mentioned in my previous post, before any of this can happen, the team needs to stop playing old school and the first improvements must come on the offensive end. Ball movement and spacing need to take the next step immediately. Neither Zhou Qi, Yi or Wang Zhelin are suitable at the 4, and Zou Yuchen really is an undersized center.
All this means the CNT really needs to think about giving Zhou Peng and Zhai Xiaochuan some minutes at the 4 spot. They’re both 6’9″, shoot well and are capable of putting it on the floor. In an ideal setting you’d have another 3/4 guy (He Tianju comes to mind), but even with this roster you can space the floor and run in transition. Li Gen and Ding Yanyuhang can both play the small ball SF position: Ding honestly should be playing it full time given he is 6’7″ with good fundamentals whilst Li at 6’5″ is the strongest local player in China and it would be excellent to see him run the pick and roll both as the handler and the screener.
There’s enough small guards in Group A to take advantage of physically through pick and roll switches and Li is a solid back to the basket player for a guard. Zhao Jiwei is probably going to be the happiest surprise for Chinese ball regardless of whether something changes, although it probably should raise some eyebrows that he played so sparingly for Liaoning recently (he’s behind Guo, Hudson, Yang Ming and Liu Zhixuan in the rotations), and can definitely play alongside either Guo or Sui Ran (who is really a combo guard).
On the defensive end the team might be underrated: while at some point Team USA didn’t really try, China generally doesn’t concede a huge amount of points; the size is there, the rim protection is definitely there, and the rebounding numbers could be pretty good given that Li Gen, Zhai Xiaochuan and Zou Yuchen are good rebounders for their position. I wouldn’t be fully opposed to Zou playing some minutes at the 5-spot, as he’s a good enough athlete and rebounder for a 6’9″ in a smallball team.
If the team as a whole manages to take away enough perimeter chances, stays away from traps and zone defenses (against Team USA they’ve tried to trap with Durant’s man while Durant himself was one easy pass away. Splash.) and forces teams to go inside and challenge Zhou or Wang, China isn’t in a bad position.
So in conclusion, there’s hope for China but the fit has to be right. They can beat at least one team and could just squeak by two. These aren’t what Chinese fans probably want to here but its the best they are going to get. The pieces have to be put in the right way and the coaches need to stop dumping it into the big man. If everything goes right, this team could surprise but its not going to be easy…