Recently Yahoo Sports reported NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s frustration over the lack of Chinese players in the Association despite the incredible amount of followers, aficionados and athletes pursuing an interest in the sport. China is already a pivotal part of the basketball landscape and Yao Ming’s perennial presence atop the All-Star votes in his NBA years goes to show how appealing that market is for the North American league. Understandably Silver wants in on that opportunity.
China and USA’s national teams have faced each other twice last year, with the latter predictably dominating both matches. In both encounters, however, guard Guo Ailun caught the eye of a couple of scouts just a year removed from going undrafted in 2015, and making a point of doing Carmello Anthony dirty during a national team matchup
Now Chinese media is stating that Guo may take part in the upcoming NBA Summer League in a Sixers uniform.
While Guo Ailun’s Tony Parker comparison is a first in a country that prides itself on its big men, a Chinese point guard overpowering opponents with athleticism and physicality is far from a novelty. Back in 2004, Liu Wei enjoyed some Summer League time with the Kings due to his dominating physical profile. More of a Chinese Dwyane Wade (he never really gained a consistent three-point stroke and was suited to a midrange-oriented game), Liu didn’t make the cut after summer basketball ended. Guo, however, is more athletic than physical. In a run-oriented league that values transition offense and three-point shooting he seems to provide all the right tools. His defense is solid by CBA standards and his playmaking potential is exciting due to his fast hands and willingness to mix it up against bigger opponents. His offense, in the CBA at least, makes him a 20-point per game menace– too fast in transition, too skilled both as a ball handler and a finisher, too reliable a shooter to go under the screens against. At 23 years old, his suddenly moment in the sun has come a little later than it ideally should have. But it has come, in the end, and whoever has an interest in the Chinese market will find more than that Guo is a player with NBA skills at a relatively low price point.
The question is how many and which skills of his are translatable to the big stage? For starters, an often-yielded accusation concerns the CBA’s resistance towards the changing style of play in basketball. The recently finished NBA Finals blessed us with relevant minutes of James and Durant facing each other as de facto centers. Lineups shrink, teams run and space out on the floor and the poster child of this new school seems to be Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green, who played 65% of his rookie season at the small forward spot (and 3% as a shooting guard) and started half of his first NBA Finals at center. Guo Ailun’s style is much closer to this new school, and he may take advantage of the superior number of transitions from day one. On the flip side, he may have to adjust to not being the fastest player on the floor, something he has never faced in China. Furthermore, his finishing will be further tested by the prohibitive length of NBA big men. Can his dipsy-doodles, touch and ability to get to the body of his defenders prove enough to grant him good percentages at the rim at 6’4″? Defensively, he will be scrappy and provides activity both on and off the ball. It remains to be seen whether he can stay in front of his man without relying on his hands too often. By CBA standards, he’s a good one-on-one defender and a renowned defensive playmaker with 2.0 steals per game.
The analogies with Tony Parker are, of course, influenced by NBA standards of previous overseas imports. If you’re a speedy foreign point guard with speed you’re much more likely to be dubbed the next Tony Parker rather than the next, say, John Wall. The same blueprint has been applied to Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis being dubbed the new Dirk Nowitzki on the grounds of being tall, foreing, armed with a soft touch and, er, white.
But given that Porzingis is not the new Nowitzki and, since we’re talking about China, Zhou Qi is not the new Yao Ming, Guo Ailun is not the Chinese Tony Parker. Its obviously a hyperbolic stretch but Guo’s playing style is closer to a Kyrie Irving type; a fast, sweet-shooting point guard who can finish at the rim with both hands.
Again, this doesn’t mean that he will be anywhere in the vicinity of Irving, of course. Guo will be lucky to even move to the States in the first place given how the political complexities of Chinese basketball. But if Guo does make it (even if its just prolonged spells in the Summer League), not only will the NBA benefit from a new influx of Chinese attention but the local movement in the Middle Kingdom will enjoy a boost of confidence that maybe even Yao Ming wasn’t able to give. After all, many countries can boast of an potential NBA player so long as he has prodigious length and the merest sniff of an offensive game. Sending guards (who, being guards, don’t have supernatural size and have to be well-trained from the get go) is, on the contrary, an unquestionable sign of good health that the dwindling Chinese system desperately needs.