As Dallas fans have realized, Mark Cuban won’t stay put when it comes to expanding the NBA market. An NBA team in Mexico City? Great. The first Indian-born player to get drafted? Cop that. Remember when Adam Silver complained about the lack of Chinese players in NBA contention, even though two players had been drafted that year (Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin) whilst Yi Jianlian signed with the Lakers (and was cut upon his own request, so he could rejoin his local team). Well, Cuban took care of that situation too by bringing in Shandong’s Ding Yanyuhang for the current NBA summer league.
So far, Ding has enjoyed a series of nice cameos for the Mavs. Fresh off an MVP season that refreshed the local landscape and warmed local hearts, the Shandong Bulls swingman is currently living his best life– even if he is a mystery to basketball fans in the West.
A stable National Team presence who faced off against Team USA twice just a year ago, Ding has been a fixture within Chinese basketball since 2013, after his Shandong team beat the odds and advanced to the CBA Finals. The team, guided by Pooh Jeter, CBA cult hero Zaid Abbas and the deeply missed Jackson Vroman, got ultimately swept by Guangdong, but for its star youngster, it looked like the beginning of a stellar career. Instead, thanks to mismanagement and bad luck, Shandong never met expectations– a sense of inadequacy that even Ding’s MVP campaign could not fully take away.
It is unclear whether having guys like Ding gain Summer League time is just for showcasing purposes or if Dallas have serious intentions of bringing the player to America. But the playing time in Orlando has been good enough, highlights videos are a-coming and Mavs fans have been pleasantly surprised by the energy and the athleticism of the Chinese wing. However, the big question remains; what is his ceiling?
This is where it gets interesting because the Americans are seeing a slightly different version of Ding from the version that Chinese audiences get. Generally, Ding has not had supreme success shooting the basketball and consequently, in Dallas, he’s looked to bring energy, move the ball quickly and hassle opponents defensively with a physical tone never seen from him in the CBA. In China, most of those positive assets tend to be diluted because of the style of the league. In the Summer League, they stand out partly because once you add energy to a technically advanced player, suddenly his pre-existing skills gain an even brighter nuance.
However, the summer league still has some time to go so it will be interesting if opposing teams figure Ding out. Will he keep up with everybody else’s energy and pace? Are his skills serviceable enough to make the NBA player or is he a player with some sparkle and a game that people were not initially anticipating?
Personally speaking, if Dallas becomes a believer, they could absolutely find themselves with a decent player. Ding is a far better shooter than his summer league outings suggest. Athleticism will never be an issue for him and he would be a spark plug amid a Dallas bench unit that could use one. With Houston bringing in Zhou Qi, Dallas could also help become a huge draw to Chinese audiences by featuring their own high energy import. Its a low risk, high reward situation for the Mavericks, who could have found themselves a cult hero via an unlikely source.