With the 2015-16 Chinese Basketball Association set to begin at the end of October, it’s time to look at all the runners and riders from what could be the most wide-open CBA season in a decade. Beijing, Guangdong, Xinjiang and Liaoning will all be expected to compete, but don’t sleep on dark horses such as Sichuan and Guangsha. Here’s a look at each team, from the bottom to the top.


20. Qingdao Eagles

After the party comes the hangover. Given that they will have one less foreign player this season and lost Li Quipeng as their coach, last year’s surprise team will struggle to get back to the playoff semi-finals. Instead, with a bad bench and a lack of quality starters, the Eagles may struggle to make the postseason at all.

Key Player: Jonathan Gibson, PG, 6-foot-2, 184 pounds: A year removed from leading the league in scoring, Gibson missed last year with injury and will be returning to China with a point to prove. Lightning quick and able to get a shot off from anywhere on the court, the American point guard may well be Qingdao’s only hope for success this season.

19. Chongqing Dragons

Almost certainly headed to Beijing as part of an attempt by Chinese businessmen to give the capital city a second team, the Dragons were awful last season and will be awful this season. Basically, there is nothing to see here. This team will be an afterthought and deservedly so.

Key Player: Dorell Wright, SF, 6-foot-8, 215 pounds: Its very possible that Wright, a very reliable NBA backup, could put up huge numbers with the Dragons. There is nothing else on this roster and the team has to garner headlines if they are to survive in the Chinese capital. The only real chance for this is that Wright tries to chase 50 points a night. Buckle up for a wild ride, Dragons fans.

18. Bayi Rockets

Once the best side in China, the last few years have exposed Bayi, who only play Chinese players due to their links with the People’s Liberation Army. No longer the premier free agency destination for Chinese players, an ugly situation that saw the Rockets force their longtime center, Wang Zhizhi, out of retirement last season underlines the lack of depth currently in the team.

Key Player:  Zou Yuchen, PF, 6-foot-7, 230 pounds: Perhaps the only bright spot for the Rockets last year, the rookie power forward averaged 14.0 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. His game isn’t the prettiest but he’s got heart and potential, which are two things Bayi desperately need right now.

17. Shanghai Sharks

The Sharks have been underwhelming for years and this trend looks likely to continue in 2015. Boasting a roster full of half-decent players, the Sharks will once again play better than the sum of their parts, but it’s a genuine possibility that Shanghai also finish close to the bottom five when the regular season is done.

Key Player: Bernard James, PF/C, 6-foot-10, 240 pounds: A decidedly no-thrills player, James will give his team a very serviceable thirty minutes each game and link up well with 7-foot-3 center Zhang Zhaoxu. Other than that, there’s not a lot to write home about and that also sums up this current Shanghai roster.

16. Jiangsu Tongxi

A terrible team that were moved up to the CBA too early, the expansion side from Jiangsu province struggled greatly in their first season in the top tier. This time around, the team lucked into Von Wafer, one of the best scorers in the league, and Tongxi will be hoping the American can give their fans some much-needed wins.

Key Player: Von Wafer, SG/SF, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds: Wafer is only with Tongxi because of events dating back to last season. After sparking a brawl during a playoff quarterfinal game, Wafer copped a seven-game ban that seemed to end his career in China due to the league’s short schedule. However, Tongxi, content to endure the suspension if it meant getting a top-tier scorer for the rest of the season, offered him a way back to the CBA and Wafer had no other option.


15. Tianjin Lions

After a brief jolt of respectability back in 2013, it seems like the Lions are sinking back into obscurity. The only real reinforcements made in the offseason were former Detroit forward Jason Maxiell and Caspar Ware, who was last seen in NBA playing limited minutes for the Philadelphia 76ers. Barring an unexpected run, this team is probably a mid table outfit at best.

Key Player: Casper Ware, PG, 5-foot-10, 177 pounds: Shoot-first point guards traditionally excel in China and Tianjin are hoping that Ware will have a similar level of success. Extremely quick and unafraid of jacking up a boatload of shots, Ware could win (and perhaps also lose) several games for the Lions this season.

