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Chinese Basketball Association Analyst Provides Input on Wang Zhelin of the Memphis Grizzlies

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Andrew Crawford, writer for sharkfinhoops.com, has direct experience watching Wang Zhelin, the Grizzlies' 2nd round pick. He shared his thoughts on Wang's NBA prospects with GBB.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The first thought that went through the minds of a lot of Memphis Grizzlies fans when Wang Zhelin was drafted #57 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft was...

Who?

That's OK, most folks felt this way. Once the initial shock wore off, we all understood that Wang was surely a draft and stash asset who may not ever actually play for Memphis. I wrote about that very fact here.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, China was buzzing. Our article here at GBB was picked up by China's Yahoo (as it was explained to me, check it out here) and a gentleman by the name of Andrew Crawford in particular saw it and reached out to us. He covered the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) during Wang's rookie season and writes about it now at sharkfinhoops.com. He wrote some words for us about Zhelin's game:

If you were surprised to hear the name ‘Wang Zhelin' called out in the dusk of last Thursday's NBA draft, don't worry; you weren't the only one. Memphis' announcement not only surprised the American basketball public but their Chinese counterparts also did a double take.

Even the player himself was not expecting to get drafted and was training with the Chinese national team at the time. Only after checking his phone after practice and finding dozens of text messages did Wang discover what had happened. Within an hour, someone had altered Wang's Wikipedia page to list him as a Memphis player and in doing so, completed one of the more bizarre moments in Chinese sport.

It really is important to stress this was not supposed to happen. Memphis were getting some traction in China during the build up to the draft but ironically not because of Wang. Instead, the Grizzlies were seen as a team who might draft Zhou Qi, the more high-profile prospect coming from the Middle Kingdom, with their first round pick. So even when Wang did get picked, one of the first Chinese pieces published afterwards was a dissection of the Grizzly Bear Blues article comparing Wang to Latvian swingman, Janis Timma.

Besides the fact that some poor intern had to spend their morning figuring out the Chinese translation of ‘Janis Timma', the surprise that surrounds Wang getting drafted unhelpfully implies that the latter can't play. Fortunately for Grizzlies fans, the opposite is true, although it may take time and patience for Wang to get onto the floor in Memphis.

Indeed, four years ago, I was sitting in the press box at the Yuanshen Arena in Shanghai, watching Wang play in only his third game as a professional. Back then, the hype surrounding the big man was enormous. The crown jewel of the Fujian Sturgeons youth system, Wang had almost made the 2012 Olympic team earlier that summer before he had even featured in a professional game.

In his rookie Chinese Basketball Association campaign, Wang ran wild, averaging 20.3 points and 12.9 rebounds and becoming of one of the youngest players to play in the CBA All-Star team since a seventeen year old Yao Ming nearly two decades earlier. A decidedly no-thrills big man, he got his points by camping out in the block or via the pick-and-roll. Few Chinese big men could keep up with him and Wang averaged at least 20 + 10 for the first three years of his career (again a CBA record).

These numbers, plus a solid outing at the 2011 Nike Hoops Summit, suggested Wang was a slam dunk prospect but slowly the wheels began to fall off. Among other issues, Fujian, the team who had raised him from a youth player, was in constant upheaval and some wondered if the center was putting up empty numbers on a team going nowhere.

Never the most athletic player, Wang also failed to add a mid-range game and rather than coach him up, the Sturgeons simply played him alongside a number of American stretch-fours who acted as a means of opening up the paint. When teams figured out how to stop the Fujian frontcourt, the team struggled and somehow Wang took the blame for his front office's failings. It all meant that when Wang suffered a knee injury earlier in the 2015/16 season, Chinese basketball fans collectively moved on to Zhou, who was seen as more NBA ready despite being two years younger.

So having been dealt an unlikely hand, Wang is now playing with house money. In an interview with Chinese journalists, the player mentioned that he has already gotten himself an English teacher, and there is a feeling that Wang may try to come over this year. However, as I noted on my own website, Shark Fin Hoops, the Fujian player could also leverage the situation into a big pay day and a position of prominence within the CBA at a time when its biggest names are aging or retired.

But let's say Wang does come over, even if he has to start off in the D-League. For one, he is a big unit, moves well in the pick and roll, and can be difficult to stop once he gets close to the rim. On the defensive end, he can be relied upon to rebound and box out diligently. The flaws are obvious-- he cannot jump over a piece of paper and his offense is not the most nuanced-- but there is still time for his shortcomings to be worked on. In the meantime, Memphis gets a twenty-two year old with four years of pro experience on a very workable contract.

And thus, three remarkable things have happened. One; Wang Zhelin has an unlikely NBA shot. Two; Memphis is now in the glare of the largest media market in the world. Three; for an entire morning, thousands of Chinese basketball fans were trying to work out who Janis Timma is and what he has to do with a 7'0 center from the south of China.

So I caused a minor international incident. Whoops. Be sure to follow Andrew on Twitter @shouldersgalore and get used to him around these parts - we will be leaning on him for CBA and Chinese National Team updates throughout the off-season!

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