Local center Cai Chen served as one of the few bright spots for the Wolf Warriors amidst its debut season marred by growing pains in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL).

Despite winning just two games and remaining at the bottom of the standings, Cai single-handedly carried the load for the Southern Chinese team as they made numerous import changes throughout their first season in the regional league.

The 26-year-old Chinese big man was constantly the best player for the Zhuhai-based squad, where he outplayed some imports and finished the season leading all locals by averaging 19.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Pundits may complain about him being too much of a volume shooter, but Cai still drained nearly half of all his shot attempts, while also shooting a pretty efficient 37 percent from deep. He was also an above average dimer when he did pass the rock, averaging about three assists per outing.

Another weak point one could argue against his case is the defense which he displayed over the course of the season, but is that really enough reason to overlook his offensive contributions to the team?

Cai only failed to score in double-figures three times in 2018-2019, while he finished with 11 games in which he scored above 20 points (eclipsing 30 points four times) in 23 appearances, the most of any local this season.

Shouldn’t his impressive statlines alone make him the frontrunner of the Local MVP race?

“I wasn’t aware there is an award for local MVP until you asked me,” said the soft-spoken Cai, who was born in Guangzhou, China but grew up in San Diego, California in the United States.

“I guess you can say I do deserve it if you look at the stats, but it is a voting system so who knows? It would be a great honor for me if I go it. It would be nice for myself and the Wolf Warriors if we’ll be recognized by the league.”

Though he is still relatively young, the 6-foot-9 center can already be considered a seasoned veteran with the eight Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) seasons under his belt. In his career, he has played for the Shanghai Sharks, Jilin Northeast Tigers, Sichuan Blue Whales, and the Fujian Sturgeons before he joined the neophyte Wolf Warriors club in the ABL.

And after having a terrific season for himself, chances are, at least a handful of teams in China have taken notice and could be interested in bringing him back.

“I had fun with my teammates this year. Been to a lot of countries I have never been to before, which makes it interesting,” Cai shared. “I do want to retrun to the league next season, however, our general manager (David Chu) feels I should go back to the CBA if the opportunity comes up.”

“The level of local and import players (in the CBA) are at another level, but games in the ABL are also very competitive. Most teams rely on imports to score so the locals won’t have large scoring outputs,” he continued, highlighting the rare opportunity for him to stand out among all non-foreign players.

Reigning two-time local MVP Bobby Ray Parks Jr. of number two ranked San Miguel Alab Pilipinas, former two-time awardee Wong Wei Long, and his teammate Brandon Jawato of the CLS Knights Indonesia are among the other contenders who are likely to take home the award.

Given their dismal record this season, it is worth nothing that a handful of the Wolf Warriors’ losses over the course of the season came in pretty close contests. That was before the injury bug struck and took out some of its key players, leaving Cai to fend for the team.

It remains to be seen what the voters will ultimately take into account. Whether they decide they want to award the best individual statistical player this season, or if being a member of a winning team weighs more in being crowned an MVP.

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