The first two rounds of games in the 2010/11 Chinese Basketball Association were played this week, giving us an opportunity to confirm once and for all who is actually playing there. With no major English language version of a Chinese Basketball Association website available – other than perhaps here – accurate information as to signings is hard to find. We are reliant upon snippets, leaks, the occasional accurate translation, and often the players themselves.
This is a pity because of the calibre and volume of import players to be found within that league. Every year China lands quality former and fringe NBA talent, normally fairly athletic ex-NBA big men, who put up double doubles and dominate amongst domestic players without the athleticism and strength to stop them. And it’s fun to watch their statlines as they do it.
There follows a lot of all the imports in the CBA to begin this season. As will perhaps become apparent fairly quickly, each team is allowed two imports, and all meet that quota, save for the Bayi Rockets (whose players also serve in the People’s Liberation Army, which would explain a lot).
– Bayi: None (they never do)
– Beijing: Randolph Morris, Steve Francis
– Dongguan: Jackson Vroman, Josh Akognon
– Foshan (formerly Shaanxi): Olumide Oyedeji, Stephon Marbury
– Fujian: Dwayne Jones, Chris Porter
– Guandong: David Harrison, Fred Jones
– Jiangsu: Jerome Moiso, Ricky Davis
– Jilin: Jameel Watkins, David Young
– Liaoning: Chris Richard, Donta Smith
– Qingdao: Charles Gaines, Dee Brown
– Shandong: Rodney White, Myron Allen
– Shanghai: Devin Green, Mike Harris
– Shanxi: Leon Rodgers, Jamal Sampson
– Tianjin: Herve Lamizana, Lee Benson
– Xinjiang: Quincy Douby, James Singleton
– Zhejiang Cyclones: Mike James, Josh Boone
– Zhejiang Lions: Javaris Crittenton, Peter John Ramos
Of those 32 players, 24 have played in the NBA before; of the remaining 8, another 5 have signed at least one NBA training camp contract at some point. Of the remaining three – Lee Benson, Myron Allen, Josh Akognon – two have had NBA looks as well; Benson was a draft prospect in 2002 at the ripe old age of 28, and former Washington State point guard Akognon was a competitor at the 2009 Portsmouth Invitational. Indeed, Myron Allen is probably the anomaly on the list, and yet even then, the former North Dakota guard has played the last two years in the CBA. He is known, at least.
Represented in the list above are 19 former NBA draft picks, 10 of whom are former first rounders, and 4 of whom are former lottery picks. The fallen stars of Starbury and Stevie Franchise clearly headline the list, yet even former undrafted players such as Mike James and Dwayne Jones can boast of pretty significant NBA careers in their own right. In total, the 32 players above have combined to play in 5,131 NBA regular season games, 186 NBA playoff games, and 5 NBA All-Star games.
Clearly, then, there’s plenty of talent.
(Incidentally, the locations of important Chinese players. Wang Zhizhi – Bayi, Sun Ming Ming – Beijing, Zhang Kai – Dongguan, Wang Shipeng – Guandong, Liu Wei – Shanghai, Max Zhang – Shanxi, Mengke Bateer – Xinjiang, Xue Yuyang – Zhejiang Lions.)
It is not a surefire thing that any ex-NBA talent can just bowl up and play there. Some, like Chris Hunter, don’t want to, declining the big Chinese monies in favour of a tiny D-League one on the presumption and/or gamble that a midseason NBA call-up might be forthcoming. And a good many more tried and failed – players to have tried out for a spot in China this summer include, but are not limited to, Eddie Gill, Patrick O’Bryant, Will Conroy, Ronald Murray, Rashad McCants and Rafer Alston. In recent years, the CBA has become an even more attractive place to play, and thus has been able to become pickier.
There are two main reasons why players want to play in China – the money and the stats. In both cases, the numbers are huge. A couple of years ago, ex-Magic and Sonics centre Oyedeji averaged 20/20 for a season, something not even Kevin Love can do. Ex-Rutgers forward and one time Sixers camp signee Lamizana regularly flirts with quadruple doubles like a prime Andrei Kirilenko, and ex-Grizzlies signee Rodgers averaged 29ppg there last season, down from 35ppg the year before. The style of play, the NBA-like rules, the tempo, and the lack of defence and physicality from the domestic players, allows for statistical dominance from those just outside the NBA. It’s a bit like the D-League, only more so. For this reason, it’s hard not to love it.
That statistical dominance is back in full effect this year, and we’re only two rounds in the season. There follows the averages for the above players so far on the young season, in no order other than alphabetical.