14. Jiangsu Dragons

For a team that continues to linger in the bottom half of the table, there is hope things might be on the rise after several seasons of mediocre basketball. Indeed, the front office has made a couple of decent moves in free agency, most notably by signing the former top pick in the 2007 NBA draft, Greg Oden. Managing to retain Lin Chang should also be considered a minor success after the former Long Beach State swingman impressed in the previous season.

The reality, though, is that this is a rebuilding team hoping that Greg Oden can go a full year without succumbing to injury. With nothing else to lose, Jiangsu are happy to take a gamble on the center, but at the same time, no one should be surprised if the bet doesn’t work out.

Key Player: Greg Oden, C, 7-foot-0, 270 pounds: It’s rare to think of a more high-profile signing in the CBA since the days of Tracy McGrady, Gilbert Arenas and JR Smith, but the jury is still out on whether Oden can last the entire season, let alone get Jiangsu into the playoffs. However, if he can stay fit, the Dragons could have a top five center and a legitimate weapon on both sides of the floor.

13. Foshan Long Lions

For years, Foshan have been the ‘other’ team in Guangdong province and existed in the shadows of more senior sides like the Guangdong Tigers and Dongguan Leopards. Yet last season, a young Foshan team almost got into the playoffs and the Lions are now once again looking to surprise people with a roster of unheralded local players and inexpensive foreign imports.

Key Player: Tang Zhendong, C, 7-foot-1, 242 pounds: A former league MVP, Tang’s best years are behind him, but the center still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Critically, the 31-year-old will provide some much needed steel in the Foshan frontcourt and also offer veteran leadership to a team that needs it to keep improving.

12. Shanxi Dragons

No one knows what is going to happen with this team. Last season, the Dragons made it to the playoffs on the back of a freewheeling offense that was led by Von Wafer and drawn up on the sidelines by Yang Xuezeng. However, now both men are gone after Wafer became persona non grata following a multi-game ban for brawling, while Yang jumped ship to coach the Sichuan Whales. Dominique Jones has been brought to replace Wafer’s scoring, but it remains to be seen if the Dragons can return to the postseason.

Key Player: Dominique Jones, PG/SG, 6-foot-5, 210 pounds: The combo guard is as streaky as they come, but he also won games through sheer force of will for Jillin last season. Making such an impact on limited teams for two seasons in a row is a big ask, but Jones, an experienced CBA player, will have the confidence to believe he can beat the odds for Shanxi.

11. Zhejiang Bulls

Relevant last year only because Errick McCollum was breaking every scoring record in the CBA, the Bulls will live and die by an overseas guard in 2015 as well. However, with McCollum preferring Turkey over China this year, the Bulls have turned to Willie Warren, who was able to put up massive numbers on a bad Chongqing team.

Key Player: Willie Warren, PG, 6-foot-4, 205 pounds: A combo guard that averaged 38.9 points per game last year, Warren was easily the best thing on an awful Chongqing team. Warren had multiple 50-point games and also showed great passing vision on occasions. It goes without saying that Zhejiang will rely on him for every game of the upcoming season.

10. Jilin Tigers

It took a heroic effort by Dominique Jones to take the unfashionable Tigers to the playoffs last season, but this time around, the former Dallas Maverick is not with the team. Instead, the Tigers will be relying on two old hands to guide them back to the postseason in the form of Marcus Williams and PJ Ramos.

Both cult figures in China, Ramos is the 7-foot-4, 300-pound enforcer charged with anchoring the defense. However, it will be Williams, a constant triple-double threat on his day, that Jilin hope can generate the offense needed to get the team over the finishing line.

Key Player: Marcus Williams, SG/SF, 6-foot-7, 210 pounds: After a year out, Williams is making a low-key return to the league he once terrorized. The point forward will take over from Jones as the Tigers’ ball handler and go-to scorer but this is a role that Williams spent four seasons playing during previously successful spells in China. As long as he is not too rusty, Williams could be the bargain of the CBA season.

