ZHUJI, China, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) -- The 2021-22 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) regular season will kick off on Saturday in Zhuji, east China's Zhejiang Province as more local players look set to play crucial roles in the upcoming season.
A total of 391 domestic players, including 65 newcomers, are registered for the new campaign, representing the highest number of domestic players in four years.
Defending champions the Guangdong Southern Tigers are still regarded as title favorites. Last season saw Guangdong win their third consecutive CBA title over Liaoning without the CBA's all-time leading scorer Yi Jianlian, and received the encouraging news that Yi is ready to play in the new season after his lengthy injury layoff.
Guangdong has a clear edge over many teams in terms of contributions from domestic players, with the backcourt trio of Zhao Rui, Hu Mingxuan and Xu Jie providing plenty of firepower. While Guangdong has a significant advantage in the forward positions, it is weaker in the paint field. Without Yi last season, Guangdong had to rely on Su Wei and Zeng Fanri as paint players, but has now added Zhang Mingchi and Xu Xin to its roster, with those two providing support to veteran Yi.
For Liaoning, captain Han Dejun and veteran Liu Zhixuan couldn't maintain their consistency in the playoffs last season. But Liaoning, who lost to Guangdong in the finals last season, boast a powerful backcourt. In addition to Guo Ailun's lethal impact under the rim, Zhao Jiwei's vision on the court helps the team run effectively. Guo averaged 23.1 points, 4 rebounds and 8.1 assists last season, while Zhao notched 13.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.9 steals.
Boasting excellent athleticism, promising star Zhang Zhenlin is giving many Liaoning fans hope of winning the title this season, not just with his explosive slam dunks, but also his tangible contributions at both ends.
Fellow young gun Yu Zechen will also get opportunities to shine for Liaoning. The 21-year-old scored 17 points in 35 minutes to help his side beat Guangdong in the U22 men's basketball final at China's National Games last month.
Zhou Qi's decision to skip the new CBA season to play in Australia with South East Melbourne Phoenix will definitely be a big blow to the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. Abdusalam, who recovered from a severe ACL injury last season, has become Xinjiang's real leader. The Chinese international forward returned to Xinjiang's starting lineup last season, but an average of 7.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists is far from his best.
22-year-old Qi Lin, who has benefited from Abdusalam's tutelage, will become his mentor's helper. Qi had 14.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last season and shot 43.4 percent from 3-point range.
An over-reliance on overseas players was the Shanghai Sharks's biggest problem last season, with only two domestic players averaging double digits - 13.8 points from Zong Zan and 13.9 points from Guo Haowen. The signing of former CBA regular season MVP Wang Zhelin from Fujian will be a huge boost for Shanghai, which also strengthened its roster with Ren Junwei from Shanxi and Yuan Tangwen from Sichuan.
The Shandong Heroes will be also in the limelight this season due to the comeback of long-time absentee Ding Yanyuhang. After the 2017-18 CBA season, Ding went abroad to play for the Dallas Mavericks before being waived by the NBA club. He hasn't played a single CBA game since then, and missed out on the FIBA World Cup on home soil in 2019 due to injury. In addition to Ding, Shandong will enjoy huge strength in depth in the frontline with Qiao Wenhan and Liu Guancen.
Entering the 27th season since its inauguration in 1995, China's top-tier men's basketball league will expand to 20 teams with newcomers the Ningbo Rockets.