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Summer to Fall: Jianghua to Splitter

Summer to Fall: Jianghua to Splitter
Sep 24, 2006, 08:00 pm
A summer full of youth competitions left us with the authoritative triumph of the Chinese Junior National team, led by MVP Chen Jianghua in the U18 Asian Championship. A few days later, saying hello to the autumn, the Spanish SuperCopa turned the green light for the season in Europe. None other than Tiago Splitter earned MVP honors while leading Tau Vitoria to victory in this four-team opening tournament.

No Competition for China and Chen Jianghua

That was pretty much the story of the Asian Junior Championship. Not one single team gave the least bit of trouble to China on its way to the final victory. The average score margin exceeded the 44 point mark, ranging from 16 to 94 points. It was the South Koreans in the final being the only squad that could keep the margin below the 20-point barrier, but there wasn’t even the slightest sense of fear for an upset all game long. The competition was just too poor, with teams that severely lacked size and talent.

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In this context, it was Chen Jianghua that won the MVP award. Actually, he didn’t hoard the spotlight as much as expected for a guy that was just coming off the World Championship. Most of the core players in China got a fair share of prominence on the court and points in the stat sheets. At least, that’s what we managed to deduct from the last three China games, the ones that we were able to watch; as FIBA Asia doesn’t provide any kind of box-scores, which we can’t find anything but embarrassing. Others shining for China probably had a lot to do with to the fact that Chen barely played point guard during the tournament and that the level of competition didn’t force him to assume bigger responsibilities.

Anyway, even if he didn’t abuse his skills, Chen operated at will on the court, as virtually no defender could keep up with his incredible quickness, excellent ball-handling skills and footwork. Creative finding his teammates off the dribble, he also looked in love with his one-handed layups (he removes his left hand sooner than usual) that he delivers attacking relentlessly the basket. He’s also in love with his off-the-dribble jumpers, executed with nice quickness coming off the drive (particularly in terms or elevating off the floor) or after a pump-fake and a dribble. Still a bit of a streaky guy, he looked fairly reliable shooting the ball, indeed more reliable than in past occasions, showing better shot selection.

He did often take over the point guard role in transition, either going all the way for the layup or distributing the ball, many times early in the fast-break with long full-court passes. He has a knack for pushing the ball up the floor quickly.

Despite playing as off-guard, Chen is a playmaker all the way when we think about his future. Fortunately his team Guangdong Tigers seems to think the same, as that’s the position he played full-time the few times we saw him last season with the junior squad. In the National Teams, it’s usual to see players evolve off their ideal positions, as the talent pools are usually limited, and while some positions lack good players others suffer overload, so a positional redistribution is needed in order to keep a highly talented squad on the court.


Chen was surrounded by a number of nice players, although none of them are in his league potential-wise. The best is probably Zhou Peng, his teammate in Guangdong, who is likely bound to become a very good player for the CBA, even perhaps for the national team a few years down the road.

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Zhou is a 6-9, skinny and fundamentally sound power forward born in 1989. He stands out in the shooting department, showing range out to the three-point line and great accuracy from the mid-range area. But he can also run the court very well, put the ball on the floor displaying good mobility and, a bit unexpectedly, he significantly produced in the low post in this tournament-- although he took advantage of the very poor size and strength of his rivals with moves that, for the most part, wouldn’t make the cut against serious competition. Despite his skill set, his average athleticism and ball-handling don’t seem to fit well with the small forward position, even if it’s a possibility that can’t be ruled out.


The Chinese frontcourt featured some nicely athletic big guys, like Delehei, who enjoys a decent shooting stroke, or Li Xiaoxu (both are born in 1990 and stand around 6-9), role players that produced in transition by running the court very well and in favorable situations in the set offense, taking advantage of their size superiority. Still no one was anywhere near Zhou in terms of skills.

The backcourt brought some intrigue beyond Chen Jianghua. Especially because of Han Shuo, a 6-6 shooting guard born in 1989 who sporadically played some point guard while displaying an interesting skill-set.

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An incisive ball-handler, he impressed with his ability to take his matchups off the dribble and slash towards the basket while showing a good first step, nice quickness and the ability to easily drive in traffic and finish with both hands. He’s also a solid passer and likes to play in transition, like most Chinese players. The biggest question mark for him is the shooting; he shot with range only very few times, although it didn’t really look very bad. Anyway, his skills would likely be pretty much useless at a high competition level if he didn’t manage to feature a consistent jumper in his repertoire.


From other teams that we had a chance to see, only one guy really captured our attention: Jin Soo Kim, a skinny South Korean forward born in 1989 who stands somewhere between 6-8 and 6-9. He shows excellent mobility and solid athleticism in general, some nice ball-handling skills, promising albeit unpolished moves, either facing his man or eventually in the post, a decent mid-range shot and a good feel for the game. He’s quite raw and might be able to play small forward, although that’s something which he will need a lot of work on. For the moment, he already played with the senior National Team this summer, facing the US Team in an exhibition game. Unfortunately, he couldn’t score even one single point, as he missed a couple of three-pointers and didn’t materialize another couple of clear opportunities. During the season he plays for South Kent High School in Connecticut.





