From NBA bust to CBA folk hero, Shanghai Sharks import Michael Beasley is enjoying an incredible career renaissance in China.
The second overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft, Beasley is currently averaging 29.4 points and 10.4 rebounds. If that wasn’t impressive enough, on Sunday at the CBA All-Star Game in Beijing, Beasley scored a record 59 points. There are few players with quite so hot a hand as the former Miami and Minnesota forward, and given that he will soon be a free agent again, Beasley may just be a critical late addition to an NBA contender’s roster.
In some ways, bouncing out of the league after a doomed stint with the Heat was probably been the best thing to have happened to him. Chinese basketball has always been an unlikely home for maverick Americans. Stephon Marbury has obviously thrived in his five years in China, while Gilbert Arenas openly gushed about wanting to return to the CBA after his stint there in 2012. CBA teams have a tendency to give American players the sort of slack an NBA front office would not allow, but at the same time China lacks the sort of distractions that got Beasley into trouble in the first place. As a result a happier, more committed player has emerged.
There have, of course, been a couple of moments of immaturity. Against the Bayi Rockets, Beasley appeared to distract a rival player by trying to untie his shoelaces at the free-throw line a la J.R. Smith.
On another occasion, he managed to get thrown out a game against Jiangsu. Those were lapses in what has otherwise been a pretty solid campaign for Beasley, who has been well received by fans and his teammates. Interestingly for the player, he has also kept a very low profile, rarely talking to the media and mostly staying out of trouble.
The question now is what can Beasley do in the NBA. In China, he has proven he can score by the bucket-load and has also appeared to have focused on his basketball. A young and inexperienced Sharks team continually looked to him to deliver clutch baskets during the season and Beasley almost always delivered. Yet, with Shanghai now mathematically ruled out the playoffs and the regular season almost over, the question now becomes which NBA GM is willing to roll the dice and bring the in-form Beasley back to America. Someone will though, he’s simply been too good to ignore.
The player who arrived in China to tremendous fanfare and media interest a few months ago has not played a minute in the CBA since injuring himself in an early-season game with the Xinjiang Tigers. Since then, Guangdong, the team that brought Mudiay to China, have given his minutes to former Detroit Pistons guard Will Bynum. The change-up appears to have paid off and Guangdong is currently 28-3 and likely owners of the second seed in the upcoming CBA playoffs.
Mudiay, it increasingly appears, will not feature in those playoffs and instead is simply working himself back into full fitness for his pre-draft workouts. Photos taken as recently as last week appear to show Mudiay working out with Guangdong trainers at the team’s facilities.
What this all indicates is the Guangdong, one of the league’s richer clubs, are content to keep Mudiay around if they need him. Bynum, averaging 22.3 points and 6.6 assists a game since arriving, is the top dog now and Guangdong look set to rely on his steady play rather than the talented but raw Mudiay. All of this means the teenager will presumably stay in China until late February when his contract is up, and he can return to America to formally work-out for NBA GMs.
Blatche Getting It Done In China
Andray Blatche took a risk coming to China instead of fighting it out for an NBA spot, but it looks like the gamble is going to pay off big time. Having played up to the crowd in the recent CBA All-Star game, where he repeatedly nailed three-pointers and high-fived cheerleaders, Blatche is arguably the most high-profile foreign player in Chinese basketball right now. One highlight move in particular, in which he took the ball behind his back to dribble past small forward Zhu Fangyu, demonstrated that he is also one of the best.
Having been paid a reported fee of $2.5 million for the five-month CBA season, Blatche has used his time in China to put up monster numbers. Currently going for 30.4 points, 15.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.8 steals per game, the American is currently the big favorite to take home the league MVP title. However, the biggest reward may well be waiting for him after his deal in China expires.
Interest in Blatche has been building for a while as he continues to tear through Chinese basketball. Miami has long been seen as a suitor, but now reports in both America and China are also linking him to the Memphis Grizzlies. With a growing reputation and a number of clubs wanting to pick him up, Blatche is in a situation where he should be able to command a decent offer for a returning free agent from China.
Blatche’s success is also interesting because it offers a blueprint for mid-tier NBA players to go to China and get big money before returning back to America and getting a second deal that will itself be considerably above the veterans’ minimum. It probably won’t be a regular occurrence, but Blatche has shown that going to China doesn’t always signify a downward spiral to a player’s career.
The Battle For The CBA Scoring Title
With six games left in the regular season, two players are tied at the top of the CBA scoring charts: Zhejiang’s Errick McCollum and Chongqing’s Willie Warren, both of whom are putting up 38.1 points per game. Those numbers are undoubtedly gaudy and part of this is because of the teams both men play on. Zhejiang (9-23) and Chongqing (3-29) are understandably two of the worst teams in China and they are now playing out the final few games before they can hide from their own furious fan bases. But for the players, particularly the two Americans putting up all these shots, there is every reason to keep playing hard.
McCollum is a 5’11, former DII point guard while the taller Warren is a streaky former Oklahoma combo guard that needs a lot of shots to get going. Both are unlikely to make it to the NBA, but their proven ability to put the ball in the basket means that they are essentially playing for next season’s contract. Indeed, CBA teams put a premium on overseas players who can put big numbers and don’t miss many games, something that both Warren and McCollum have proven they can do. This means that when the 2015-16 CBA season comes around, barring injury, the two men will be looking at monster deals in China.
Andrew Crawford is a long-time Chinese basketball writer and a former beat reporter in the Chinese Basketball Association. His twitter address is @shouldersgalore.