China Olympic Men's Basketball Team 2012: Updated News, Roster & Analysis

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIApril 27, 2012

China Olympic Men's Basketball Team 2012: Updated News, Roster & Analysis

0 of 10

    China's men's basketball team is your typical middle school bully, roughing up its inferior foes in Asian basketball.

    As dominant as the Chinese were at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship —a nine-game romp that included eight victories by more than 10 points—it's hard to put much stock in a tournament where beating Jordan counts as a signature win.

    Upon meeting the more mature competition at Olympics High (aka the 2012 London Games), how will the bullies fare?

    Well, the early indicators aren't promising.

    Ever since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China's last major international tournament with star center Yao Ming in the lineup, the Chinese have looked second tier.

    At the 2010 FIBA World Championships, the Chinese went 1-5 en route to a 16th place finish. It was China's worst-ever showing at the FIBA World Championships.

    China then went winless at a five-game London Olympics test event in July 2011. Though the Chinese were without some of their top players, 30-point losses to Serbia and Croatia (8th and 19th in the FIBA World rankings, respectively) look ugly in any context.

    The burden is on the Chinese to prove they can flourish outside Asia, and that this roster, one without the legendary Yao at its core, can carry China forward as a basketball-playing nation.

Roster Rundown

1 of 10

    The final roster for China was announced, as reported by fiba.com.

    Pos.

    #

    Name

    Age

    Ht.

    Club

    G

    5

    Liu Wei

    32

    6’3”

    Shanghai Sharks

    G

    7

    Wang Shipeng

    29

    6’6”

    Guangdong Southern Tigers

    G

    12

    Guo Ailun

    18

    6’4”

    Liaoning Dinosaurs

    G

    13

    Chen Jianghua

    23

    6’2”

    Guangdong Southern Tigers

    F

    8

    Zhu Fangyu

    29

    6’7”

    Guangdong Southern Tigers

    F

    9

    Sun Yue

    26

    6’9”

    Beijing Olympians

    F

    4

    Ding Jinhui

    22

    6’8”

    Zhejiang Golden Bulls

    F

    6

    Yi Li

    24

    6’8”

    Jiangsu Dragons

    F

    11

    Yi Jianlian

    24

    6’11”

    Dallas Mavericks

    F

    15

    Zhou Peng

    22

    6’11”

    Guangdong Southern Tigers

    C

    10

    Zhang Zhaoxu

    24

    7’3”

    Shanghai Sharks

    C

    14

    Wang Zhizhi

    33

    7’1”

    Bayi Rockets

The Star

2 of 10

    Playing alongside Yao Ming at the 2008 Olympics, Yi Jianlian averaged 9 points on 7.5 shots per game.

    Two years later at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, this time without Yao, the Dallas Mavericks forward averaged 20.2 points per contest on 13.4 attempts from the field.

    That contrast needs no anecdote—Yi, the only NBA-based player on China's active roster, has become his team's go-to guy.

    But the parallels between Yi and Yao don't go much further. Whereas Yao was a dyed-in-the-wool post player, Yi is more of a 'tweener. His offensive game relies on a generous helping of mid-range jumpers, with back-to-the-basket maneuvers falling few and far between.

    A scouting report on Yi from the ESPN affiliate blog, Nets Are Scorching:

    Despite being 7-feet-tall, and playing a position that usually works closer to the basket, a vast majority of Yi’s shots were lower percentage jump shots. About 75 percent of all his shots were jumpers, good for a .418 effective Field Goal percentage...In the few instances that Yi does take the ball into the post, he again insists on lower percentage type-shots like turnaround jumpers and a right-handed jump hook he’ll utilize from time to time.

    And while all that is true, I'd pick around the pessimism. Yi's style is much more effective and common at the international level. China will look to him for points and leadership, and Yi knows it.

    In Yi's own words, during a March interview with FIBA.com:

    "I know that I have more responsibility since Yao retired, but I feel confident about the future. As one of the most experienced players on the team, I need to be an example for the youngest and do my best for my country. I don’t feel any pressure about that."

    The Chinese only hope he's as composed as his rhetoric.

Guards

3 of 10

    Projected Starters: Liu Wei, Sun Yue

    Projected Reserves: Chen Jianghua, Zhang Bo, Mugedar Xirelijiang

    Quick Hits:

    Not to be confused with the armless, piano-playing Liu Wei that won China's Got Talent, China's veteran floor general is best known for the years he spent with the Shanghai Sharks feeding a young Yao Ming.

    Chen has been a name on the international basketball scene ever since a 2003 New York Times article called him "the future of Chinese basketball." Now 23 and still stuck in the Chinese domestic league, one wonders if the skinny play-maker will ever develop the strength or discipline needed to compete at the game's highest levels.

    In 2009, Sun suited up for the Los Angeles Lakers and, in the process, became the first Chinese-born guard to play in the NBA. Though his stateside career would last just 10 games, he remains vital to China's Olympic hopes. His 231 minutes in qualifying led the team.

    Looking at the other guards in this tournamentnames like Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Ben Gordon, Leandro Barbosa, Patrick Mills and Jose CalderonChina's backcourt looks weak. There are good domestic players here, but China's domestic league isn't nearly as competitive as the top European leagues, much less the NBA.

