With more than half the teams opting to play with an all-domestic roster after the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league restarts on Saturday, local players will undoubtedly play a more crucial role in the process until the winner comes out.
Due to the current restrictions on international travel, many foreign players are unable to return to China before the resumption of the CBA season. According to the CBA, 12 out of 20 teams have chosen to play upcoming matches with all domestic players, including traditional powerhouses Xinjiang Flying Tigers, Liaoning Flying Leopards and Shandong Heroes.
"It's a test for our domestic players," said CBA's chief executive officer Wang Dawei.
Defending champions Guangdong Southern Tigers, which boast several Chinese internationals including Yi Jianlian and Sonny Weems, are regarded as the title favorites.
Before the league was halted in early February, Guangdong sat atop the table with 28 wins from 30 matches, six more than their closest rivals Xinjiang. It will be routine work for Guangdong to maintain their top position after the regular season without many changes to their roster.
Yi became CBA's all-time leading scorer this season, having averaged 20.3 points and 11 boards. His leadership on the court will be key to the team.
Without playmaker and highest scorer Marshon Brooks, Guangdong have to rely more on Zhao Rui and Hu Mingxuan on the guard position.
The other international player - Weems is expected to contribute much through his versatility. He posted a balanced average stat of 21.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 6.5 assists this season.
Guangdong also have an edge in the bench depth with young talents such as Du Runwang, Zeng Fanri, and Xu Jie.
For the reigning champions, possibly the best thing from the league's postponement will be the return of captain Zhou Peng.
Zhou has not played a match in the 2019/20 season due to a left foot metatarsal fracture sustained before last summer's FIBA World Cup on home soil.
Zhou's defensive ability is what Guangdong are desperate for, but after a long time of recovery, how he fares from injury remains unclear.
Xinjiang will hinge on China's national center Zhou Qi, who contributed 20.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, on both ends, but with no overseas players left, role players Kyranbek Makan, Shirelijan Muxtar and Zeng Lingxu will be more crucial to the performance of last season's runners-up.
Liaoning won't have the service of Lance Stephenson and Brandon Bass but still can anticipate a good result through prominent Chinese players Guo Ailun, Zhao Jiwei, and Han Dejun.
O.J. Mayo is an X-factor for Liaoning. For many people, Mayo has lost his form with little experience of playing top-level competitions in recent years. He has arrived in the competition site of Qingdao, and a club source revealed Mayo could be activated "in due time."
With an overseas duo of Jeremy Lin and Ekpe Udoh, the Beijing Ducks are also a serious contender for the title, but they may feel the impact of head coach Yannis Christopoulos' absence. Assistant coach Xie Libin will take charge of Beijing's games. However, Beijing's former guard has little coaching experience at the top.
Another team to watch is Beijing Royal Fighters coached by Stephon Marbury. Their firepower will not be affected much as both Arnett Moultrie and Kyle Fogg stay. The top draft pick Wang Shaojie has proved his talent during the season, and veteran Sun Yue can also make a contribution.
In what is an unusual practice, this season's playoffs will be played in a single-game format until the quarterfinals, while the semifinals and final will be a best-of-three series.
Also, as all games will be played behind closed doors, players' mental adjustment can function in teams' performance.