Are China leagues relying too much on foreigners to do the heavy lifting?
- In basketball and football, it is the overseas stars who outperform local players
Last week former NBA point guard Jimmer Fredette saw himself back on the radar in North America despite playing his hoops in the Chinese Basketball Association.
One reason was that he scored 75 points, a career best.
The other reason was that despite his incredible feat of scoring he still ended up on the losing side, with a buzzer beater from fellow American import Pierre Jackson handing the Shanghai Sharks a barely believable 137-136 loss on the road to the Beijing Fly Dragons.
Fredette may have improved on his previous career high of 73, which he also set in China last year, but he’s still short of the CBA record.
That remains the 82 points scored by Errick McCollum for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls. McCollum’s score beat the previous record of 75 dropped by Quincy Douby while he was in the CBA with Zhejiang. Douby did it in just three quarters.
That is what makes all of this is incredible, when taking into account the CBA’s rules regarding foreigners. Teams can only play their two overseas imports for a combined six quarters per game.
Never mind that, for all of the CBA teams but for the Army side Bayi Rockets who have no foreign players, the imports are coming up with the lion’s share of the buckets.
Often the two foreigners will account for more than half the team’s score between them even though neither of them would have played the full game.
When it comes to longevity, the foreign players don’t stand a chance because with the notable exception of Stephon Marbury, they tend not to stick around China long term.
Most of the Chinese players don’t have the luxury to play overseas.
One who did was former NBA player Yi Jianlian and this week he reached his 10,000th career point in the CBA, becoming the second player to reach the milestone after former teammate Zhu Fangyu.
It’s taken Yi just 464 games over 13 seasons to hit that as opposed to Zhu’s 600 games and he has averaged 21.5 points per game compared to Zhu’s 16 over a career that ended with 11,287 points over 704 games in 18 seasons.
Remarkable records both but also proof that the foreigners are shining incandescently brighter when it comes to scoring.
It also seems to be the expectation that they do it.
This is not a problem that is exclusive to Chinese basketball. It has often been the case in the Chinese Super League.
New champions Shanghai SIPG’s Wu Lei has bucked the trend this year by finishing as golden boot but it has been 11 years since another Chinese player had done it.
Dong Xuesheng, of Guangzhou Evergrande, is the next highest scorer from China, with 12 goals. That is joint 17th. Teammate Gao Lin was the only other Chinese player to reach double figures.
That’s three in a league that has strict limits on the number of overseas players. Scoring goals is the most difficult and most important part of football but in China they tend to pay someone else to do that.
While the Chinese Football Association has long ensured that Chinese goalkeepers are ensured game time by not allowing foreign goalkeepers.
Even if that rule does change as rumoured ahead of next season, it is hard to imagine a team wanting to use one of their limited quota on a keeper when everyone else is still front loading.
Last season the arrival of Javier Mascherano at Hebei China Fortune FC from Barcelona was met with raised eyebrows.
Not just why would the Argentina international choose northern China as his base to prepare for a World Cup but would a player who is comfortable as a defensive midfielder or central defender take the team on to the next level?
In short, no. They finished sixth, 29 points from the title winners, in large part because Ezequiel Lavezzi did not deliver the same number of goals as the previous season and another forward, Gervinho, left midway through the season for Parma.
This reliance on foreign scorers is difficult to see an end to while they are still available but an end to “foreign aid” as it is known is equally unthinkable.
Even Wu was surprised by his success this season.
“To be frank I had never thought about becoming the CSL top scorer given the fact there are so many good foreign strikers in the league,” he told Shanghai Daily at an event to celebrate winning the CSL for the first time.
“All teams have foreign strikers now, leaving little space for domestic forwards. But most teams still have one or two positions for domestic players at the front. What we can do is to try to merge ourselves into the foreign players’ playing patterns.”
Until more domestic players can follow his lead then Chinese football and basketball will remain backwards when it comes to going forward.