9. Dongguan Leopards

Like the former team from Chongqing, everything is so unstable with the Leopards that by the time this article goes to print, the latter might not even be in Dongguan anymore.  Last season, the Leopards snuck into the playoffs on the last game of the regular season, only to be eliminated by their big brothers, the Guangdong Tigers.

Yet a few weeks later, longstanding head coach Brian Goorjian left the team and it is unclear what is going to happen now. Rumors persist that the team is destined to move to the megacity of Shenzhen, near on the border with Hong Kong, and though the roster will be the same, all this upheaval may well be their undoing.

Key Player: Bobby Brown, PG, 6-foot-2, 172 pounds: For the third season in a row, Brown has the best job in Chinese basketball. For years, the point guard role in the Dongguan offense has been a license to put up huge numbers and Brown continues to do just that. Though Goorjian is gone, expect the Leopards to run the same system and for their American guard to have the same success.


8. Shandong Bulls

On their day, Shandong always seem good for catching out at least one playoff bound team every season. Yet while the Bulls are strong enough to beat anyone, they are often not consistent enough to make the playoffs themselves. Ding Yanyuhang is perfectly serviceable forward and Pooh Jeter is always fun but this is a team that needs an x factor. However, the signing of Michael Beasley may well be that. The former Miami Heat forward had a solid season in Shanghai last year and his ability to play both forward positions made him a match-up problem for multiple CBA opponents. If Jeter and Beasley can get into a good rhythm, the Bulls might finally get back to the postseason but at this time, it is still too difficult to say.

Key Player: Pooh Jeter, guard, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds: Despite being born in Los Angeles, Jeter is a regular with the Ukrainian national team and an adopted son of Shandong province. Having been with the Bulls for four years, the much-traveled Jeter has a track record of torching teams from deep. But if the Bulls are to make it back to the postseason this season, Jeter will need to be especially dynamic.

7. Fujian Sturgeons

Truly a one-trick pony, Fujian have been running the same scam in the CBA for years. One season, they will be dreadful and finish in the bottom five, thus earning an extra foreign player for the following year. Then, in that subsequent campaign, Fujian will push hard for playoff spot only to be rubbish the year after when they only get two imports again. Rinse, wash, and repeat over and over again.

However, given that they have one of the best young big men in China and also a solid backcourt of Dwight Buycks and Lebanese swingman Fadi El-Khatib, Fujian may well sneak into the postseason. It would suck for the reputation of Chinese basketball if such a shameless yo-yo team does make it to the playoffs, but these are the CBA rules and teams like Fujian will exploit them until they are changed.

Key Player: Wang Zhelin- PF/C, 7-foot-1, 240 pounds: Wang has been a license to print money for years at Fujian given his boy-next-door looks and solid low post game. Although the big man’s NBA potential has been squandered under a Fujian team that never challenged him to develop a midrange shot, Wang remains an excellent rebounder and is relentless when he gets the ball in the block.

6. Guangsha Lions

The small market team that always defies expectations will once again be looking to outfox the competition. Eli Holman had a borderline MVP season last year and must be hoping to enjoy the same kind of form alongside former NBA player Jeremy Pargo in 2015. The loss of Wang Zheng to Xinjiang might hurt them in the frontcourt, but this is still a very solid team that should be able to make it to the playoffs.

Key Player: Eli Holman, PF/C, 6-foot-10, 260 pounds: A one-man wrecking crew in the paint, Holman was arguably the most underrated player in China last season. The big man singlehandedly carried the Lions to the playoffs, and his ability to haul in rebounds on one end but also hurt you on the block will once again be vital for Guangsha.

5. Sichuan Blue Whales

In the last two seasons, Sichuan have been disappointing, but that doesn’t mean they have aspirations of becoming a contender now that money is coming into the team. This offseason has seen the front office chase any big name they could, and with Hamed Haddadi already on the roster, Sichuan were also linked to Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer before they finally settled on CBA veteran Mike Harris and sweet shooting point guard Justin Dentmon. If regular readers of OWS recognize those names, it is because all three played together last season during the Eagles’ run to the playoff semi-finals.  In response, Sichuan, realizing how dynamic the trio was in Qingdao, simply broke the bank to reunite them in Chengdu.

