Sun Yue of Beijing passes the ball during a game in last season's CBA finals against Liaoning. Beijing edged Liaoning 4-2 to win the title. Photo: WukesongLive
Beijing Ducks are set to consolidate their championship credentials as they begin their title defense in the 2015-16 season starting from October 31.
Led by former NBA all-star player Stephon Marbury, the ducks in March won their third CBA title in the past four years, arguably on course to establish a “Beijing Dynasty” that attempted to rival 8-time champions Guangdong and Bayi (Army team).
Beijing kept most of its well-oiled squad but lost forward Li Gen to big-spending Xinjiang in the summer. Li emerged as a sixth man and consistently offered coach Min Lulei an ace when the attacking stuttered. He completed crucial three-point shots and made morale-boosting fast breaks in last season’s stormy best-of-seven finals that saw Beijing edge Liaoning 4-2.
With Liaoning’s strength in the paint was canceled out by Beijing’s supreme backcourt duo Marbury and Sun Yue, it was the depth in forwards that put Beijing a step closer to the championship.
Veteran captain Chen Lei also left for Jiangsu in pursuit of more playing time as he had become a fringe player in Beijing since 2013.
Devoid of any new signings, the Ducks opted to make the most of what they’ve got. Marbury and Sun spent the whole summer recovering from injuries and packing up the masses while centers Zhang Songtao and Ji Zhe, apprenticed to former Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Rodney White, honed their low-post steps and shooting.
On paper, Xinjiang will be the toughest title contender in the new season. The four-time runner-ups recruited canny coach Li Qiuping and added Li Gen to their star-studded squad featuring Zhou Qi, veteran Liu Wei and Andray Blatche who led the Philippines to second place at the 2015 FIBA Asian Championship.
China won the Asian title and booked a berth for 2016 Rio Olympics with Zhou Qi tipped to be the future lynchpin of China.
Yi Jianlian from Guangdong delivered all-star performances at the Asian championship and was awarded MVP of the tournament. But the Yi-inspired Guangdong team is not likely to threaten Beijing with its aging squad.
Liaoning, who also maintained its solid squad, will come back fiercer and hungrier. Guo Ailun proved himself to be the best point guard in China with scintillating runs and clinical passes at the Asian tournament.
If the last season’s finals were the tightest series in CBA history, Beijing will surely brace for a tougher trek ahead this time. More players will step up to shoulder the burden so as to allow 38-year-old Marbury to ease into the playoffs, otherwise it will take a heavy toll.
Season-opening game: Beijing vs Xinjiang
When: October 31
Where: Wukesong Arena, 69 Fuxinglu, Haidian district (Subway Line 1 Wukesong Station B1 Exit)