The Dallas Mavericks may not have realized it when they lured Ding Yanyuhang onto their Summer League roster, but the move has sent ripples throughout the league as Ding has become a fan favorite.
Don’t believe me? Watch the fans in Las Vegas give a standing ovation for Ding simply entering the game:
In this clip (titled “Dingsanity!”), Ding is called “Mr. Summer League” by the play-by-play announcer who is genuinely thrilled to see the crowd wake up and start responding to every single thing Ding does:
Here is Ding, responding to the crowd chanting “MVP! MVP! MVP!” at him in an interview that starts with him being dubbed “The People’s Champ”:
So, obviously, Ding is a thing. Ding might be the thing. You could argue that it ain’t a thing if it don’t have that Ding. But why is Ding a thing?
Here are his combined Orlando & Las Vegas Summer League numbers so far:
7.4 points per game
2.7 rebounds per game
1.2 assists per game
Those are very unassuming numbers. The 42 percent FG percentage is nice but the 25 percent three-point percentage is not.
What’s the deal?
What’s Mandarin for ‘Panache’?
Well, as much as it pains me to say this, Ding has to be experienced to be truly appreciated. As of yet, you can’t see any of his artistry in his statistics.
To put it bluntly, Ding is the most exciting (although not the best) prospect to ever come out of China. He won the Chinese Basketball Association MVP at 22 years old and plays a brand of basketball that can best be described as “Imagine if Steph Curry were 6’7” instead of 6’3.”
He shoots, he blows by people, and he’s dynamite at coming off of screens. Ding can even dribble and pass (at least once in Vegas he’s thrown a picture-perfect no-look pass between somebody’s legs). He’s basically a Chinese replica of pre-knee injury Shaun Livingston.
Assassinating the King
Yao Ming is the obvious choice for best Chinese NBA player to this point in NBA history, but Yao’s game was not particularly exciting. Ding, on the other hand, is regularly burying daggers in some defender’s face and blowing past others on his way to a vicious dunk and celebration afterwards.
We’ve never seen a player like this come out of China, and the ramifications of that could be massive. There are about four times as many people in China as there are in the USA, and tapping into that audience is something that could help the continued rocket-like popularity of the NBA as of late.
If the NBA were to ever find itself with a Chinese citizen as one of the most exciting players in the league, it would go a long way towards taking down the Premier League and the NFL as the most popular leagues in the world.
Competition breeds confusion
The issue with Ding Yanyuhang is that, as great as his potential may be, he’s still a project. The NBA is different from the CBA, and Ding needs to learn how to throw screens, elbows, and asses on his way to playing defense and getting rebounds. Right now, all he really knows how to do is score.
The Mavericks are toying with the idea of signing Ding to their second two-way contract, which would allow him to split time between the NBA team and the G-League Texas Legends squad (earning either an NBA salary or a G-League salary depending on where he is at).
If he accepts, he might not see anything more than garbage time minutes with Dallas. If he doesn’t accept, Ding will likely have an opportunity to make more money to defend his MVP award in China. Eddie Sefko wrote an excellent breakdown of this situation the other day, theorizing that the team might let Nicolas Brussino walk to open up a full-time roster spot for Ding.
Either way, let’s hope that the Summer League is not where the Ding legacy ends for the Mavericks — and the NBA.