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Birdfeed: The Pelicans will tryout He Tianju this summer

Guest writer Andrew Crawford breaks down He Tianju, the Pelicans newest summer league participant.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Several days ago, Andrew Crawford alerted me to the fact that the New Orleans Pelicans would be giving He Tianju, a Chinese professional basketball player, a tryout this summer. Andrew was one of the first ones to report this information in general.

In case you don't know, Andrew writes articles on anything pertaining to the Chinese League including player personnel. In addition to being featured in a number of news publications, he maintains his own blog, Shark Fin Hoops. It's well worth the read for any topics regarding Chinese basketball. Or, if social media is your thing, please give him a follow @ShouldersGalore.

For clarification purposes, SB Nation does not have any pictures of He Tiangu in their database so HERE is a picture of the sharpshooter. Notice he already possesses the proper sign language to play in the NBA.

Without further ado, Andrew's fantastic write-up on He. (And please be sure to thank him in the comments below.)


The recent history of mainland Chinese players in the NBA has been short and painful given that it basically extends to Yi Jianlian warming the bench for Dallas in 2012 play-offs before limping back to his old team in China. And after that, things go very quiet indeed. Since Yi’s departure three years ago, there has not been a single player from the world’s biggest and most basketball obsessed country to feature in an NBA game.

However, that situation might be about to change. Over the weekend, news broke across Chinese media that He Tianju, a small forward with the Liaoning Jaguars, will be trying out for the New Orleans Pelicans over the summer. It obviously came as a slight surprise-- emerging players, particularly like the outstanding teenage center, Zhou Qi, have long been seen as the most likely way for a Chinese player to get back to the NBA, not a 25 year old who has been in the CBA since 2009.

Moreover, He is not even the most high profile Chinese player on a Liaoning team that made it to the CBA finals this year. Speedy teenage point guard Guo Ailun, dubbed ‘the Chinese Tony Parker’ by local media, and the  7"1, 320lb center Han Dejun, who recently dunked all over Stephon Marbury on national television, have long been the faces of the team.

But what He does have in his favor is the ability to knock down three-point shots at a prodigious rate. In years past, He was respected for his accuracy from beyond the arc, yet this season he took things up to the next level. Taking an average of 5.3 shots a game from deep, the forward made 42% of them, but he also showed a real court-savvy for playing off-the-ball and drifting into the perfect spot to receive the pass. This year, he also started in the CBA All-Star game and finished the season within a hair of a famed 50-40-90 season.

According to one Chinese sports outlet, ‘three to four’ NBA scouts were monitoring the situation at Liaoning, a one-time powerhouse in Chinese basketball who finally returned to the CBA Finals for the first time in seven years. The Jaguars did this by relying on system involving a destructive center (Han) and a swashbuckling guard rotation based around Guo and current Clippers ball handler Lester Hudson. What made He so useful in Liaoning’s system was his ability to drift into space and consistently make the three-point shot. With He forever lurking out on the wing, defenses found themselves swamped by more attacking options than they could handle.

The Pelicans, with Anthony Davis and a stable of penetrating guards in the vein of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evens, would see a useful fit for He on their own roster.

All of this means that He has found himself getting an invitation to the NBA summer league, where he will become the first Chinese player to feature there since former Lakers combo guard Sun Yue in 2009. Local media is reporting that He will report to New Orleans on July 3rd and will be with the team for the rest of the month as the team competes in summer league.

It’s unclear how good He’s chances are of making the team. The forward can’t rebound and no-one in China bothers to play defense so if He stays with the Pelicans, it might have to be as a specialist three-point shooter. But it is also important to note that when He gets going, it is hard to stop him. In the final game of this year’s regular season, He went 8-of-11 from deep and then held onto that form during the postseason, averaging 53% during that span. New Orleans will know what they are getting with the no-thrills shooter from Northeast China-- but it might also be exactly what they need.