2014 – 2015 Korean Basketball League season preview

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The Korean Basketball League is entering its 17th inaugural season when league tips-off on Saturday, October 11. It was a busy off-season for KBL teams. So to make sense of it all, here’s a team-by-team breakdown on the past, present, and future of each club.

* Teams are ranked from 1 to 10 based on their 2013-2014 season records

1. Ulsan Mobis Phoebous (40-14)

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Photo by jumpball.co.kr

The Ulsan Mobis Phoebous won their second straight KBL championship last season and return as favourites to win their third in a row. Coming off a huge gold medal victory at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, head coach Yoo Jae-Hak and point guard Yang Donggeun are looking to add more hardware to their collection this season.

Foreign Player: Ricardo Ratliffe (Missouri) , Ira Clark (Texas)

Key Additions: Ira Clark

Key Losses: Rod Benson

Biggest Strength: The biggest strength for the Ulsan Mobis Phoebous has been experience. Yang Dong-Geun, Greg Stevenson and Ham Ji-Hoon have been playing together since the 2012 season. They have anchored the team to back to back championships. Yoo Jae-Hak has been Mobis’ bench boss since 2004. This year will be coach Yoo and Mobis’ toughest challenge. Ricardo Ratliffe (Missouri) will be thier go-to weapon. He’s been in the KBL for two years now and had won championships in as many years. Ratliffe is long and quick on his feet. At 6’8, he’s an athletic big man who plays above the rim and hustles hard on both ends of the floor. Last season, he led the team in blocked shots (92).

Biggest Weakness: They are going to have to try and three-peat without a valuable asset, Rod Benson. Mobis and Benson split ways this off-season after the team refused to re-negotiate his contract. Benson was one of the top players to ever play in the Korean Basketball League. In four seasons in Korea, Benson has led his team to the finals each year. Ira Clark is getting up there in age at 39 years old. Clark enters the 16th year of his pro basketball career (this will be his fourth year in the KBL). And while Clark is not on the same level as Benson, he will provide the rebounding and inside presence Mobis needs to make another championship run. Finally, Mobis is dealing with some key injuries. Ham Ji-Moon was the team’s third best scorer last season, he will miss some time due to a toe injury. Lee Dae-Sung will also inactive for a good chunk of this season after undergoing off-season surgery on his left ankle.

Expectations: Last year, Mobis’ cruised to a 40-14 regular season record, they dominated in the playoffs and KBL Finals. Mobis are motivated to three-peat as champions, especially after returning the exact same team from a year ago (other than Rod Benson). As long as they stay can get healthy, Mobis remains the team to beat.

2. Changwon LG Sakers (40-14)

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Photo by jumpball.co.kr

Foreign Players: Davon Jefferson (South California) , Chris Massie (Memphis)

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: Park Ray-Hon (Military Service) , Jo Sang-Yeol (Military Service)

Biggest Strength: Last season Changwon was able to go toe-to-toe with the champs, Mobis, all year long. How were they able to do it? Through consistent play from both Chris Massie and Davson Jefferson. They also received a huge contribution from their prized rookie Kim Jong-Kyu who averaged a solid 10 points and five rebounds per game. Kim Jong-Kyu will look to follow his 2013-2014 rookie of the year campaign with an even better sophomore season. He was a part of team Korea this summer seeing action at the FIBA World Cup and the 2014 Incheon Asian Games where he was one of the most impactful players in Korea’s gold medal game against Iran. Changwon’s biggest strength lies in the hands of 39 year-old Moon TaeJong. He’s one of if not the best domestic player in the Korean Basketball League. His ability to create his own shot and hit the open threes is valuable to a Changwon team that relies on offensive rebounds and kick outs from their rebound hungry forwards.

Biggest Weakness: Changwon’s biggest weakness is their guard play. Kim Si-Rae is a great guard but plays better coming off of the bench. He is an explosive player that has a dynamic vision for the court. He averaged eight points and two assists last season along along with one steal per game. Yoo Byeong-Hun played backup point guard to Kim Si-Rae and only averaged four points per game on a 14 minutes per game average. Changwon would like to see more from its guards this season. Ki Seung-Ho is likely to miss half of the season after breaking his right ankle against Goyang in pre-season play.

