Those of you who like fringe NBA players may have enjoyed the series of updates recently about the Chinese Basketball Association. Any league that saw Olumide Oyedeji average nearly 20/20 can peak the interest of any of us. Players like playing in China; the exposure isn’t huge and the money isn’t great, but the CBA has the lure of the teams playing lots of games, with less emphasis on practice, copying the NBA model of basketball not imitated much around the globe. Furthermore, the standard of play was bad, which led to amusingly lopsided statistics that they could put on their CV; for example, Tim Pickett will now always be able to boast that he was a 39.4 ppg scorer at one point in his career. (It appears to be already paying dividends, since he just got a workout with the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s nice to know they’re checking out China. So would I.)
The Chinese league season has ended, as have most leagues, but the Puerto Rican one is just starting. It’s not a coincidence that the BSN (Puerto Rican) league begins in mid-April, which allows them to experience an influx of fringe NBA talent much like the Chinese league did. The standard of domestic players in the BSN is better, so the numbers aren’t as wonky, but it still makes for a great proving ground for players who need a small career boost, or some extra money from a summer job. And, for us keen observers, it’s a great chance to watch bit-part players play big. Here are the numbers of people you may have heard of.
– Marcus Williams (Quebradillas): Williams (the Nets one) is possibly the best player in Puerto Rico. His scoring is inefficient, due largely to taking as many threes as he does twos and hitting them at only 33%, but he’s passing and rebounding, and even has a triple-double to his name. Williams averages 15.1 points, 9.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds for the best team in the country, playing well for the first time in three years.
– Elias “Larry” Ayuso (Santurce): Ayuso averaged an inefficient 13.2 ppg for the Iowa Energy to start last season, before leaving the team to take up an opportunity in Croatia. However, that never actually happened in the end, and Ayuso ended up unemployed before going back to his native Puerto Rico, back in his homeland and doing what he does best; hoisting up a load of threes. Ayuso averages 21.7 points per game, and little else.
– Josh Davis (Santurce): Davis was also in the D-League as arguably the best player for the Colorado 14ers after Captain Slow went down. Davis averaged 19.1 points and 7.3 rebounds in the D-League, and I hope to God he was looking for another NBA go-around from a team that hasn’t signed him yet. (I hope to all Gods that he gets it, too.) Davis currently averages 16.4 points and 9.6 rebounds in P-Rico.
– Rick Apodaca (Santurce): Former Magic signee Apodaca has been around the houses this year. He signed in Turkey, but didn’t play. Then he signed in China, but he didn’t play. Then he signed in Italy with Carife Ferrara, where he did play, averaging 17.2 points per game in five games, but then he tested positive for marijuana and was waived. And now he’s back in his native Puerto Rico, masquerading as a point guard. Apodaca averages 7.6 points and 3.9 assists per game in nine contests.
– Ricky Sanchez (Santurce): Sanchez, too, is playing in his native country, although it wasn’t without a fight. Sanchez played in the BSN last season for Humacao, but at some point his rights were traded to the Ponce Lions. Sanchez didn’t want to play in Puerto Rico this season, as apparently his agent didn’t want it to get in the way of his NBA aspirations (the man either aims high, or is high), but the BSN wouldn’t let him leave. He tried to sign in Venezuela, but that was denied, and a nasty holdout ensued; Sanchez refused to play for the Lions, so they refused to pay him. Eventually, he ended his holdout and returned to practice, but he never played in a game for Ponce, and they traded him at the end of last month to Santurce, where he has averaged 8.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 12 games as a specialist three-point shooter.
– Jabari Smith (Bayamon): Smith didn’t play anywhere else this season, for reasons that I’m not aware of. Maybe he was saving himself for this. In any case, Smith is averaging 10.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 17 games.
– Danilo “J.R.” Pinnock (Arecibo): Pinnock has been around the houses this year, starting in Italy’s Lega Due (which means “league two”), before moving to Argentina a few months ago. He joined his Puerto Rican team only this week, and has totalled 44 points and 13 rebounds in his two games so far. So either he learnt the playbook really fast, or his sheer talent overwhelmed the need for one. You decide.
– Marcus Fizer (Arecibo): Still working his way back from knee surgery, Fizer has averaged 15.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.9 fouls in 25.9 minutes of seven contests. The shorter three-point line employed by the BSN has had the expected effect – Fizer has shot 17 of them already. He’s hit five.
– Donta Smith (Carolina): Smith was the sixth man on the Australian championship-winning Melbourne South Dragons team, and he had a 21-point, 10-rebound, 7-assist performance in the title winning game. He averages 11.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 8 BSN games so far.
– Ebi Ere (Carolina): Ere (pronounced air-ARGH, at least in Australia) was also in Oz, and he played for the Melbourne Tigers, the team that lost to Smith’s Melbourne South Dragons. (Basketball is good in Melbourne right now, it seems.) He’s spent many years in Australia, and is one of the best players there. He’s also now one of the best players in Puerto Rico, averaging 20.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 14 games.
– Alejandro Carmona (Carolina): A former Piston for about a week, Carmona is back in his native country, averaging 21.4 points and 8.3 rebounds in 15 games. You’ll notice that those rebounding numbers trump those of most others on this list, a particularly impressive feat when you consider that Bimbo is a 6’5 guard.
