NBA looking for new Yao Ming while CBA looks for next Stephon Marbury as Chinese basketball season returns
Jordan brand athlete Guo Ailun and Abudushalamu Abudurexiti among local talent who could follow Zhou Qi and Ding Yanyuhang to the big league
Basketball is back and while the focus may be sharpened on the NBA and whether anyone can stop Golden State Warriors from three in a row, the Chinese Basketball Association also gets under way this weekend.
The path from the CBA to NBA is becoming well worn with more players going from one to the other in recent years. Former CBA MVP Michael Beasley has made that move and will be suiting up with LeBron James at the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
LeBron’s former Miami Heat teammate, Dwyane Wade, was linked with a move the other way over the summer before re-upping for a final farewell in Florida, while Lamar Odom has been tipped to turn up for a Chinese team, too.
There’s still no update on the future of Odom, except for him using social media to clarify he has definitely not been kidnapped, but there are plenty of other former NBA stars on show – and there might even be some NBA stars of the future.
Ding Yanyuhang won his second consecutive domestic MVP last season at the Shandong Golden Stars and earned a contract at the Dallas Mavericks. He also won Asian Games gold with China in August.
The man most likely to take over the mantle filled by Ding and Yi Jianlian for four consecutive seasons before him is Xinjiang Flying Tigers star Abudushalamu Abudurexiti. The 22-year-old Uygur was the catalyst for that victory over Iran in Indonesia and has a career-defining season ahead of him after a busy few months that also saw him play for the Warriors in the NBA Summer League.
Wang Zhelin was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016 and continues to shine in the CBA with the Fujian Sturgeons. At 24, his shot at an NBA career is not over.
Another possible local MVP aside from Yi, who is now at the Guangdong Southern Tigers after his NBA stints, is Guo Ailun. The 24-year-old is sponsored by Jordan brand, making him the only domestic athlete aside from Yi exempted from the league-wide Li-Ning sneaker deal.
The foreign imports – of which each team has two – are allowed to wear whatever shoes they want, as former MVP Stephon Marbury did with his own brand, Starbury sneakers, as he led the Beijing Ducks to three championships.
And as the NBA looks to Ding and Zhou Qi to become their new Yao Ming, the CBA is looking for its new Marbury.
Chief among the candidates is last season’s overseas regular season MVP and former Houston Rocket Courtney Fortson at the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions and two-time MVP Lester Hudson at Liaoning Flying Leopards. Hudson led his side to the championship last season and took finals MVP honours, too.
Xinjiang Flying Tigers Darius Adams is another former MVP and CBA champion who will be one to watch as will Jimmer Fredette at the Shanghai Sharks.
New this season are former NBA champion Marreese Speights, who has signed for the Guangzhou Long Lions. The ex-Golden State Warrior hit 41 points against the Washington Wizards in preseason to show he still deserves his “Mo’ Buckets” moniker.
Joe Young and Al Jefferson have swapped the Indiana Pacers for CBA teams, Young opting for Nanjing Monkey King and Jefferson for Xinjiang. Meanwhile, Dakari Johnson has left the NBA for Qingdao after a summer where he was traded twice before being waived by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Malcolm Delaney, who turned down an offer in China in 2016 to sign for the Atlanta Hawks, has finally taken the plunge. After over 100 games in the NBA, he will turn out for the Guangdong Southern Tigers.
Courtney Fortson, new CBA MVP, ended the regular season averaging :
2.7 steals pic.twitter.com/Rsc7OXWhmu
— Sportando (@Sportando) 28 February 2018
Elsewhere, after being snubbed by Wade, Zhejiang opted for the less starry Marcus Denmon.
Returnees include Drew Goudelock, who was finals MVP in Italy last season and is suiting up for Shandong Golden Stars after previously playing for Xinjiang. Jonathan Gibson is back at Qingdao for a third time.
He was at the Boston Celtics at the end of last season but he is a star in the CBA where he dropped 60 points in a game last season. He is two-time scoring leader in the CBA.
Jamaal Franklin hit the first ever 60-point triple-double against the Beijing Ducks in 2016 and a 58-point game last season.
Aaron Jackson went to the Rockets last season and made his NBA debut at 31. He is back at the Beijing Ducks now but his journey provides hope for those dreaming of the NBA.
Pierre Jackson is one such player. The former Dallas Maverick, who is signed to the Beijing Fly Dragons, made that cleat to USA Today in June. “Getting back to the NBA will be my goal until I can’t walk anymore,” he said.
Russ Smith, who dropped a preposterous 81 points for Louyang over Jiangsu in the NBL last season, has made the step up to the CBA – with the Fujian Sturgeons – and the former college champ still thinks he can make it back to the NBA.
He described himself as the “Allen Iverson of China” to the Hoops Hype podcast.
Smith can try to live up to that when the CBA begins on Sunday.