Expectations: If Changwon can stop the forces of Mobis, and KCC’s dynamic duo of Ha Seung Jin and Kim Tae-Sol, then pencil them in as champions. They will absolutely be in the top-3 of this year’s final regular season standings. The question remains, can they stay healthy? Can they take their game to the next level? Defense?

3. Seoul SK Knights (37-17)

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Photo by jumpball.co.kr

Foreign Players: Aaron Haynes (Boise State) , Courtney Sims (Michigan)

Key Additions: none

Key Losses: Byun Ki-Hoon (Military Service)

Biggest Strength: Foreign players Aaron Haynes and Courtney Sims provide instant offence for SK. Sims averaged 10 points a game last season shooting a very high percentage from the floor (62 %). Aaron Haynes was the team’s leading scorer averaging 17 points per contest while pulling down just under seven rebounds per game. SK center, Kim Min-Soo is one of the only Korean players in the league that has the defensive capabilities to guard 7’3 Ha Seung-Jin (KCC) one-on-one. Kim Min-Soo also improved his range last season adding the three-ball to his arsenal finishing second in three point scoring for SK behind Byun Ki-Hoon. As always, SK expects a lot from their star point-guard Kim Sun-Hyung. Last year, he averaged 12 points and four assists per game.

Biggest Weakness: Defense, defense, defense. In 62 games played last season, SK held their opponents under 65 points only fourteen times. I compare this team to the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA. They are a great regular season team but struggle during the playoffs. That has a lot to do with defense. The magic number in the KBL is 65. If you can hold your opponent to under 65 points your chances of winning are very high. SK needs to be conscience of this if they want to be holding a KBL championship in Spring 2015.

Expectations: They are a deep team. A dangerous team. Expect David Michaels to have a breakout year and live up to his expectations. Their guard play will be up there with the best in the league. Haynes went through a strange season last year with the “incident” involving Kim Min-Goo but that seems like it’s water-under-the-bridge. Haynes will be a threat offensively and may even bring home the “best foreign player” honours, a title that is all too familiar to him. They will be a playoff team, how deep they go will depend on their play on the defensive end.

4. Incheon ET Land Elephants (28-26)

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Photo by jumpball.co.kr

Foreign Players: Terrence Leather (South Florida) , Carlos Powell (South Carolina)

Key Additions: none

Key Losses: none

Biggest Strength: ‘Under-promise, over-deliver’. That was the motto of Incheon basketball last season. Their fourth place finish shocked the entire league. They play a team-orientated style of basketball led by their captain Carlos Powell. Traditionally, the team captain is always a Korean player but the ET Land Elephants have a great relationship with Powell on and off the floor. He is the core of this team making his teammates better every game. Last season, Powell averaged 18 points and six rebounds. Terrence Leather will provide the energy Incheon needs as their second foreign player. Last year, Charles Rhodes didn’t fit within Incheon’s system causing him to go to Busan this offseason. Leather is a KBL veteran who will adapt to his role quickly. Guard Jung Young-Sam is good for 10 points a game but will need to improve his assists totals (1.4 a game last year).

Biggest Weakness: Incheon lacks a go-to player, and if the game comes down to the wire, they don’t have that guy who can close is out. Powell was consistent in scoring nearly 20-points a game but this season Incheon will need somebody to step up and be the “next guy” after Powell. At 30-years-old, Jung Young-Sam signed a five-year contract with Incheon, let’s hope he doesn’t take it easy coming off a  big contract year (highest paid Korean player on the team).

Expectations: Without a real team identity, it’s tough to predict what kind of season it’s going to be for Incheon. Other teams around the league made moves this off-season that will make their team better, but Incheon stayed with the same squad (other than Rhodes) as last year. Expect them to drop a few spots from their fourth place finish.

5. Busan KT SonicBoom (27-27)

Photo by jumpball.co.kr

Photo by jumpball.co.kr

Foreign Players: Charles Rhodes (Mississippi State) , Marcus Lewis (Oral Roberts)

Key Additions: Lee Kwang-Jae

Key Losses: none

Biggest Strength: Busan spent big money this off-season signing Oh Yong-Jun, Song Young-Jin and picking up Lee Kwang-Jae’s contract from Dongbu. Oh Yong-Jun is a key role player who can knock down the three-point shot. Song Young-Jin is a 36 year-old center who is on the downside of his career. And Lee Kwang-Jae is currently injured with a toe-injury. We are not certain if this will keep him out of the opening day roster or not. Busan’s biggest offensive threat will come from Tony Atkins (half Korean point-guard). Last year he struggled with the Goyang Orions before being traded mid-season to Busan. Now he is joined by Charles Rhodes and Marcus Lewis who should both instantly connect with Atkins’ “american style” basketball.