Tiago Splitter Cashing in on Scola’s Absence

We’d been saying it again and again: if Argentinean superstar Luis Scola left Tau for the NBA, Tiago Splitter could easily blossom into a major force in European competition. Well, it didn’t happen, but a two-month injury is working well enough to illustrate us on the matter. The first outcome: Splitter grabs the MVP award in the opening tournament of the ACB League, the SuperCopa, played this past weekend.

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Despite being an official competition that everybody takes seriously, the SuperCopa is still more of a preseason tournament where teams are still out of rhythm, just gearing up for a long and demanding season. Played in a Final Four format, the four teams featured were all the semifinalists in the last ACB League, and all also happen to play in the Euroleague this upcoming season: Tau Vitoria, Unicaja Málaga, DKV Joventut and Winterthur FC Barcelona.

Tau rolled over Barcelona in a semifinal where Splitter almost matched Barça’s big-men scoring by himself, finishing with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Actually he felt rather comfortable playing against a team that hardly delivered any kind of consistent defense. The final against Unicaja Málaga was certainly a lot tougher, but Splitter found his options to amass 19 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.

The foundations of his game stayed pretty much the same in this tournament. He’s still doing a lot of work off the ball, and particularly, insisted on setting plenty of picks for the point guard (working well with either Pablo Prigioni or Zoran Planinic) in the very high post (at the three-point line) to break the rival’s defense with that pick-and-roll move and operate from there. He was obviously replacing Luis Scola in this duty. Also quite usual was to see him moving on the baseline through screens and picks to receive the ball open under the basket.

Still, Splitter worked with the ball too. Far from the basket, we could see him at various times putting the ball on the floor to take advantage of his superior quickness. Near the basket, he looked for low-post scoring, showing some effectiveness and nice soft touch, although his moves could still gain some polish. Anyway, whenever he didn’t see a clear option, he quickly passed the ball, usually back to the perimeter, getting as a result great accuracy from the field (66.7%).

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All in all, he was the continuous inside reference of the team. Whenever he wasn’t on the court, Tau’s offensive game suffered, as the team’s game is based on a dialogue between the point guards and big guys, and the other inside players didn’t show nearly as much of a good sense for taking decisions. On defense, he stayed solid, even if he had some forgetfulness, but struggled a little bit rebounding the ball. He definitely can improve his effort boxing-out.

Anyway, a well-deserved MVP award for him that only increases our expectations regarding his performances… at least until Luis Scola comes back from his injury.


We could also see Tau’s newcomer Mirza Teletovic having some action. We saw him playing closer to the basket than he’s been used to in the last few years. After all, Tau is one of the few teams in Europe that hasn’t used a perimeter-oriented power forward with some consistency in the last years. Teletovic looks very strong, perhaps stronger than ever. Indeed, if there was the least chance that he could become a small forward, it is gone already. Anyway, he didn’t show much, some off-the-ball work, some hustle, and that’s it. He had 2 points and 4 rebounds in the semifinal and scored 5 points in the final. We’ll have to wait until he gets into the team’s rhythm, although he will have to battle to crack the regular rotation.


The draft intrigue didn’t finish with Tau Vitoria; DKV Joventut featured a couple of highly regarded youngsters: Rudy Fernández and Ricky Rubio.

Joventut gave Unicaja Málaga a run for their money, displaying excellent defense and an offensive game where Rudy seems to have definitely taken a step ahead. Although losing shooting accuracy (1/6 beyond the three-point line; his percentages drop significantly when he’s not open), Rudy took over the offense asking for the ball, taking decisions, trying to create game off the dribble.

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Perhaps the results weren’t particularly brilliant (he finished the game with 10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals) but this is the right direction for him; it’s time to grow as a player and assume more responsibilities.

On defense, he did just fine, like Ricky. Both took part in the pressure defense that tried to drown the opponent’s game even before half court. As Rudy did, Rubio had 4 steals, showing once again his ridiculous ability to come away with the ball.

Staying rather cool as usual, Rubio struggled trying to perform his point guard duties, as coach Scariolo ordered a close defense to deny him the ball in his own court. It wasn’t his most brilliant day, not being able to significantly produce off the dribble (he scored only 4 points in the game). Still, coach Reneses kept him almost 20 minutes on court, sometimes as a shooting guard, which only follows the pattern seen in preseason.

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Rubio has been getting consistent playing time, even starting in a few games. He stole the show early this month against Etosa Alicante, leading Joventut in scoring with 18 points and surprisingly hitting 4 three-pointers (the perimeter shooting is his biggest weakness). Everything points towards Rubio continuing to get some minutes once the real season starts in the ACB League, and perhaps even in the Euroleague.

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