BEIJING, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) — As Shandong grabbed the last ticket to the playoffs and Beijing dropped out, the regular season of the 2016-2017 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league lowered its curtain on Sunday.
Shanghai came back to the playoffs after a three-year wait when Beijing said goodbye to the top eight, which also spoiled Stephon Marbury’s 40th birthday.
The Shanghai Sharks are famous for their boss and former player Yao Ming, the biggest star in Chinese basketball history. Before joining the NBA’s Houston Rockets in 2002, the giant left Shanghai with its only CBA championship from the 2001-2002 season, beating former powerhouse Bayi by 3-1 and becoming the second CBA champion in history.
The Sharks never recovered from Yao’s leaving until the 2009-2010 season. After his retirement, Yao came back to become the boss of the club and hired Bob Donewald Jr. as coach, who led the Sharks to the semifinals in 2010, which is the third-best result in the club’s history.
Shanghai made into the playoffs three times after the 2009-2010 season, and were eliminated in the first round each time.
Everything changed when the team announced the addition of Jimmer Fredette before the current season. As the 2011 National Player of the Year in the NCAA, Fredette ranked as the leading scorer in all of Division I during his senior season for the BYU Cougars. He was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, but only played limited minutes across four different teams over five NBA seasons. Fredette spent most of the 2015-2016 season in the NBA Development League before he decided to join the Sharks.
Then a miracle happened. The Sharks failed only once in the first 10 matches, which was the best start for the team in history. They topped the league after the first half of the regular season and finished third at 30-8, which is the best regular season for the team in 15 years. Their 18-1 record at home was also the best for the last 15 years.
This was a major change not only for the Sharks but also for Fredette. The BYU superstar found that he was unstoppable on court, scoring 1,381 points from 37 matches, leading the entire season. He made in 171 three-pointers and was 246-of-265 at the free-throw line. In Sunday’s match against Guangsha, Fredette scored a career-high and also team history-high 73 points, almost saving Shanghai in two overtimes. Now he is considered one of the best foreign players of the league.
Shanghai will play against Shenzhen in the first round of the playoffs, which kick off on Friday. For Yao Ming and the club, this might be the ideal time to harvest after eight-years of hard work.
Old soldiers never die. They just fade away. Before Fredette, Stephon Marbury was the best foreign player in the CBA, the MVP of Beijing Ducks and a local hero in Beijing. After joining the Beijing Ducks in 2012, he brought the city three CBA championship titles in four seasons and became the first foreign player in the CBA to receive a Chinese green card in 2016. The former lone wolf of the NBA found his rebirth in China, where he was named one of its 10 “model citizens” in 2014 and also made an honorary citizen of Beijing.
But on the eve of his 40th birthday, Marbury tried everything he could but was still unable to lift Beijing into the top eight. After trailing double-digits before the final quarter, Marbury almost led the Ducks coming from behind to beat Sichuan. They made in six consecutive three-pointers in the last seconds to tie the score at 113-113. But a simple turnover in defense sent Sichuan’s Wang Ruheng to the free-throw line and cost Beijing’s ticket to playoffs. Wang made in the first of the two free-throws to secure Sichuan’s 114-113 win over Beijing.
At the age of 39, Marbury still contributed 21.4 points, four rebounds and 5.5 assists on average each night. But every coin has two sides. His existence meant that Beijing’s coach Min Lulei had few choices in terms of guards, which limited young players’ time on court. As his age grows, Marbury now needs more time to rest but during his absence, and young players like Fang Shuo and Wang Xiaohui could soon provide the power he offers.
“This is not the END for me!” Marbury said on his Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, after Sunday’s loss, indicating he will not end his career with a defeat. But maybe this is just the right time for him to let go and for the Beijing Ducks to start rebuilding without him.
Guangdong provides a good example for Beijing. As the biggest winner in CBA history, Guangdong has only been crowned once in the last five seasons. Coach Du Feng chose to believe in younger players like Zhao Rui, Gao Shang and Zhou Zhandong, and to give Yi Jianlian, the best Chinese player of nowadays more time to rest. The former NBA player Yi played only 29 matches in the regular season, but Guangdong still took the second place in standings, showing other CBA teams that the Guangdong dynasty is returning.
Shandong’s Ding Yanyuhang took the chance provided by Yi Jianlian’s absence. The 23-year-old forward scored 24.2 points per game, ranking first among Chinese players. Ding also grabbed 5.3 rebounds and dished out 2.6 assists every night and is most likely to be the Chinese MVP. After helping Shandong secure a playoff spot, he also got some good news for his own future prospects: the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks are offering him a chance to train in the summer league.
The competitive regular season now is over. Unlike in previous seasons, most of the eight teams in the playoffs this year have what it takes to go all the way and win the title. Game on! Enditem