Biggest Weakness: Their biggest weakness is the absence of Korean guard Cho Sung-Min. He will undergo knee surgery and could miss the entire season. Twenty-six year-old Kim Woo-Ram will take his place as starting off-guard, which creates an instant mismatch for opposing teams. Kim is undersized, and inexperienced.

Expectations: The season will rest on the shoulders of Atkins and Rhodes. Are they the best one-two duo in the league? Better than Kim Tae-Sul and Ha Seung-Jin? Better than Kim Si-Rae and Devon Jefferson? Only time will tell.

6. Goyang Orions (27-27)

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Photo by jumpball.co.kr

Foreign Players: Troy Gillenwater (New Mexico State) , Charles Garcia (Seattle)

Key Additions: none

Key Losses: none

Biggest Strength: They were granted the first overall pick in this year’s KBL draft. So they decided to choose Lee Seung-Hyun of Korea University. He’s forward who plays like a pitbull using his strength to bully his way to the basket. Think of him as a bigger Kyle Lowry without the outside shooting capabilities. He was also one-pick away from making the national team roster. He should have no problem cracking the starting-five come opening day. They have the power, strength and size from their foreign players. Now they just need to figure out how to play together as a team.

Biggest Weakness: Head coach Choo Il-Seung is famous for his trial and error coaching tactics. His roster is overloaded with forwards so they lack the playmaking abilities needed to implement a solid system. They have the worst back-court in a league that bases itself on strong guard play.

Expectations: Expect a lot of mid-season action from the general manager and don’t be surprised if you see another man in a suite holding the clipboard around all-star break.

7. Jeongju KCC Egis (20-34)

Ha Seung Jin

Foreign Players: Deshawn Sims (Michigan) , Tyler Wilkerson (Marshall)

Key Additions: Ha Seung-Jin , Kim Tae-Sul

Key Losses: Kim Min Goo

Biggest Strength: The Cleveland Cavaliers will welcome Lebron James back to their lineup. And that’s huge. Jeongju KCC Egis will welcome Ha Seung-Jin back to their lineup, and that’s just as BIG. Ha Seung-Jin, 29-years-old, is the only Korean to ever be drafted by an NBA team (Portland Trailblazers, 2004). He’s 7’3, in Korea, that alone is enough to earn the title as most valuable player of any team. His two-year absence from basketball might result in a slow start but Korean national team point-guard Kim Tae-Sul will be right by his side to keep KCC running at an elite tempo. It might take a few weeks into the season for these two to gel together, but once they get going, they will be tough to stop. A strong Korean duo will open up a lot of options for head coach Hur-Jae to use his foreign players in the gameplan.

Biggest Weakness: Kim Min-Goo was instant offense for KCC. He was the best guard in the KBL. A serious off-season motor vehicle accident will sideline Kim Min-Goo for the entirety of this season. KCC brought in Kim Tae-Sul to replace Kim Min-Goo. And while Kim Tae-Sul’s game is a replica of Kim Min-Goo’s, Kim Tae-Sul lacks the shots making abilities that Kim Min-Goo possesses. Hur-Jae will be under a microscope this season with how he handles the return of Ha Seung-Jin. This team is facing a lot of pressure to succeed and if that doesn’t happen, coach Hur-Jae may need to send out his resume to other teams.

Expectations: They have all of the talent to make the KBL finals. But that’s all hype. Can they live up to the hype? Will Ha Seung-Jin be as dominant as he was in 2011 when he led KCC to a KBL championship? There are a lot of question marks with this team. And if they answer all of these questions correctly, they will be one of the last two teams standing at the end of the season.

8. Seoul Samsung Thunders (19-35)

Foreign Players: Leo Lyons (Missouri) , Keith Clanton (Central Florida)

Key Additions: none

Key Losses: Kim Seung-Hyun

Biggest Strength: Leo Lyons was selected first overall in this year’s KBL foreign draft. Samsung has hired a new head coach, legendary Korean shooter Lee Sang-Min (famous for hitting “the shot” against Philippines in 2002 Busan Asian Games). He takes over a veteran team with a lot of young potential. The team’s heart and soul is Daniel Sandrin, the half-Korean forward who posses a strong basketball IQ. Samsung also picked up the second overall pick in this year’s KBL draft. They chose Kim Jun-Il, a big center from Yonsei University who will learn a lot from the two foreign players and Sandrin.

