Continuing the journey: The past two years and the next three for Kang and KB

Kang Isul joins hands with KB again. One of the biggest names in this year’s free agency market, Kang-isul has decided to stay with KB, opting for a three-year contract.

Over the past two years, KB and Kang-isul have laughed and cried, with the duo achieving their goals in their first year together with a dominant performance to win the combined title, but falling short last season in an uncharacteristic collapse for the defending champions. Let’s take a look at the last two years for KB and Kang Yi-sul, and what the next three will bring.

The first season where everything was perfect

April 19, 2021. The league’s best three-point shooter, Kang-iul Kang, left Hana OneQ for KB in free agency, looking for a new challenge. After winning the “Kang-isul signing battle,” which had four teams in the running, KB officially announced the signing of Kang-isul amidst much fanfare.

At the time, Kang’s salary totaled 390 million won. It was the largest transfer in history at the time. With the addition of Kang-iul to super ace Park Ji-soo, who dominates the league beyond KB, KB quickly became the favorite to win the national title.

This was not without its concerns, as KB had barely spent the offseason together due to Park Ji-soo’s travels to the United States with the national team. There were questions about whether Park and Kang would be able to synergize as well as expected, as they had worked well together on the national team but had virtually no chance to work together on their own team.

But from the very first game, KB’s one-two punch erased those doubts. In their opening game against Samsung Life, KB avenged last season’s championship loss with a 68-59 victory. Park Ji-soo was solid under the basket with 22 points and 16 rebounds, while Kang Yi-seul had 18 points and six rebounds in her first game in a KB uniform.

Since then, KB has dominated the league. Nine straight wins after the opener, and then another 14 straight. After establishing a dominant system early on, KB clinched the regular season title after just 24 games, setting a new record for the fastest number of games won in a single league.

In her first season in a KB uniform, Kang averaged 18.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. She shot a whopping 42.9% from three-point range. That’s a 5 percent increase over his 37.9 percent mark from the previous season.

Records and awards followed. On December 31, 2021, he became the youngest player in history to reach 600 three-pointers in a game against Samsung Life, and at the end of the regular season, he was named to the BEST 5 alongside Park Ji-soo, and also won the 3-point scoring and 3-point shooting awards.

Led by Kang-isul, who seamlessly integrated into the team from her first season, KB continued its ‘absolute dominance’ in the playoffs. Defeating Woori Bank in the championship game in just three games, KB won the overall title and added a second star to its jersey. Kang Isul, who joined KB with a desire to win, made a decisive contribution to the team’s victory and unleashed the spirit of Mugwan Han.

A disappointing second season

After such a perfect 2021-2022 season, Kang and KB seemed to have a solid future. After winning the title with a dominant performance, KB was close to building a dynasty.

However, as they headed into the new season, something changed. Park Ji-soo, who was the centerpiece of the team alongside Kang Seul, was diagnosed with panic disorder before the season. The loss of one of the team’s pillars seemed to be a big change for KB.

All eyes were on Kang Isul. With Park Ji-soo’s participation in the season unclear, Kang-isul was the key to stabilizing the faltering KB. Because of her presence, KB was seen as a team that could still contend for the title despite Park Ji-soo’s departure.

However, when the lid was lifted, KB was far more disappointing than expected. In fact, things went wrong right from the start. Opening against Shinhan Bank, KB got off to a shaky start with a 77-84 loss in a game that went into double overtime. The loss came as a huge blow to the players, who had been rallying around the ‘can-do’ attitude in the off-season.

From there, it was a downward spiral for KB. They opened the season with three straight losses and finished the first round with a 1-4 record. Even their performance against Hana OneQ, their only win, was far from satisfactory.

After that, KB was unable to rebound. They followed up the first round with a 1-4 record in the second round. The players’ confidence continued to plummet with each loss. However, there was a glimmer of hope when Park Ji-soo returned in the middle of the season. KB immediately went on a winning streak after Park’s return and became a threat to the top teams.

However, the spark of hope was extinguished when Park Ji-soo was sidelined again with a finger injury. KB reverted back to their lethargic form 메이저놀이터 from the beginning of the season and finished the season with a disappointing 10-20 record. For the first time in 12 years, KB missed the playoffs and became the second defending champion in history to be eliminated from the playoffs.

Kang-isul also struggled to break out of her slump. Averaging 15.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. The volume hasn’t dropped that much, but efficiency has been the problem.

In particular, Kang’s three-point shot, which had been her biggest weapon, completely broke down. After boasting a 42.9% accuracy rate the previous season, Kang’s three-point shooting dropped to 29.9%. That’s a staggering 13% drop.

Only in her first two seasons, 2012-2013 (25.0 percent) and 2013-2014 (27.6 percent), did she shoot in the 20s from three-point range, and even then, she was a backup averaging less than 10 minutes per game.

In other words, this is the first time since she became a mainstay on the team that she hasn’t shot above 20 percent from three-point range.

Her physical condition was also poor. Stress caused her to develop otosclerosis, and nagging injuries to her back and ankles continued to plague her, but she couldn’t use that as an excuse to sit out games when the team was falling apart. Kang played through her teeth to fulfill her responsibilities as an ace, but the result was disappointing.

The journey continues

During her two years with KB, Kang Isul went back and forth between heaven and hell. After her two-year contract expired, she became a free agent again this offseason. While she was still the biggest name in the game, the market was very different from two years ago. Whereas two years ago, there were a lot of teams trying to sign her, this time around, there were no substantial offers from other teams, as her chances of re-signing were high from the start.

Kang’s interest was also centered on re-signing. She was determined to stay with KB and make up for last season’s disappointment, and after some coordination, she signed a new contract. The contract was for three years and a total of 350 million won (280 million won in salary and 70 million won in allowances).

After re-signing Kang Yiul, KB also bolstered its roster by signing an outside free agent, Kim Ye-jin, who blossomed in the Hana OneQ last season.

Far from a consistent performer due to frequent injuries, Kim averaged 1.9 steals per game last season, ranking first in the entire league. With her defensive prowess, she’s definitely a good signing for KB. Kim signed a three-year, $80 million contract with KB.

Kang Isul is also excited about the signing of Kim Ye-jin. The two have worked together in the past at Hana OneQ.

Kang said, “I was worried about (Kim) Ye-jin during this free agency. When I heard that the first round of negotiations broke down, I immediately contacted him. She tried to tell me a lot of things from her point of view. He was a player who felt like a sore finger when we were together. He has a good sense of defense and a lot of strengths, but I always regretted his injuries. I was proud of her last season, and it’s even better to play with her,” said Kim.

In fact, KB’s next season is still not completely clear of question marks. It’s important that Kang-isul doesn’t repeat last season’s performance, and there’s a lot of focus on Park Ji-soo’s health.

Additionally, there is still the presence of Woori Bank, who won the overall title last season with a dominant force while KB struggled. Woori Bank may be missing veteran Kim Jong-un this off-season, but they still have a strong core.

As such, KB has a lot of mountains to climb if they want to restore the pride they lost last season. Kang-iul is more motivated than ever for the off-season. Last season’s poor performance made her feel like her entire 10-year career had been denied.

Not to mention the importance of next season, not only for the team to win back the title, but also for Kang-iul to redeem herself. It will be interesting to see how she fares next season, and beyond, as she continues her journey with KB.

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