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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gao Shang and Chinese Basketball

The first game of the Nike Global Challenge Saturday was between China and Brazil. It was a close game all the way through until Brazil pulled away at the end to win 85-75. The international teams didn't have as much talent as the American teams, but they did a good job of playing team ball and a lot of them have played together for years.

For China, they were very much like how you would expect a Chinese to be. Very mechanical and fundamentally sound, communicating a lot defensively, and a little overwhelmed athletically. Chinese basketball is very interesting. A lot of people clown on AAU basketball in a American because it teaches bad habits, but it is all a very natural form of basketball and allows players to express their games freely and more creatively. Players may not do much thinking, but they learn how to be creative and reactive. AAU ball does bring some good things to the game.

In China, it is all about the team. There isn't usually one guy. Teams play as a unit, and they usually play with the same unit their entire youth. They don't really have much of an identity individually, but instead as a team. Most of the time, nobody stands out and it is designed to be that way. But while they play together and efficiently, they aren't breeding NBA talent. Part of that can be attributed to athleticism and lack of experience. Plenty of other counties though, have at least been able to produce a few good guard talents. You would think a country obsessed with hoops and with the world's largest population could do the same thing.

Their players lack individuality. They are all the same and have no room in the system to venture from it. That is how they are taught. Successful basketball starts with the fundamentals, but there is much more growing after that. Plenty of guys have fundamentals. It doesn't make you a NBA talent.

The Chinese look at basketball too much like baseball. With baseball, there isn't much to it. Its pretty simple - either you can hit the ball or you can't. With basketball, you can be able to shoot, run, jump, dribble, pass, etc all the essentials but unless you know how to assert yourself from your team, you will never stand out. Their team philosophy is good in theory, but if they want to produce NBA guys like I know they do, they are going about it the wrong way.

I am saying all this to draw some thought, but I also wanted to lead this post into talking about China's star player, Gao Shang. Shang isn't your typical Chinaman. He plays the game extremely aggressively and is almost the opposite kind of player as the rest of the team. On this Chinese team, he is probably someone they need.

But Shang takes it the polar opposite direction. He drops 30 points a game in just about every big time event he attends, but he doesn't do much of anything else. He cherry picks defensively and doesn't try to keep his man in front of him, is a poor rebounder for what he could be, and isn't a willing passer. He is a guy who is in straight attack mode at all times. Like I said, with the rest of China playing within the system, he is almost needed to not make them too predictable and easy to stop.

He loves to leak out on transition and the rim is in his mind as the end destination. He gets there a lot, knows how to draw fouls, but he really isn't a great athlete or that explosive at the rim. He is able to handle contact offensively (but on defense he is unwilling to battle). He still isn't a creative finisher and gets his shots blocked often. There isn't much to his drives. I mean, yes he has a little Euro step and can change his speeds up some. And he does have a nice crossover for an otherwise ordinary ball handler. He mainly just has the attacking mentality and drives hoping to get fouled. I'd be hesitant to even say he is good at it.

He does appear to be a good shooter, where he hit 4 of 7 three at the game I attended today. I noticed that all of his shots were on spot up opportunities. If he puts the ball on the floor, he is going to try to go to the rim. He never showed he could create his own shot or shoot off the dribble.

For an elite scorer, his game is extremely simple and it is going to catch up to him. Draftexpress has a profile on him and says he can be a very significant overseas down the road and honestly I even have a hard time seeing that. He is so bad at everything else in his game. He doesnt defend, turns the ball over at a ridiculous rate, doesn't pass, is an average athlete, doesn't rebound, basically everything besides scoring he does terribly. If he improved his effort that could change, but his complete disinterest in defense is a major turnoff.

Playing for a team that has no other standouts also has to help him. Everyone else does all the little things while he is purely focused on points. Nobody else tries to create anything, so he has the privilege of being able to make all the plays. I imagine that Shang has watched plenty of NBA games.

While Shang is lighting up box scores and appearing as Chinese baasketballs next hope, that is far from the truth. The real hope with Chinese basketball is they find a solution to fix their ability to develop players. Having a bunch of system players and then one polar opposite guy is deterring the whole team from reaching their potential. Basketball is not meant to be played that way. The best way China can learn how to produce talent is from the United States. Knowing the Chinese though, they have too much pride in themselves to seek outside help.

So until their genetic engineering runs full circle in a few generations you can bet they will continue to suffer from mediocrity. Lets talk about China when the next Yao Ming comes around.

(Just kidding about those last two sentences...kind of)

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