• Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to our International Spotlight weekly feature! It’s that time of the year that we will be taking 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.

    Brandon Jennings, Jonathan Gibson, MarShon Brooks, Derrick Williams and Ty Lawson were some of the names that were brought back to the States last year in order to provide veteran leadership or simply a spark of energy to their respective teams. And a thin buyout market in the NBA this year could open up the window of opportunity for many more former NBAers in the next few weeks leading to the playoffs.

    State of the CBA

    The CBA has been trending up in recent years under the leadership of former All-Star and president of the Chinese Association Yao Ming. Of all the non-NBA leagues, Chinese teams have the most money to offer to free agents, which is why so many big-name current and former NBA players have been signed by Chinese teams.

    At the beginning of the season, the CBA unveiled its revamp by increasing the number of games from 38 to 46, with the 20 teams being split into four groups based on last season’s results, and with each team playing three games a week, compared to the previous five games in two weeks.

    And in a much-needed effort to increase the competitive level of the league, playoffs in China were expanded from 8 to 10 teams. The top four teams will automatically qualify for the quarterfinals, with the other four berths to be decided by head-to-head games between teams which end the regular season in places four to 12. The regular season will culminate on March 13th while the playoff finals will conclude in about a month from that date.

    The 20 teams can sign two foreign players (also known as imports). Imports are typically asked to play a major role on their teams, but league rules state that the duo can only play six quarters collectively (and only one import is allowed to play in the fourth quarter).

    There is a total of 38 roster spots for import players in the CBA this season since one team, the Bayi Rockets, is affiliated with the Chinese military and therefore has no foreign players. And even though there are only 38 jobs, the number of Americans who sign in China each season is closer to 60 or 70 since teams are quick to replace their imports if they aren’t living up to their contract or meeting the club’s expectations.

    The Usual Suspects

    Jamaal Franklin, Sichuan Blue Whales, SG, 27 years old

    Franklin has found his Ithaca in China after a couple seasons with the Grizzlies (who drafted him back in 2013) and the Nuggets, posting 26 triple-doubles in 3 seasons in the CBA and averaging 32.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.8 blocks this year, leading the league in minutes (43.0) in 40 games so far. He was selected by the Nets in the 2016 G-League Expansion Development League Draft and by the Grizzlies in the 2017 edition but he is currently an unrestricted free agent and could find his way back to the league since his team in China has struggled to compete for the playoffs and currently is stuck at the bottom three of the league.

    Jimmer Fredette, Shanghai Sharks, SG, 30 years old

    After a few seasons overseas, Jimmer is reaching Stephon Marbury-like celebrity status in China and is posting 37.1 points, 5.6 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 5.0 triples and a league-leading 2.8 steals per game this year. He is one of the highest paid imports in China and his team is currently making a push for the playoffs so I think it’s going to be hard to drop the CBA for a chance at a 10-day contract even though his style of play fits the current state of the NBA more than ever before.

    Donatas Motiejunas, Shandong Golden Stars, PF/C, 28 years old

    The Lithuanian big has been able to resurrect his career in China and his numbers have been even better this year, averaging career-highs in points (26.7), rebounds (14.2), assists (4.1), steals (1.9) and triples (1.1). His injury woes seem to be behind him but he is still struggling with his free throw shooting and he is not a rim protector, barely averaging 1.0 block per game, so it seems unlikely that NBA teams see him as a game-changer this late in the season.

    Jonathan Gibson, Quingdao Eagles, PG, 31 years old

    Gibson was called by the Celtics late in the season last year in order to provide some emergency guard depth for a team that was decimated by injuries. He is a scoring machine averaging 34.0 points, 3.8 assists and 3.8 triples in 40 games so far and he looks like the type of veteran that a team might need as insurance in the playoffs.

    Brandon Bass, Liaoning Flying Leopards, PF/C, 33 years old

    Bass has quietly been one of the most successful imports in China in recent years, helping his team win their first ever championship last year. He has played in all 41 games for Liaoning this year, averaging 22.9 points and 9.7 rebounds, while his team is currently tied in the first place in the standings and looks poised for another deep run in the playoffs.

    Andrew Nicholson, Fujian Sturgeons, PF, 29 years old

    Nicholson, somewhat surprisingly, has become the stretch forward that many NBA teams envisioned he could become a few years ago. He switched teams in China this season and the transition has been great for him as he’s posting career-highs in points (27.9), rebounds (9.3) and triples (2.8) while shooting 55.8 percent overall and 44.5 from behind the arc.

    Ty Lawson, Shandong Golden Stars, PG, 31 years old

    Lawson appeared in five playoff games with the Wizards last year but didn’t draw much interest in the offseason and remained without a job until late in December when he was called to assume the roster spot of Andrew Goudelock, who went down with a knee injury. The 31-year-old guard is having a nice season overall posting 25.5 points and 9.3 assists in 18 games so far and he’s a name that could resurface in North America in the spring once again.

