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Chinese big man Li Muhao to test NBA Draft waters

Li Muhao, the Dongguan Leopards’ 7-foot-2 center, is looking to enter the upcoming NBA draft if various reports in the Chinese media are true.

The young big man is preparing to fly to America and meet with a team of U.S. agents, who will help Li test the waters and gauge interest from NBA teams. Should he find enough suitors, Li would then file his entry papers and become the first realistic draft prospect from China in years.

This is not to say that Li’s journey to the NBA is a formality. Although Dongguan made it to the semifinals of the CBA playoffs, Li played a low-key role in the postseason run and finished the year averaging 8.7 points and 4.9 rebounds a game.

Yet in many ways, Li doesn’t have a lot of options. At 22, he is running out of time to be considered a viable project for NBA coaches to work with, and so it makes sense to jump now. Given that this year’s class of centers appears weaker when compared with the 2015 draft, it could be a case of now or never for the Leopards big man.

Another factor for Li is that he probably doesn’t want to be stuck in the same draft class as China’s other young big man, Wang Zhelin. The two big men are seen as China’s frontcourt for the future now that Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi are retired and Yi Jianlian is shuffling into his 30s. Not only is Wang’s talent far more obvious than Li’s — at least on paper — he is the unquestioned darling of Chinese basketball, and Li and his representatives must be weary of getting overlooked as a result.

Whether Li, a four-year CBA player, could be a viable target for NBA teams still remains to be seen. Barring Yao, Chinese players have struggled to adapt in the NBA, whether due to cultural reasons or because of the intense pressure that comes with being a player from China in the world’s best league. The notable failure of Jianlian, both in terms of his on-the-court ability and also the concerns about the player’s actual age, will be a factor when NBA teams assess Li. In terms of Li’s actual game, some will be worried by his occasional lack of focus and hesitancy when things get physical under the basket. The fact that he has not played starters minutes after four seasons in the CBA might also be a concern.

What Li’s U.S. agents will be stressing will be the significant upside of their Chinese client. At 7-foot-2, Li is incredibly mobile, and his agility and speed for his position will catch many by surprise. If focused, Li can be a productive finisher around the rim and is able to finish with both hands. His raw athleticism and ever improving jump shot and offensive game will also make him an intriguing prospect for an NBA team that has time to let him develop.

If he does indeed make the leap to the NBA, China hopes he will be a high pick. But for Li, the best thing possible would be to go in the end of the first round or even in the second. The latter option seems more likely and it would frankly be for the best. An enigmatic talent who needs time to grow and refine his game, Li is not going to be another Yao Ming. However, if he can make it to the NBA, he has the potential to stay there and emerge as a solid backup.

via ONE World Sports :: Chinese big man to test NBA Draft waters.


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