After a promising campaign last season (statistically speaking), Li Muhao appears to have stagnated in his fourth year as a pro.
Dongguan seems to think that way, at least. His minutes are far down in comparison to last season and his role is very limited. Li’s now in his age-23 season and one would expect the team to start expanding what’s asked of him. But Ike Diogu’s presence has limited his playing time to just 495 minutes on 33 appearances. Dongguan scores far more efficiently with Diogu and the threat of his three-point shot at center. Li will often start games, play a six-seven minute shift and then not sub in again until late in the third quarter or early in the fourth. He’s become simply a minutes-eater for them.
Dongguan relies heavily on the three-point shot, with over a third of its total attempts coming from beyond the arc. Li rarely gets touches on the post and is asked mostly to screen and roll when he’s out there. It is likely Dongguan doesn’t give him the ball much because Li simply hasn’t developed his ball skills (his 18.2% turnover rate is sky high in the context of his 15.6% usage rate) but it’s hard to say that for sure. His post game has in fact looked mechanical in the past but it was at least a resource for drawing shooting fouls at a decent rate, which is no longer the case. And it appears he’s also no longer encouraged to take that catch-and-shoot mid-range jump-shot.
Those plays in which he sets a ball-screen tend to turn into long bombs by Bobby Brown, with Li mostly diving down the lane looking for potential offensive rebounds. He doesn’t play with much energy tracking these misses off the rim or toughness looking to establish inside position under the glass, though. Li’s collected 12.3% of Dongguan’s misses when he’s been on the floor, an average mark, more often relying on his long arms to secure deflections.
When he’s gotten the ball sneaking behind the defense, Li’s shown good hands to catch the ball on the move and touch to finish at rim level, converting his 119 shots at a 59.6% clip. But though almost a third of his field goals have been dunks, he doesn’t play above the rim as a target for lobs and doesn’t elevate with much power out of a standing still position. Nonetheless, Li looks better conditioned, more nimble and less sluggish than he did in the summer, making these rim-runs more fluidly. He’s now listed at 220 pounds – 18 pounds lighter than what he was listed at the Stankovic Cup.
On the other end, Li is not the positive presence his size suggests he should be. He can bend his knees to get on a stance guarding the pick-and-roll by dropping back to prioritize rim protection, which is not a small deal for someone his size. Li has also shown pretty decent lateral mobility and has the length to contest mid-range shots effectively.
But he’s not very comfortable defending in space, needing to give a cushion to big men that draw him outside the lane, even if that player has the range to hit a shot from there. And he’s hopeless if a smaller player has a shot at running around him. Li can be aggressive leaving his man to rotate to the front of the rim and do so with some quickness but can’t play above the basket as a constant shot blocking threat, denying just 19 shots all season.
But the real big issue is his rebounding. Li does look to box out with some consistency but can’t elevate off the ground in a pinch to track the ball off the rim. He will also, a lot of times, jump with just one arm extended. As a result, Li’s collected just 13.2% of opponents’ misses when he’s on the floor, a mark that ranks fifth worst in the league among true centers. With Diogu protecting the glass a lot better, Dongguan is allowing fewer points on a per-possession basis without Li on the floor.
Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here and at BballBreakdown or at Upside & Motor, a couple of websites where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.