    Jared Sullinger, Shenzhen Leopards, PF/C, 27 years older

    Sullinger headed over to China last year in an attempt to revive his career after a horrendous stint with the Raptors where he was overweight and completely out of shape following foot surgery. He has been successful in his second year as well, posting averages of 27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks and he is another big who fits today’s NBA style as a stretch forward.

    New Kids on the Block

    Pierre Jackson, Beijing Dragons, PG, 27 years old

    Jackson is a name familiar to basketball junkies as he has been a scoring machine at all levels except from the NBA. After a brief stint with the Mavs last year, he decided to take his talents to China this season where he leads the league in scoring (39.8) while also averaging 9.3 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 6.2 triples on very good percentages but on a team that is at the bottom of the standings.

    Malcolm Delaney, Guangdong Southern Tigers, SG, 29 years old

    Delaney had to undergo arthroscopic ankle surgery last April, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season. He joined Guangdong this year playing in 37 games and posting averages of 19.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.5 triples leading his team to a 36-4 record so far. Even though he signed a one-year, $2 million contract with a hefty bonus for the championship trophy, he was never shy of his desire to return to the NBA and his team recently waived him, adding Michael Beasley instead.

    Dakari Johnson, Qingdao Eagles, C, 23 years old

    Johnson was a member of the G-League All-Rookie 1st team in 2016 and the All G League 1st team in 2017. He appeared in 31 games for the Thunder last season, but only averaged 5.2 minutes per game and after getting traded to the Magic during the offseason and subsequently waived, he headed over to China. He has been a great addition for Qingdao, posting 22.3 points, a league-leading 14.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 40 games so far.

    Joe Young, Nanjing Tongxi Monkey King, G, 26 years old

    After 3 seasons with the Pacers, Young never quite lived up to the hype, but he has found his groove as a scorer in China where he has been torching opponents for 35.9 points a night in 41 games.

    Brandon Paul, Zhejiang Chouzhou, G, 27 years old

    The former Spurs swingman replaced the injured Marcus Denmon late in the season and he has been excellent, averaging 31.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.75 steals in 14 games so far.

    Shabazz Muhammad, Shanxi Zhongyu, 26 years old

    Muhammad was the final cut of the Bucks heading into the season and after a couple years where he had numerous offers from overseas, he finally moved to the CBA, where he has been providing his team with solid scoring (29.7 points) and an impressive 11.4 rebounds in 41 games.

    Thomas Robinson, Beijing Dragons, PF/C, 27 years old

    Robinson attended the Hawks training camp this last October and was actually very close to making their regular season roster due to the injury of John Collins but he was eventually let go. In his first year in the CBA he has been a double-double machine, averaging 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds.

    Honorable Mentions

    Courtney Fortson, Zheijiang Guangsha Lions, PG, 30 years old

    The 2018 International MVP of the CBA, Fortson is an undersized guard for one of the traditional powerhouses in China and he is leading the league again this year in assists (11.2) while also averaging 24.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.5 steals. He doesn’t offer much upside for NBA teams as he’s now 30 years old and it’s almost certain that he wants to finish the season strong and make a push for another MVP trophy.

    Darius Adams, Xinjiang Flying Tigers, PG, 29 years old

    After starring at the Division-II level, Adams was forced to work his way into a spot in the coveted European leagues with previous stops in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Ukraine. He has been one of the hottest names in China again this year with averages of 36.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 2.6 steals and 4.6 triples, pretty much carrying his team on his back with no other import on Xinjiang’s roster.

    Aaron Jackson, Shougang Beijing Ducks, 32 years old

    Jackson is a close friend of James Harden and Chris Paul and the Rockets actually signed him last year in order to make their locker room chemistry even better. He is an undrafted combo guard with extensive international experience in Europe and China where he has been a leader for his team, posting 24.3 points and 7.6 assists this year.

    Justin Hamilton, Shougang Beijing Ducks, PF/C, 28 years old

    Hamilton is having another solid year in China averaging 23.1 points, 9.7 rebounds 2.5 assists and 2.2 blocks for one of the top teams in the league.

    Marreese Speights, Guangzhou Long-Lions, C, 31 years old

    First year in the CBA with solid numbers of 22.7 points and 7.5 rebounds on an ugly 42 percent from the field.

    Jason Thompson, Sichuan Blue Whales, PF, 32 years old

    Had a successful year with EuroLeague powerhouse Fenerbahce last year but he signed a lucrative deal this season in China and is posting a solid double-double with 22.2 points and 14.1 rebounds.

    Thank you for reading our CBA yearly special and please take the time to read this ESPN article from a couple years ago on what it’s like to play professional basketball in China.

    Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar and 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 1st.

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