Li Muhao seems to have taken a step forward in his development last season. He logged a career high 763 minutes for Dongguan and led the Chinese league in scoring per shot, averaging 1.78 on 176 attempts. Dongguan was swept by Xianjing in the semifinals but Li dropped a 17-point outing on eight-of-nine shooting in the elimination game.
But that growing curve stalled a bit in the 2014 Stankovic Cup held in Luoyang, which ended on Monday. With Wang Zhelin available (which wasn’t the case in the Sino-Australia challenge) and Qi Zhou getting a surprising 34 minutes, Li was held to just 24 in three appearances. He was specially limited in the final game against Angola, used for this evaluation.
Li is no longer that skinny kid we saw when Duke visited China a few years ago. He is currently listed at 238 pounds, with noticeable upper body strength, and was even rumored to be out of shape in a pre-draft workout for NBA teams a couple of months ago. With that weight distributed in his seven-foot-two of height, Li now possesses a large frame.
That frame helps him set deep position on the block, where he looked mechanical with his moves and favored finishing with his left hand but flashed rather nice footwork with his back to the basket and touch to score at rim level when he got separation. Li played with some power in the soft environment of the Chinese league, with over a quarter of his field goals coming off dunks, but struggled to finish through contact in this setting. And he is not much of a passer.
His propensity to draw shooting fouls held, though. After averaging 4.6 free throws per 28 minutes last season, he took a foul shot every three minutes last weekend. Li is an OK foul shooter considering his size. He looked capable of bending his knees and flexing his elbows enough, hitting six of his eight attempts in Luoyang and 82 of his 127 in the Chinese league.
Li showed himself an effective screener due to his frame, as defenders struggled to navigate around his wide body. He set numerous illegal picks, though, and was called for them enough times for it to be a problem. Li didn’t prove himself able to cut hard to the basket off the ball-screen and put pressure on the defense but has looked able to catch the ball on the move off a diagonal pass in the past.
He flashed a catch-and-shoot jump-shot from mid-range, which he probably worked harder to develop when he was skinny and limited within close range. Li actually gets off the ground (most players of his size don’t) but gets little elevation and has a slow trigger. He’s capable of hitting it if left completely open, though. Li’s not as effective on the glass as his size would suggest because he simply doesn’t play with enough activity and is therefore unable to rebound outside of his area at this point.
The Chinese head coach had his big men defending the pick-and-roll by hedging way high on the perimeter and Li was absolutely not suited for this strategy. He possesses limited lateral mobility and looked completely exposed in space in several occasions. It’s very difficult to understand the rationale behind intentionally sending a seven-foot-two, 238-pound center away from the rim.
When positioned on the weak side, he was adequate rotating to provide help defense and actively got off the ground to contest shots, which is something you don’t always see from players his size. Li ranked sixth in the Chinese league among centers in block rate last season. He played tough post defense but was very slow running back up the court.
Though a difficult body to rebound around due to his frame and able to get off the ground to grab the ball at a higher point than most of his opponents, Li was still also a poor rebounder on this end. He looked to box out but lacked the quickness reacting off the rim, controlling just four defensive rebounds in his 24 minutes and fewer than 15% of opponents’ misses in the Chinese league, which was below average among position peers.
Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.