    By the Numbers:

    22.7: Points averaged by Wang Shipeng in the 2011 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) Finals, an effort for which he was named Finals MVP. (Information via Niubball.com)

Forwards

4 of 10

    Projected Starters: Yi Jianlian, Zhu Fangyu

    Projected Reserves: Ding Jinhui, Yi Li, Su Wei

    Quick Hits:

    The scouting reports on Zhu Fangyu have reached a broad consensus:  He can shoot. Zhu is your prototypical marksman and a key to spreading the floor. He also slugged a Brazilian player in the face during a 2010 brawl, which I suppose has its utility.

    I can't say it enough:  PAY ATTENTION TO YI JIANLIAN. China needs Yi's scoring to survive past the group stage in this tournament. Without Yao Ming in the picture, expect him to average about 15 shots a game. There isn't enough talent around him for anything less.

    Yi Li was Team China's sixth man during qualifying and held his own, shooting 49% from the field.

    By the Numbers:

    37: Three-point attempts by Zhu Fangyu during qualifying, tied for the team lead.

Centers

5 of 10

    Projected Starter: Wang Zhizhi

    Projected Reserves: Zhang Zhaoxu, Wang Zhelin

    Quick Hits:

    U.S. fans may remember Wang Zhizhi from his brief NBA career with the Mavericks, Clippers and Heat, which is to say they won't remember him fondly. Wang was a marginal player stateside, but he shoots well for a big and, even at 32, was Team China's second-leading scorer in qualifying.

    The surprise name here is Wang Zhelin, an 18-year-old seven-footer that has been lighting up the international prep scene. Aggressive as it would be to put him on the final roster, China made a similar move with Chen Jianghua (then 19) in 2008. Wang could be China's next big thing, and it wouldn't hurt to show him what elite international competition looks like up close.

    By the Numbers:

    0: CBA games played by Wang Zhelin.

Head Coach

6 of 10

    Handed the reins to Team China in April 2010, Bob Donewald Jr. faced an unsettling truth:  Yao Ming was hurt.

    With Yao's legendary career waning, the national team built around his striking 7'5" visage was struggling to imagine life without him.

    But Donewald took the challenge head on, and, considering context, his tenure has been a success. The well-traveled coach—whose pit stops include NBA assistant gigs in New Orleans and Cleveland—has deftly reconstituted the team around Yi Jianlian and secured an Olympic berth in the process.

    Even more important than the tactical aspects of that shift, Donewald has been able to eliminate the malaise that clung to this bunch in the months after Yao's departure.

    In a 2010 interview with Truth About It, an ESPN-affiliated Washington Wizards blog, Donewald addressed the team's Yao-dependent culture and his intent in changing it.

    The confidence of the team without Yao was always lower then it should have been. Also, having lost to Iran in the Asian Championships by 22 points I knew that confidence would be low. We needed to get to work, change the mentality of the team into a defensive team, and slowly get the confidence out of the work that the guys were putting in.

    It would seem Donewald has done well so far with the hand he was dealt. On the eve of his greatest challenge yet, we're about to get a better look at the team Donewald has rebuilt.

Best Case Scenario

7 of 10

    Yi Jianlian, who has talked a big game coming into this tournament, backs everything up with stellar play. Yi is a matchup nightmare in the mid-range game, an effective rebounder and a competent defender.

    Even better, he establishes himself as a team leader.

    Yi's teammates benefit from having played against locked-out NBA players in the early part of the CBA season, giving China a competent ensemble cast to complement Yi's game.

    A confident China, unburdened by the expectations that awaited them in Beijing, wins two group stage games and reaches the quarterfinals for the fourth time in five Olympiads.

    Their likely reward: playing Team USA in the elimination round.

    Pool B

    W-L

    Spain

    5-0 

    Australia

    3-2

    Brazil

    3-2

    China

    2-3

    Russia

    1-4

    Great Britain

    1-4

Worst Case Scenario

8 of 10

    Yi Jianlian struggles against more physical defenders and can't give China the inside presence it had under Yao Ming. His supporting cast looks overwhelmed against an improving international field and China's weakness in the backcourt stifles its potential.

    The Chinese, directionless and faceless without Yao in the center, don't even look competitive during a group-stage washout.

    Pool B

    W-L

    Spain

    5-0 

    Australia

    3-2

    Brazil

    3-2

    Russia

    2-3

    Great Britain

    2-3

    China

    0-5

Prediction

9 of 10

    China will finish...

    Eleventh 

    Why Eleventh?

    Chinese basketball has a bright future. As the sport takes root, China's abundant human capital is sure to churn out some world-class ballers.

    But not today. Not on this team.

    Yi Jianlian will stuff the stat sheet, but only out of necessity and over-usage. Against teams with good length, Yi will get his points, but he won't maintain a high efficiency.

    Simply put, the level of competition these players will see in London far exceeds what they've faced in the CBA or in FIBA Asia. Lacking the athleticism to make a quick adjustment, I see China exiting early in this tournament.

    Perhaps they could have beat up on a patsy like Tunisia, but the closest thing in their pool is Great Britain.

    China will be fortunate to win a game in Pool B.

The Facts

10 of 10

    Coach: Bob Donewald Jr.

    Best Olympic Finish: Eighth (2008, 2004, 1996)

    How They Qualified for the Olympics: Won the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship

    FIBA World Ranking: 10

    Leading Scorer In Qualifying: Yi Jianlian

    Shortest Name in Qualifying: Yi Li

    Most Rhyme-able Name in Qualifying: Yi Li

    Got Highlights? Of course. Here are Yi Jianlian's top ten plays as a member of Team China (as decided by YouTube user Beckham2014).

    Fun-ish Basketball-Related Fact: China has never finished worse than third at the FIBA Asia Championship or its predecessor tournament, the Asian Basketball Confederation Championship.