The CBA has bid farewell to another regular season, and as the eight best teams in the Middle Kingdom get ready for postseason basketball, for 22 imports the season in China is already a thing of the past.
No matter how gaudy their stats are, missing the playoffs is always bad news. The good news, however, is that they’re now available for NBA action.
The timing couldn’t be better: playoff (or playoff-hopeful) NBA teams are absolutely OK with bolstering their second units with new faces coming from an environment where they’ve spent enough time with the ball in their hands to make them feel cheered up and confident. Non playoff teams, at this stage in the season, are pretty much open to any kind of experiment in high hopes of finding the diamond in the rough that gives them a possible head start on rebuilding for 2016-17.
Last season was a charm for CBA imports as a variety of players from China signed with NBA teams, ranging from the expected (Michael Beasley, Will Bynum, Toney Douglas) to the oh-hey-it’s-been-a-while (Lester Hudson, Earl Barron) to the feel good stories (Jerel McNeal above all else, had never been in the NBA before suiting up for the Suns).
Of course, not all players recovered from their stints in the Celestial Empire – guys like Al Harrington and Delonte West just didn’t last long enough in China, and Euro big men Viacheslav Kravtsov and Miroslav Raduljica failed to prove themselves as go-to scorers (which is totally ok per se, but why did you pick China, then?), but it is proven that the late-winter/early-spring route from China to the US is real and palpable.
It’s just about estimating – or maybe guesstimating – who will walk it this time around.
Jordan Crawford – Tianjin
Stats: 43,1 ppg, 6,4 rpg, 2 apg.
Who could bring him in: Playoff teams with little firepower off the bench
Crawford has always been a scorer, and his NBA career numbers are in double digits. He’s had a 16,3 ppg season in Washington 5 years ago, and nobody questions his capabilities as a scorer.
However, his percentages in the NBA have always been sub-par, and even lottery teams these days would rather not have a volume scorer as a No. 1 option.
Based on pure scoring ability, there’s no reason for him not to sign an NBA contract as a rotational member. He’s had a 72-point game in China vs Sichuan, and his 43,1 ppg are by far the best average the CBA has ever seen.
Some teams will look at the aforementioned game and highlight that he had no assists, of course. Some teams will probably never like him, either; such is the divisiveness players like him have to live with.
However, other franchises will just be happy that such a confident scorer is on the market this time of the year, and will grab ahold of him. If you’re okay with somebody coming off your bench with no fear to let it fly regardless of circumstances, you’ll take him — and live with him not being much of a passer. In the end, if bench players were complete they wouldn’t be bench players in the first place.
Jabari Brown – Foshan
Stats: 32,4 ppg, 3,8 rpg, 2,5 apg.
Who could bring him in: the Lakers, who really didn’t need to waive him in the first place, and all lottery teams looking forward to evaluate some relatively fresh talent.
You know the CBA is a league of its own when Brown at 32.4 ppg is just No. 8 on the top scorers’ list.
The good news for Brown consists of his enormous improvement from the free throw line: never cracking the 80% mark in any major setting including his college days, the former Laker has shot 87% from the line on an astounding 12,8 attempted free throws per game.
Of course, no other environment expect maybe for his backyard will provide him with defenses that get him to the charity stripe nearly this often, but the free throw line is just 15 feet away — same as the NBA.
The Lakers waived him on October 26, and given how poor they’ve been performing, one could say that it’s no use getting rid of a less established asset when the proven commodities give you this little in return. From a player’s standpoint, however, it’s always a bit naive to see a guy go from A to C and infer that B wasn’t an important step just because he didn’t stay there long enough for you to notice.
Brown needed to turn away from the Association to improve as a player by putting himself in a different position as a go-to scorer, something he’d never done while facing the pressure of being a professional that has standards to meet and a lot to lose if failure occurs.
When he comes back, whether it be the Lakers or somebody else signing him, he will be a much more conscious offensive player with a much clearer view of what his best attributes are, and many teams can use that.
Jamaal Franklin – Shanxi
Stats: 34,9 ppg, 10,6 rpg, 10,8 apg
Who could bring him in: lottery teams will take one more long, hard look at him.
No matter where and when, averaging a triple-double (with numbers looking, on average, like this) is nuts.
Jamaal Franklin has shown it all in China in the span of two seasons: individual brilliance this year and tremendous contributions to a team-first, winning environment in 2015. Meanwhile, his luck in the NBA has been all bad, as teams never really seem to give him any palpable playing time before the inevitable summer waive.
While his recent numbers are inflated by the late season relapse in Chinese defenses (that are generally pretty helpless even when something’s actually at stake), his 10,6 assists per game are a full 2 assists over Jeremy Pargo’s 8,5, coming in second place. While replacing local legend and former Maverick Dominique Jones, already a willing passer himself, surely helped accelerate the plug-in process for him and his teammates, there’s no getting around the fact that he’s way too good for the CBA.
While there’s no point in expecting anything remotely close to those numbers from a hypothetical NBA stint of his, it’s this type of showing that will give him a bigger chance at that stint.
And a real one.
Marco Catanzaro is a blogger and a CBA analyst at Shotsuey!, Shark Fin Hoops and, of course, Sheridan Hoops. You can follow him on Twitter @Arnstrad.