New rules usher in KBL’s tip-offAs the baseball playoffs heat up and K-League soccer moves toward its playoffs next month, the Korean Basketball League launches a new season tomorrow.
This year’s campaign marks the 10th anniversary of professional basketball in Korea. With a couple of major rule changes, and the members on the Asian Game national squad missing in action for about a month later this year, this season promises to be unpredictable.
Starting this season, teams can only have one foreign player on the court in the second and third quarters. The restriction previously applied only to the second quarter. The league modified the rule to allow more of the homegrown talent to play, as the bigger and stronger foreign low-post players have dominated the scene for years.
This will likely mean that teams with strong Korean post players should have an edge. One such team is the defending champion Samsung Thunders. It returns all but one of its starting five from the last season ― point guard Lee Se-bum signed with the Dongbu Promy as a free agent ― and features 6-foot-10 center/forward Seo Jang-hoon, the top Korean scorer last season and a co-most valuable player. He can provide punch when one of the foreign twin towers, Olumide Oyedeji and Nate Johnson, isn’t on court.
The Promy boasts arguably the second-best Korean post player, the lanky 6-foot-9 center/forward Kim Joo-sung. The 2003 and 2005 champions were knocked out of the first round last year, but the signing of Lee Se-bum, a quick defender and a solid passer to play the point, improves a weak spot for the Promy last year. He signed a three-year deal for 120 million won ($125,000) a year for three years. The sharp-shooting veteran Kim Young-man left the LG Sakers in the summer to add some perimeter shooting off the bench for Dongbu, signing a 200 million won contract over two years. Center/forward Jung Hoon has completed his military service and will join Kim Joo-sung on the frontcourt, alongside returning foreign center Jameel Watkins.
Another significant rule change involves the shot clock. Through last year, when a team on offense was fouled ― and the foul was under the penalty limit ― the shot clock was always reset at 24 seconds. But starting this season, if there are 14 seconds or less left on the shot clock when a foul is called, the shot clock will be set to 14 seconds. If there are more than 14 seconds on the shot clock at the time of a foul, then whatever time was left will be the starting point.
The same rule will also apply to defensive three-second violations or technical fouls by the team on defense.
Yet the Doha Asian Games in December would likely have more impact on the league than these rule modifications. Participating players will report to the Asian Games preparation camps on Nov. 6 and will not return to their respective clubs until after the games in mid-December, meaning they could miss about 15 games of the 54-game season.
Because of their top-heavy roster, the Thunders will be affected the most. Three of their starters, Seo, guard Kang Hyuk and small forward Lee Kyu-sup, are national team members. Etland Black Slamer traded for a three-point specialist Cho Woo-hyun and signed a free agent power forward Kim Sung-chul in an attempt to move out of the league’s cellar, but both players will be playing for Korea come December.
Other teams will miss a player apiece, but it will still be a severe blow. For example, national team point guards Kim Seung-hyun of the Daegu Orions and Yang Dong-geun, the reigning co-MVP for the last season’s runner-up Mobis Phoebus, will be missed. The Orions are thin after Kim, though rookie power forward Joo Tae-soo showed some promise in the preseason. The Yang-less Phoebus will have to rely on Chris Williams, the defending foreign MVP and the only player in the top 10 in points, rebounds and assists last season.
In contrast, the Sakers, a trendy dark horse pick, will not have anyone on the Asian Games team, even though 6-foot-6 power forward Hyun Joo-yup is a force on the boards, and Cho Sang-hyun is as good a three-point shooter as his twin brother Woo-hyun, a member of the national team. Also, the addition of Charles Minlend, a former top foreign player award winner, should help propel the Sakers to their first playoff in three seasons.
The KCC Egis will also have the full services of their key veterans, point guard Lee Sang-min and small forward Choo Seung-kyun. With Minlend gone and clutch shooter Cho Sung-won (“Mr. Fourth Quarter”) retired, the Egis will need all the help they can get from Lee and Choo.
The SK Knights will send one player, second-year forward Bang Sung-yoon, to the Asian Games. But national team coach Choi Bu-young has expressed displeasure at Bang’s work ethic. So Bang may not get a lot of minutes and could return to his team relatively fresh to join the foreign duo of the reigning Spanish League MVP Lou Roe and Kebu Stewart, considered the best in the league entering the season.
So the real question, at least for the first half of the season, is not how the offseason acquisitions will pan out, but how the teams will deal with the Asian Games in the middle of the season.
“I expect the Phoebus and the Promy to battle for the top spot during the regular season,” former Knights head coach and Xsports television analyst Lee Sang-yoon told Yonhap. “But if the Thunders manage to get through the Asian Games period and reach the postseason, that will be the team to watch in spring.”
Choi In-sun, an SBS analyst, also picked the Phoebus and the Promy as the top teams, with the Thunders and the Sakers being the other contenders. He also said on Yonhap, “The Knights are difficult to predict: they could either be a serious contender or a sub-.500 team, because they are an offensive juggernaut, but there’s a question mark about their defense.”
by Yoo Jee-ho