Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Jiangsu vs. Liaoning

Sunday night, CCTV-5 provided a game between these two teams, and after the final score was confirmed (118-107 to Jiangsu), I came away with a few good (and bad) impressions.

1. This was the first time I saw Yi Li, a 19-year old small forward, in action, and frankly, I wasn't impressed at all. Several people have said that Yi should replace Zhu Fangyu as starting small forward for the national team. I strongly disagree with that. Their main reason for replacing Zhu is that Yi is much more athletic. If Yi is an athletic player, then I would take the "fundamental" player any day. Actually, Zhu is neither very fundamental or un-athletic. He's skilled (meaning he can shoot lights out–usually), he can defend with some decency, and, most importantly, he has some bulk on his body. Yi is as skinny as a stick. I think he's ascending towards the national team, and he's still a teen, so he's got a while. Neverthless, he's not going to be starting for a while–probably not until after the Beijing Olympics. The new generation of Chinese players are coming up very fast, but they're very young, very raw, and very skinny (see Yi and Chen Jianghua).

2. The hero of this game was Tang Zhengdong. He was formerly on the national team until he got an attitude problem. Now, he's demoted back to the CBA, but it seems he really wants to get back. 40 points and 15 rebounds were on his stat sheet. Watching his movements, I'm not suprised that he went undrafted in the recent draft and no one signed him afterwards. He's got the moves and he's got the strength, but he's has feet of gum. His speed is somewhere between Yao Ming's and Sun MingMing's. Some speed agility training would be the best thing that could happen to him. If he improves (he's still only 22), then he could be a player in the mold of Mengke Bateer. And one more comparison- Tang vs Jiangsu–40 points, 15 rebounds. Wang ZhiZhi against Shanghai–41 points, 10 rebounds. Season scoring average–Wang ZhiZhi 34.5, Tang Zhengdong 32.5. Obviously, tt's a rough comparison, but I think that another improvement from Tang this season could see him in the NBA next year.

3. As Liaoning made started pressing late in the game (futilely, as they ended up losing anyway), the level of the CBA was once again made clear to me. Liaoning employed a full-court zone press with a halfcourt trap, and when the point guard of Jiangsu dribbled into the trap, instead of attacking the defenders and advancing past halfcourt that way, he instead turned and threw it to his backcourt partner, and Jiangsu got the ball over the line that way. OK, that's a nice strategy. However, in the NBA, do you see guys like Tony Parker throwing the ball to a teammate in a press defense? No, you him going right at them, and through them. The same goes for Nash, Iverson, Kidd, and all the other point guards. The fact is that CBA guards can't do the same against the less physical competition of their own league. Their physical strength is part of the problem, but their mentality is the bigger problem. Chen Jianghua is not a physical specimin; he's actually rather skinny and weak. Yet he was fearless, in driving to basket, and in challenging in press. The first time he came in when China was playing against Greece in the World Championships, he sped past the Greek defenders, and got Yi Jianlian an open look at the basket. I would have laughed, but I realized that that was the first time all game (it was mid-way in the second quarter already) that a Chinese guard tried to go past the press.

So, once again, I return to my favorite topic (or least favorite, depending on how you look at it): Chinese players don't have the heart. They're skilled, but they have no heart. Or no, let me put it this way: They have some skills, but they don't have other skills because those skills require heart. For example, how much heart does shooting require? Not an ounce? How about rebounding? To sacrifice your body and bang inside, it requires a lot (in fact, every junior high coach will tell you that in rebounding, heart is underrated, height is overrated. China has the height, but not the heart). The same goes for driving inside and defense. Yao Ming has often stated that China has the scorers, but does not, among other things, have the rebounders, the defenders, the drivers. The guys with heart are missing. The NBA term for 99% of Chinese players (Yao being that one percent) would be soft. Take a look at the guys who are considered "tough" in the NBA, the guys who are the exact antonyms of soft. Just a few names: Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest, Ben Wallace. Is it any coincedence all three are renowned for their defense?

Chinese players are often called "zombies" or "robots" in the way they seem not to care about losing or winning, and right now I'm afraid I can't disagree with those people.

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