Josh Akognon – 30.5 points, 1.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 4.0 steals
Myron Allen – 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.0 steals
Lee Benson – 11.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, 3.0 blocks
Josh Boone – 10.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 36% FG, 38% FT
Dee Brown – 23.5 points, 5.0 assists, 2.0 steals
Javaris Crittenton – 32.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 6.0 steals
Ricky Davis – 19.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.0 steals
Quincy Douby – 24 points, 10 assists, 4 steals (1 game)
Steve Francis – Has not played yet
Charles Gaines – 38.0 points, 14.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals
Devin Green – 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 4.0 steals, 2.0 blocks
Mike Harris – 17.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 6.0 fouls, 27.0 minutes
David Harrison – 14 points, 7 rebounds (1 game)
Mike James – 33.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists
Dwayne Jones – 18.0 points, 15.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks
Fred Jones – 9.5 points, 5.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks
Herve Lamizana – 31.5 points, 19.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 5.5 blocks, 2.0 steals
Stephon Marbury – 14.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists
Jerome Moiso – 13.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks
Randolph Morris – 37.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.5 blcoks
Olumide Oyedeji – 12.5 points, 19.5 rebounds
Chris Porter – 7.0 points, 7.0 rebounds
Peter John Ramos – 17.0 points, 14.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 79% FG
Chris Richard – 20.5 points, 15.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks
Leon Rodgers – 13 points, 7 rebounds (1 game)
Jamal Sampson – 7 points, 16 rebounds, 2 blocks (1 game)
James Singleton – 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals (1 game)
Donta Smith – 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists (1 game)
Jackson Vroman – 22.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 3.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 8.5 turnovers
Jameel Watkins – 17.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 3.5 blocks
Rodney White – 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 steals
David Young – 18.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists
With but a couple of exceptions, those numbers are huge. And the anomalous ones will probably work their way around soon enough.
Salaries, too, are a significant lure. To return to the Chris Hunter example of above, Hunter chose to return to the D-League this season in anticipation of a midseason NBA call-up. The D-League classifies all its players into grades, and then pays them according to which pay grade they are; since Hunter is a former/fringe NBA player, he receives the top available A grade, and thus gets the highest possible D-League salary. But that A grade salary is still only a puny $25,000 – B grades receive $17,000, while C grades get a lowly $13,000.
Whilst it is impossible to provide particularly accurate or complete salaries for CBA imports, it doesn’t take much Googling to see the massive disparity between the Chinese millions and the D-League crumbs. The $60,000 monthly salary limit the CBA had on imports last year has been removed, and spending has quickly skyrocketed; Francis’s $800,000 deal is far from being the biggest.
Some NBA veterans, such as Antonio Daniels and Sean Williams, have gone to the D-League to re-establish their careers. This is a commonplace move and a sensible one; there’s nowhere better to be seen by the NBA than in the D-League, right on its doorstep, and the deliberately formed call-up system allows for these players to be signed by the NBA at a moment’s notice, with no hassle or letter-of-clearance delays. The D-League is a great platform for those on the cusp of the big time, and a decent place to rebuild a wavering career for those who were in the big dance but who fell out for some reason. The upper echelons of European basketball do of course pay more, yet the flexibility to return to the NBA at a moment’s notice is often sacrificed by being there, and only rarely does Europe pay more than a minimum salary NBA contract. You’ll have to be very good or very lucky to get more than that.
But whereas the choice for good non-NBA players in recent years has often been Europe or D-League, China is emerging as a third way, providing possible incomes by far in excess of those found elsewhere, and usually more reliably. The notoriously inconsistent Greek league is currently even more bankrupt than ever; Panathinaikos are fine, but everyone else is taking it in turns to go broke, and even Olympiacos decide to cut costs significantly this summer. The usually steadfast Spanish ACB is starting to wobble, the Adriatic League is struggling, and the Italian league, while it retains great depth (and has decent parity outside of Siena), is not as good as it once was. Turkey is on a bit of a high after the World Championships run, which has been reflected via a talent influx in their domestic league, yet European basketball as a whole has suffered in recent times from declining fortunes and dwindling payrolls.
These imports may well change wildly throughout the season. They do most seasons, and they certainly did last year; because of the money and the weighted statistics, expectations are high, so leashes are short. But even if some of these players are let go, more quality will be found; ex-CBA players currently unsigned and looking for work include Marcus E. Williams, Tre Kelley, Alexander Johnson, Stromile Swift, Andre Brown, Tim Pickett, DerMarr Johnson, Chris Williams, Brandon Robinson, Maurice Taylor, and many others. It is entirely possible that many of these players will find their way into the CBA at some point this season.
There’s always quality to be found in China, and now more than ever.