Saturday, September 09, 2006

Chen Jianghua

For Yi Jianlian, he started making a buzz when he was only about 16. At first it was just a whisper, about this "really athletic 7-foot dude for China." But it was the 2004 Olympics in Greece that showed, to the world, just how good (and bad) he really was. For Chen Jianghua, he has come up the same way. For the past year or two, he was no more than an underground rumor, as insiders in China raved about this "Allen-Iverson like" player who completely broke the mold of a typical Chinese guard. The World Championships was his unveiling act. Crossing over Gilbert Arenas on his very first play was only the start of it.

Now, after guarding and being guarded by the likes of Arenas, Chris Paul, and Kirk Hinrich, he has gone to much less talent environment, to play in the Under-18 Asian Championships. It's obvious that no one there can match up to his quickness and athleticism, and no team can even come close to China. They're undefeated in 7 games, and their average victory margin is almost 50 points (their biggest win, by the way, was against Hong Kong, with a 94-point deficit; the Hong Kong basketball team always make me proud to live in Hong Kong). They are now going to face South Korea in the finals, although the outcome doesn't really matter, as they have already qualified for next year's Junior World Championships (top three team advance).

The problem with all this is that it does absolutely nothing for the Chinese players, especially for Chen. It doesn't make them better, because no one can compete with them, and they really don't have to work hard to get the wins. For a player like Chen, who has real NBA potential, being challenged is the most important thing of all. Chen is so naturally gifted, that, especially since he's playing against a lot of non-athletic players in China, he'll be able to score easily without making an effort to use fundamentals. If you watch Chen, you can see that's he's naturally flashy, and he even makes an effort to be flashy. Being showy is fine in my book but when you put that over your fundamentals, then you have a problem. Right now, he's playing against a lot of less-talented players, and I think that (understandably) he feels that he can kick back and relax a little, be a bit more free with his shots and so on. The same thing is going to happen when he gets to the CBA, because, if he keeps on growing and developing, he's going to be the best point guard in China, and the margin between him and the next guy will be very big.

You see, the problem with the CBA is that there's a big gap between the best players in the league, the national team players, and the rest of the players below them. The talent isn't really spread out that much, so if you're one of those top 12 guys, then you don't have to play hard to play well. This is especially true for Chen and Yi, because they are talented enough to get by on their athleticism alone. Yi is already doing this, and if Chen stays in the CBA, then he'll be doing it to. This will seriously hurt their chances of being drafted highly, and it will make their transition period from the CBA to the NBA a lot harder. Yao had a really hard time of it himself, and he was never one to rely on his athleticism. He was a polished product, something Yi and Chen are not, That's why Yao has said, over and over, send these players to Europe. He's said it at least three times since the World Championships, and I think he'll keep on saying it until someone actually acts upon his advice.