Coming off three outstanding performances last year in winning the East Asian Games, Asian Championship and finishing runner-up in the World University Games, the poor showing (12th place) in the World Championship hammered the rising confidence of Chinese basketball. Which is why winning the gold medal in the Pusan Asian Games that important for China NT.
Although without the service of Wang Zhi-zhi, who stayed in America to hone his game for the upcoming NBA season, China's 1-7 record in the WC disappointed the fans and basketball people. Head coach Wang Fei received heavy criticism from both the media and fans. With Yao Ming and Menk Bateer, two-thirds of the "Walking Great Walls", there's no way China can only beat Algeria in the WC, they think.
But that's what happened in Indianapolis. China's weaknesses were exposed by their opponents -- Germany and USA in the preliminaries, and managed to beat Algeria despite leading by 20 in the first half. Their confidence dropped to a low point after losing to Angola in the last game.
Their backcourt players can't shoot, can't dribble and can't get the ball to the right man. Yao Ming was plagued by foul trouble in most games he has played, showing his lack of experience. Although Yao was still named to the All-Tournament Team, most people think he had a subpar performance in the WC.
Going into the Pusan Asian Games with almost the same lineup, China NT will try to restore its pride in Asian basketball circle. Compared to the competition level in the WC, repeating won't be too hard for them. After all, China has won the last four gold medals in the Asian Games and is looking for the fifth straight title. But in the mean time, host team and long-time rival South Korea is waiting.
Expected to be his last tournament before heading to the NBA, Asian Games will be Yao Ming's playground. Yao is expected to dominate inside with his 223cm height against any opponent. What we like to see is, whether Yao can develop more offensive skills, like hook shot or the drop-step power move, and show the willingness to bang inside.
211cm C Menk Bateer, who was traded to Detroit by Denver few days ago, had a strong showing in the WC. China will ride on his broad shoulder and refined offensive moves to take advantage of their height. Make no mistake, Bateer is still improving and probably will surprise some people in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
Power forwards Liu Yu-dong (198cm) and Gong Xiao-bin (202cm) failed to contribute in the WC, but they are expected to "come alive" in Pusan, where they match up well against shorter opponents.
SF Lee Nan (198cm) and Zhu Fang-yu (201cm) raised some eyebrows in the WC. Lee Nan is always one of the most reliable forces, inside and out, in China NT. 20-year-old Zhu, who scored 14 points vs. USA, proves why he is regarded as the next rising star by his fearlessness and relentless hustle on the court. Zhu's play was one of the rare pleasant finds for China in the WC.
SG Hu Wei-dong can no longer fly like in his younger and pre-injury days, but he can still shoot the lights out if he has to. With his 198cm height, he can almost shoot at will over any defender in the Asian Games.
Up until now, everyone knows that PG is China's weakest position. Wang Fei has to make a choice between Kuo Shi-qiang (190cm) and Liu Wei (185cm) in the starting PG position. Failing to set up the half-court offense and take care of the ball time and time again, Kuo was blasted by many in the WC. Liu did show his potential to pick up the pace with his speed and drive, but he is still inexperienced in the international level.
Analyzing the Asian Games field, South Korea is the only team that is capable of beating China. For the Koreans to do this, they have to play an almost flawless game, like making every open shot, every free-throw and draw even on the boards.
China will have to slow the game down, execute their half-court offense to take advantage of their height. Also, they have to take away South Korea's passing game on defense by control the boards, and contest every outside shot, make life miserable for the host.
No doubt about it. The gold medal is China's to lose. Yao will definitely try to win the gold medal for his country before mining gold in Houston. But win or lose, Wang Fei's future with the NT is in doubt.