Biggest Weakness: Their weakness is their inability to consistently play well. They will have a stretch of two to three good games then lose 5 in a row. Last season, they had trouble scoring the ball with consistency. The key work is consistency, if Samsung can be consistent, they have a shot at making the playoffs.

Expectations: This is a learning curve for Samsung. One of their best player’s (Kim Seung-Hyun) retired. They have a new head coach. This is coach Lee’s first stint at a head coaching job. Anytime an assistant coach becomes the bench boss, there is a learning period for everybody. It’s going to be a rough start to the season for Samsung but if they can get it going, they will be a force in the second half of the year.

9. Anyang KGC (19-35)

 

Photo by jumpball.co.kr

Photo by jumpball.co.kr

 

Foreign Players: Leon Williams (Ohio) , C.J. Leslie (North Carolina State)

Key Additions: Kang Byung-Hyun , Jang Min-Kook

Key Losses: Kim Tae-Sul

Biggest Strength: Well if you’re an Anyang KGC fan, then you are most certainly you are breathing a sight of relief after the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. This April, KGC’s best Korean player, Oh Se-Keun was dispatched to Military Service. In September, he was deployed temporarily to partake in the Asian Games. A gold medal performance means Oh Se-Keun has been officially discharged from the Military Service and will join the team this season. He brings the toughness they need on both ends of the floor for KGC. With the KBL adopting FIBA rules, his physical style of play might benefit KGC (don’t depend on Korean referees to be so adapting to the new rules). Their core four of Park Chan-Hee, Kang Byung-Hyun, Yang Hee-Jong and Oh Se-Keun are definitely the strongest in the league. Rumour has it that Lee Jung-Hyun will return from his Military Service in early 2015 completing the fab-5 of KGC’s 2012 championship season.

Biggest Weakness: The exit of starting point-guard Kim Tae-Sul puts a lot of pressure on Park Chan-Hee. Last season, Park Chan-Hee averaged seven points per game and only hit one three-pointer the entire season. Park Chan-Hee has big shoes to fill at the point-guard position. Another big weakness is their height. They will have to depend on foreign players to control the paint. At 23 years old, foreign player C.J. Leslie makes his overseas pro debut. When players from big-schools (North Carolina) come to Asia for the first time, they have troubles adapting to the game. On the plus side, Leslie will the luxury to learn from a Korean Basketball veteran in Leon Williams throughout the year.

Expectations: KGC should make the playoffs this year. Kang Byung-Hyun will be the x-factor this season if he can keep knocking down that the three-point shot with consistency. But a good shooter is only as good as his point guard. Again, it will be up to Park Chan-Hee to make sure the ball is delivered on time, and on target. I’m curious to watch the pace of KGC this season. They might surprise a lot of KBL teams if they play according to their roster.

10. Wonju Dongbu Promy (13-41)

Photo by jumpball.co.kr

Photo by jumpball.co.kr

 

Foreign Players: Anthony Richardson (Florida State) , David Simon (Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne)

Key Additions: Kim Hyun-Joong

Key Losses: Lee Kwang-Jae

Biggest Strength: Wonju will finally get a full season from Yoon Ho-Young after returning late last season from his Military Service. Despite getting way up there in age, Kim Joo-Sung is still the top center in Korea (Ha Seung-Jin will certainly have something to say about that). They play the game inside out. But with Eric Sandrin out for an entire season due to an injury, there won’t be much inside meaning they may be in for another loonnnnng season.

Biggest Weakness: Keeping a head coach for an entire season. For the past three seasons, Wonju has gone through three head coaches. Current head coach Kim Young-Man will be fighting for his job this season.

Expectations: Last season they finished with the worst record in KBL history. In these types of circumstances you don’t go from worst to first. It just doesn’t work out that way. Especially when you’re best player is to miss the entire season with a knee injury. Expect Wonju to finish dead last again this year. 


 

Full 2014-2015 KBL schedule in English – > 2014-2015 KBL Schedule (official) Sheet1

Nick Bedard (@bedardnick) is the editor-in-chief of Basketballbuddha.com.

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