With head coach Yang Xuezeng and his high-scoring offense now also aboard, the Blue Whales are suddenly looking pretty formidable.  Yang’s playbook thrives on a guard that can direct traffic but also immediately pull up and knock down a shot if the defense slacks off. Dentmon can do just that and the other key for Yang is a low-post bully, which he now also has in Haddadi.

Key Player: Hamed Haddadi, C, 7-foot-2, 270 pounds: Now back in his second spell with Sichuan, the Iranian is a massive unit by CBA standards and has quickly emerged as a legitimate two-way player in Chinese basketball. Despite the presence of Dentmon on the roster, Haddadi will be Sichuan’s most important player, partly because of his defense but also because the Blue Whales frontcourt remains the team’s most obvious area of weakness.


4. Beijing Ducks

After winning three titles in four years, the Ducks are unquestionably the CBA’s newest dynasty. The big question, however, is how long they can stay at the top. Last season, the league implemented a rule that limited teams to one foreigner in the fourth quarter, which stopped the Ducks from utilizing their lethal pick-and-roll combo of Stephon Marbury Randolph Morris down the stretch.

In response, the Ducks relied on Randolph plus a potent Chinese backcourt of Li Gen and Sun Yue to get them through the regular season before handing the keys over to Marbury in the postseason. The result was another championship, but this year, things are going to be even harder than before; Li is gone, Sun is continuing to struggle with injuries and Marbury is almost 40.

Arguably the best coach in China these days, Min Lulei will now once again have to work his magic and squeeze the most out of an increasingly creaky starting line-up. Every year people ask if/when the Beijing title run will end; perhaps this will finally be that season.

Key Players:

Stephon Marbury, PG, 6-foot-2, 204 pounds: In the late autumn of his career, the former New York Knick remains the chief conductor of Min Lulei’s pick-and-roll heavy, floor-stretching offense. Still in fantastic shape and able to knock down threes at will, Marbury is a traditionally slow starter in the regular season but he needs to come out the blocks quickly this time around.

Sun Yue, PG/SG/SF, 6-foot-10, 210 pounds: With Li gone and Randolph relegated to the bench in crunch time, so much is now going to rest on Sun. When he’s good, the giant guard can burn teams from the perimeter and his sheer size and guile remains a problem for smaller Chinese players. However, he can also fade in and out of games; an issue he needs to overcome now that Beijing doesn’t have Li to help out Marbury in backcourt.

3. Guangdong Tigers

Owner of eight out of the last 12 CBA titles, the Tigers remain a powerhouse by CBA standards. However Father Time spares no man and age is starting to creep up on the Tigers’ golden generation. Indeed, by the end of last year, people were wondering if this was it for the best team in Chinese basketball’s modern era.

If only to demonstrate how unpredictable the future was for this team, Yi Jianlian, the captain of the national team and Guangdong’s best player, reportedly entertained the idea of leaving in free agency only to eventually re-sign. To keep him, Guangdong pulled out all the stops, including bringing in the hugely respected former Dongguan coach Brian Goorjian to work as an assistant to Du Feng.

But despite the improvements to the coaching staff, it is still unclear how the Tigers will do this year. Flat track bullies in the regular season, several odd calls by Du and a lack of young players coming into the team have increasing started to hinder Guangdong in the playoffs. Make no mistake; this is still a very good team, but the issues are clear to see and could come back to haunt the Tigers at any moment.

Key Players:

Yi Jianlian, PF/C, 6-foot-11, 238 pounds: The face of the team and the CBA, Yi is easily the best Chinese player in the league. It is also because of his talent that Guangdong dropped everything to keep him around. At his best, the big man can mix up a midrange game with a delicate touch in the paint, but Guangdong need to give him less defensive responsibilities if he is to be truly effective.

