By this year’s end, former New York high school phenom Andray Blatche will probably remember 2014 for fresh starts and new adventures. In the span of just a handful of months, the former Washington Wizard and Brooklyn Net has become a naturalized Filipino citizen, has played in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, and, most recently, has been tearing up the competition in the Chinese Basketball Association’s (CBA) 2014-2015 regular season.
After his impressive stint with Gilas Pilipinas at #Spain2014, Blatche was hoping to get signed by an NBA club. He didn’t push through with the contract extension offered by the Nets as he was probably hoping to land a sweeter deal for the new NBA season. No team, however, bit the bait, which prompted Blatche to look elsewhere to ply his trade.
(RELATED: Andray Blatche’s journey from New York to Gilas Pilipinas)
Enter the bridesmaids of the 2014 CBA Finals, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.
The Flying Tigers finished second behind the Stephon Marbury-powered Beijing Ducks in the 2014 CBA Championship series, falling in 6 games. They were led by imports Lester Hudson and James Singleton, who combined to average around 45 points per ballgame. Aside from them, Taiwanese sniper Yang Ching-Min and former Chinese national team big man Tang Zhengdong contributed heavily. Unfortunately, 3 of those stars wouldn’t return for the 2014-2015 season.
By all intents and indications, 2014-2015 was looking to be a retooling season, and signs pointed to the 2013-2014 campaign being a tough act to follow.
Six games into the regular season, however, the Flying Tigers have found themselves in a familiar spot — near the top of the team standings.
They can give credit to key additions, of course, like national team veteran Liu Wei, former NBAer Jordan Crawford, and rising star Zhou Qi (7-foot-2 and just 18 years old), but arguably the biggest reason for Xinjiang’s flying start has been Blatche.
With Blatche playing as the team’s stretch power forward, the Flying Tigers have looked mighty dangerous, beating opponents by an average of 17.2 points. The Gilas Pilipinas big man has proven to be an all-around threat, scoring from anywhere, hauling down rebounds, handing out assists, and netting steals.
Just look at these averages: in 6 games so far, the Syracuse native is putting up 26.7 points, 13.2 rebounds (#4 overall), 4.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.5 threes per game. He is also shooting a scorching-hot 62.3% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. In short, Blatche has been nothing short of spectacular.
In fact, he turned out his best stat-line yet in Xinjiang’s most recent match, a 128-101 drubbing of the Tianjin Gold Lions. In that victory, Blatche tallied an eye-popping 43 points on top of 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. He shot 4/5 from downtown and 15/18 overall from the field.
One has to remember, though, that the CBA is a 20-team league, and it is still a long way to go before any club qualifies for the playoffs. Despite already gaining a lot of local fans, Blatche still has to be consistently good if he wants to retain his position in Xinjiang and if he has any hopes of leading the team to the promised land. He still has to square off against other top Chinese bigs like Li Muhao, Wang Zhelin, and Yi Jianlian, while Asian giant and former NBAer Hamed Haddadi also awaits.
Another thing to consider is that the CBA season ends about a month before the NBA Playoffs begin, and it would be possible for Blatche to actually return to the NBA if things pan out for him. Of course, it goes without saying that he must continue to be a dominant force in China for any NBA clubs to even consider signing him.
In the meantime, Blatche will be busy preparing himself as the Flying Tigers target their sixth win when they tussle with the Jiangsu Dragons later this week. A win there would bump them up to 6-1 and a share of second place.
Oh, and here’s to hoping he suits up for Gilas again in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championships. – Rappler.com
Enzo Flojo is one of the country’s most influential basketball bloggers. Read his stuff on HoopNut.com or watch him as a basketball analyst on TV.
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