The days when great centers like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon dominated the game in the paint are gradually fading away.
With Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez and possibly a few others being considered the only pure centers in the league these days, there is one question I have had in my mind since the NBA made its announcement about the alteration to the All-Star Game ballot: Could China’s up and coming centers thrive in a league that seems to be drifting away from using a traditional center?
Most media and scouts have focused their attention on the duo of Wang Zhelin (Fujian SBS Sturgeons) and Li Muhao (DongGuan Leopards) as two future prospects for the NBA in the future.
Wang, the 18-year-old who is starting his rookie season in the CBA, has already impressed many with his exploits at the Nike Hoop Summit and the FIBA Asia U-18 Championship this year with his athleticism and shooting touch. However, he is still a raw talent that needs to be molded into the center that he can be.
Sturgeons head coach Tab Baldwin and coaches at the national level should provide the necessary guidance to push Wang to the level he can reach. In addition, with the improved competition in the CBA, Wang should be getting challenged by some quality big men in the post, which could only help to improve his strength.
If the future Chinese national team center plays well in his maiden CBA season and continues to improve, in four or five years time his name could be heard at the top of the list of NBA draft picks.
Like Wang, Li Muhao continues to be a work in progress as he develops his game with the Leopards and head coach Brian Goorjian. Having played with the Chinese youth national teams and participating in the 2009 Nike Global Challenge, many scouts see a lot of potential in the big man.
One of Li’s advantages is that he is being nurtured along slowly by Goorjian so that he can improve the weak parts of his game while enhancing his strengths. A lot is expected of him this CBA season. He may not be a dominant player as he is still very young, but he should make an impact for the Leopards as they try to continue their progression into becoming a contender for the CBA crown.
While both players possess considerable upsides and have the strong possibility of being top back-to-basket centers in the years to come for the Chinese national team and the NBA in the future, the one area both need to work in is there overall strength.
This has got to be a major concern for coaches at the national team level as Wang and Li progress because the opposition will have big men that can outmuscle them in the post for easy buckets and just knock them out of the way for rebounds.
It may not be much of a concern at youth level as other players are developing as well, but at the senior level it is entirely another story.
Yao Ming can certainly attest to how strength training helped him when he had to battle in the paint with the likes of Shaq and other big men. By adding more bulk to his body he was able to absorb much of the punishment he was going through in the paint.
While Wang and Li do not have to spend every hour in the weight room trying to build themselves up for a Mr. Universe bodybuilding competition, adding a bit more mass to could help them to become more dominant in their positions scrap with the best of them around the rim. However, it should not be too much mass that they put on as it may affect them getting up and down the court.
No doubt the two young centers have the potential to play in the NBA like many others and they could be the catalyst in the re-emergence of the back-to-basket center. The most important this is that they are given the time to develop and the necessary training and games to make them the finished product.