Key Player: Zhu Fangyu, SF/PF, 6-foot-7, 220 pounds: To the credit of Guangdong, it remains their Chinese players that define them rather than the foreigners. In the case of Zhu, the forward has been an outstanding servant to Chinese basketball and enjoyed a comeback year of sorts last season. However, he will need to keep on putting up solid numbers well into his 30s if Guangdong are going to continue to challenge.

2. Liaoning Leopards

For many years, the CBA was a two-horse race between Guangdong and Xinjiang. Then in 2011, Beijing signed Stephon Marbury and stepped into the spotlight as well. It was to take several attempts but now Liaoning have also rejoined the big time after storming to their first CBA Finals since 2008.

This season, the Leopards are expected to retain their status as championship heavyweights after bringing back all of last year’s team and adding even more firepower. Shavlik Randolph is a former scoring champion in the CBA and his arrival will help improve the Leopards’ only real weakness, which was reliable and consistent low post offense.

With Liaoning now able to roll out a line up of Randolph, Lester Hudson, Guo Ailun, He Tienju and Han Dejun– as well as bench support from rebounder Li Xiaoxu– it’s a real possibility that the Leopards can make it to the CBA Finals for the second season in a row.

Key Player:

Lester Hudson, PG/SG, 6-foot-3, 190 pounds: A two-time foreign CBA MVP, no one has a reputation for transforming CBA teams like Hudson. Built like a tank but still incredibly quick, Hudson has a lengthy track record of letting teams decide how he is going to beat them. If they sit back, Hudson can pull up and nail the three; come too close and the point guard will call for the screen and power his way to the rim. It was no surprise that the Leopards brought him back for a second year and his team will now be hoping Hudson can help bring a title back to Liaoning province.

Guo Ailun, PG, 6-foot-4, 190 pounds: Though comparisons with Tony Parker are unnecessary, Guo is still easily China’s most exciting young guard. To the surprise of some, the 6-foot-3 ball handler found a way to co-exist with Hudson last year and used his pace to scorch any defense that focused too much on Liaoning’s star foreign player. Although he can be erratic at times, Guo remains a very solid scorer and should be even better coming into this season.

1. Xinjiang Tigers

The perennial champions of CBA free agency, Xinjiang once again loaded up in their quest for a first ever title. Li Gen, one of the most fluid local shooters in the league, was the star signing for the Tigers, but don’t sleep on American shooting guard Andrew Goudelock.

Xinjiang also raided the Guangsha Lions’ roster and took 7-foot-1 center Wang Zheng and speedy point guard Wang Zurui to strengthen the bench. Another solid pick up is legendary coach Li Qingshan, who mentored a young Yao Ming back in the 1990s and recently led unfashionable Qingdao to a playoff run.

All of these new arrivals join an already loaded team. The frontcourt of Andray Blatche and future NBA player Zhou Qi is probably the best in China, while Liu Wei, Makhan Korambeck and Xirejiang could start for most CBA sides on the wing. But the biggest issue, as it has always been with the Tigers, is consistency. With no cohesive structure in place, when the going gets tough, Xinjiang often seem to fold under pressure. If the veteran presence of Liu can keep the team together, Xinjiang will dominate, but all too often, Xinjiang find a way to shoot themselves in the foot.

Key Players:

Andray Blatche, PF/C, 6-foot-11, 260 pounds: Blatche may well have been the league’s MVP last year, but under league rules, only players whose team made the postseason were considered for the award. Even so, Blatche is arguably the CBA’s best player and can put up 40 points and 15 rebounds on any given night.

Li Gen, SG/SF, 6-foot-5, 240 pounds: Now with his fourth team during a much traveled career, Li is a hired gun that can provide instant offense and a bit of rebounding on the side. A very big guard by CBA standards, the 6-foot-5, 230 pounds swingman can post up small guards but also hurt you from the perimeter if no one can get to him quickly enough. Still only 27, Li became one of the best paid Chinese players in the league by moving westward from Beijing to Urumqi, and the Tigers regard the player as the missing piece of a championship team.