– Ruben Wolkowyski (San German): Still plying his trade despite hurtling towards his 36th birthday. R-Wolk averages 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in 15 contests.
– Dan Langhi (Mayaguez): Langhi played in Puerto Rico last summer, but didn’t play anywhere else this year, so seemingly he likes it there. He averages 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in 15 games this season, but is shooting only 35%.
– Ryan Humphrey (Caguas): Humphrey spent much of the year with the Tulsa 66ers in the D-League, giving some consistent employment in a career that’s been very disjointed. He averaged 15.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in 36 games for Tulsa, alongside the slightly fantastic number of 3.3 turnovers in only 28 minutes a night. His Puerto Rican numbers are basically identical: 15.9 points and 7.3 rebounds in 28.8 minutes a game. Fortunately for Big Comfy, I don’t have his Puerto Rican turnover numbers.
– Matt Freije (Caguas): Freije averages 19.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 blocks per game in 15 games, numbers almost identical to his Chinese league numbers from earlier this season (19.6/7.9/0.2/1.2 in 26).
– A.D. Vassallo (Caguas): Virginia Tech’s Vassallo did a Calathes, and chose not to wait and see if he was going to be drafted before getting his first pay checks in. (Being a native of Puerto Rico also helps.) His professional career is off to a fine start, as he averages 20.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
– SirValiant Brown (Ponce): If you remember SirValiant Brown (and you may well do, because names like that tend to stick with you), then you might be interested in his 2008/09 season, which has read as follows: Two games in Iceland with 49 total points, eight games in Canada with 62 total points, and two games in Puerto Rico…..with three total points. But still, they come in only three minutes, so that’s not bad going.
– Lee Nailon (Ponce): Nailon’s NBA career died a while ago, and since then, he’s been on the Dion Glover tour of middle and South America, with liberal dashings of Asia where he can get it. Since July, Nailon has played in Venezuela, Iran, Lebanon and now Puerto Rico, where he averages 21.6 points and 7.9 rebounds in 14 games. By the way, he hasn’t hit a three yet and he still doesn’t much pass.
– Darian Townes (Ponce): A Kings summer leaguer last year, Townes started the year in Poland, left before Christmas, and then came off the bench for the Erie BayHawks for the rest of the year. In four games for the unfortunately named Ponce Lions, Townes averages 13.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocks.
– Nigel Dixon (Ponce): As with so many others on this list, Dixon played part of the year in China, averaging 26.3 points and 9.8 rebounds in 33 mpg for Zhejiang Lions. (Apparently he only plays for teams with Lions in the name.) Dixon’s sheer unrelenting size made scoring easy enough, and he shot 69% from the field, with the only successful strategy against him was to foul him and send him to line. (That worked; Dixon went only 91-204 from the line, which is Ben Wallace-like.) Dixon isn’t having as much success in Puerto Rico, averaging only 7.4 points, but he does averages 9.7 rebounds in 17.3 minutes, which is also Ben Wallace-like.
– DerMarr Johnson (Humacao): Johnson spent part of the year in the D-League with the Austin Toros, not playing much, and only signed in Puerto Rico this week. He has totalled 47 points and 13 rebounds in two games.
– Antonio Meeking (Humacao): Meeking was a D-League All-Star this year, scoring big points on inefficient shooting. He is doing much the same with Humourcow, averaging 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in five games, with 71 points coming on 63 shots.
– Kurt Looby (Humacao): The former Iowa centre exploded onto the scene in the D-League this year. He played little in college, but he was thrust into a starting role with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and responded with fine big man numbers: 8.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in only 24.9 mpg. His offensive numbers were deliberately not listed here so as to look favourable. Looby averages 10.7 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game in Puerto Rico, and recently worked out for the Grizzlies.
– David Monds (Humacao): The former Oklahoma State big man averaged a double-double for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds this year, if you round the rebounds up a bit, but averages only 11.6 points and 7.6 rebounds through seven games in the Reeko.
– Jumaine Jones (Guaynabo): You may recall that Jones was reportedly suspended for a year after a weird soap opera that saw him sign two contracts at once. I am not sure of how the specifics of that played out, but clearly someone backed down, because Jones ended up playing 35 games for Ural Great Perm in Russia, averaging 7.1 points per game. Currently, he is averaging 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists for Guaynabo.
– Lee Benson (Guaynabo): Benson is now 35, and never cracked the NBA outside of a couple of summer league spots in his prime. He was in junior college when he was 28, which probably didn’t help. However, this minor league journeyman showed up all other minor league journeyman in China this year, averaging a staggering 34.1 points and 18.8 rebounds in 48 games for Shaanxi. He’s continued that in Puerto Rico, averaging 20.1 points and 14.2 rebounds in nine games. Does anyone out there want to sign Dale Davis, but only pay him the rookie minimum salary? If so, Lee Benson’s your man.
– Gabe Muoneke (Guaynabo): Despite employing both Muoneke and the previous two players, Guaynabo are last in the BSN with a 3-11 record. It’s not Gabe’s fault, as the journeyman scorer averages 20.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in 31 minutes per game; good numbers, albeit not comparable to his 34.6 ppg CBA scoring average.