• Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to our International Spotlight weekly feature! It’s once again that time of the year for us to take a look at the most notable players in the Chinese Basketball Association this season, some of which could emerge as late-season additions by NBA teams, just like Jonathan Gibson, MarShon Brooks and Ty Lawson in recent years.

    The coronavirus epidemic has obviously affected all activities in China the last few weeks and basketball has not been an exception with the league suspending its operations until further notice. Chasson Randle had some trouble getting out of his contract but he was eventually brought back to the States by the Warriors this week and, with a thin buyout market in the NBA this year, the window of opportunity for many more former NBAers could open up again in the next few weeks leading to the playoffs.

    State of the CBA

    The CBA has made strides in recent years under the leadership of former All-Star and president of the Chinese Association Yao Ming and the league has been able to attract even more NBAers and top-notch coaches this year.

    The 2019-20 season started on November 1st and was supposed to end on May 12th with a few minor changes taking place. The number of games remained the same (46) for each team but instead of playing three games a week, the teams have played eight games in three weeks, always between Tuesday and Sunday. The 20 teams were divided into four new groups based on their rankings and performance last season with each team playing four games (two home and two away) against each opponent from the same group and two games (one home and one away) against every opponent from different groups.

    Defending champion Guangdong is still the strongest team, Xinjiang was the runner-up last season, while Liaoning is looking to bounce back after having won 27 straight games in the regular season but losing to Xinjiang in the playoffs; Shenzhen meanwhile became the first team in league history to win a series after trailing 2-0 in last year’s playoffs.

    One major change this year is that teams began to actively sign “reserve” imports in order to provide insurance for injuries, figuring out a way to bypass the limit of two foreign players per franchisee – that number is now up to three. The Chinese teams are also in the process of having their brands and logos redesigned, as most of the franchises use animals in their names and they focus on tigers, lions, leopards and dragons, something that obviously lacks creativity and makes it difficult to tell the teams apart.

    The Usual Suspects

    Andrew Nicholson, Guangzhou Loong Lions Dralions, PF, 30 years old

    Nicholson moved to a third different team in three years in China and he continues to impress as the stretch forward that many NBA teams hoped he could become. His team is the second worst in the league but he is having another solid year averaging 26.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.0 triples per game while shooting 53.3 percent overall and 49.5 from behind the arc.

    Dakari Johnson, Qingdao Double Star Eagles, C, 24 years old

    Johnson, a member of the G League All-Rookie 1st team in 2016 and the All G League 1st team in 2017, moved to China last year where he was able to establish himself as a force in the middle. He has been posting 23.7 points, 14.5 rebounds (second in the league) and 1.6 blocks in 29 games so far this season while he is still only 24 years old and could find his way back to the NBA.

    Donatas Motiejunas, Shanghai Dongfang Sharks, PF/C, 29 years old

    The Lithuanian big was able to resurrect his career in China and got called up by the Spurs last year but he couldn’t secure a guaranteed contract and opted to return to China for the Shanghai Sharks. He is leading the league in rebounds this year with 15.0 per game even though his scoring went down a little bit and he is another name that NBA teams are monitoring due to his ability to shoot from range and play effectively in small-ball lineups.

    Jamaal Franklin, Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons, SG, 28 years old

    Franklin returned to Shanxi this summer after a couple years with the Blue Whales and he continues to be one of the top performers, averaging almost a triple-double with 30.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 10.0 assists (league-leading), along with 2.3 steals and 1.4 blocks.

    Joe Young, Nanjing Tongxi Monkey King, G, 27 years old

    Young has found his groove as a scorer in China where he has been torching opponents again this year ,scoring 35.9 points in 29 games. An NBA team looking for instant offense could absolutely sign him as an insurance policy.

    Ty Lawson, Fujian Sturgeons, PG, 32 years old

    Lawson is slowly following the steps of Stephon Marbury, approaching legend status in China where he is having a strong season, posting 27.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 1.9 steals in 18 games so far. He is always someone who NBA teams could take a look due to his experience.

    New Kids on the Block

    Antonio Blakeney, Jiangsu Kendia Dragons, SG, 23 years old

    The former McDonald’s All-American and LSU standout joined a long list of NBA veterans taking their games to China after a couple underwhelming seasons with the Bulls. He has been magnificent, scoring 36.3 points, along with 6.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.5 triples per game in just four appearances so far.

    Jeremy Lin, Beijing Shougang Ducks, PG, 31 years old

    Lin became an NBA champion last year with the Raptors but he hit rock bottom emotionally after the end of the season, being unable to secure another NBA contract. He signed for the Ducks where he has rejuvenated his career, averaging 24.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He now plays in a country that loves him without reservation and it’s the best ending anyone could ask for even though it’s likely that he still keeps an eye on the other side of the ocean.

    Lance Stephenson, Liaoning Dinosaurs, G/F, 29 years old

    Stephenson ended up signing a one-year deal worth up to $4 million with the Dinosaurs, which was far more than the veteran-minimum offers he was getting during NBA free agency. He has thrived in the CBA, averaging 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per contest and is reportedly willing to work out to prove his value with NBA teams so a return is not completely out of question.

    Honorable Mentions

    Darius Adams, Qingdao Double Star Eagles, PG, 30 years old

    An undersized guard, Adams has been again one of the hottest names in China with averages of 34.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 2.6 steals and 4.2 triples, forming a great duo with fellow American Dakari Johnson. Adams was the CBA International MVP Recipient award last season.

    Dominique Jones, Jiutai Northeast Tigers, G, 31 years old

    Jones has been out of the NBA for six seasons now but he is having his best season so far in China, leading the CBA in scoring at 38.0 points per game while adding 8.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists for a 12-10 team that currently sits in 11th place in China, where the top 12 teams qualify for the postseason.

    Jianlian Yi, Guangdong Dongguan Tigers, F, 32 years old

    The 2018-19 CBA Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP is averaging another double-double this season with 20.3 points, 11.0 rebounds 1.7 blocks and 1.2 triples per game. Yi tried to get back to the NBA with the Lakers in 2016 but he felt the minutes were not going to be there and he has been one of the top guys in the CBA since.

    Justin Hamilton, Beijing Shougang Ducks, PF/C, 29 years old

    Hamilton was retained by the Ducks who have been hit by a ton of injuries this year but he is still averaging 21.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 20 games so far, becoming one of the most reliable big men in the CBA.

    Tyler Hansbrough, Sichuan Blue Whales, PF, 34 years old

    The Blue Whales are 8-22 and will miss the CBA postseason but Hansbrough, now in his third year in China, is averaging 32.3 points and 13.4 rebounds in 17 games so far.

    Fantasy Implications

    One of the advantages of playing in the Chinese Basketball Association instead of the EuroLeague is that the season is shorter, and the chance to come back to the NBA is very real. Things are totally up in the air this year due to unforeseen circumstances that could have a ripple effect on the NBA. The league indefinitely postponed games on January 30th and there is a rumor that it will resume games on April 1st, but it’s also possible that the CBA is indefinitely disbanded because of the outbreak.

    If this happens, all American players could get the green light to return to the NBA without any restraints, potentially helping playoff teams to make a final push. With fantasy playoffs right around the corner, fantasy GMs should keep an eye on potential returns that could create short-term opportunity out of nowhere just like MarShon Brooks did a couple years ago.

    Thank you for reading our CBA yearly special and please free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar. With fantasy playoffs rapidly approaching, make sure you stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.

    Stats are courtesy of RealGM.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of March 7th.

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