Let’s take a look at the Saigon Heat in the ABL!
The ASEAN Basketball League starts in a few days, so I think that it’s time that we started discussing in details about all of the teams now that each team has started filling in their Imports quotas.
The league will consist of six teams from 5 countries (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines). Each team will play each other 4 times to make a 20 game season. The top 4 teams advance to the Playoffs where they will play best out of 3 series to determine the champion.
Team rosters are consisted of 16 players.
Two slots in that roster can be used on “World Imports”. World Imports can basically be any player from anywhere in the world. Teams usually use this quota on American Imports who played close to the basket.
Another two slots in the roster can be allocated to ASEAN/Heritage Imports. Here is my understanding of the import ruling:
An ASEAN Import is any player with either
- full ASEAN Nationality of a different country that the country that the team resides in
- has a parent that has full ASEAN Nationality of a different country which the team resides in but was born and raised outside of the ASEAN Countries.
For example, the Singapore Slingers (the team resides in Singapore) could have used one of their ASEAN Import quota to sign me (a Full Thai Citizen) to their roster. Instead, they signed Kris Rosales (a Filipino-American).
A Heritage import is any player who
- has a parent that has full Nationality of the country which the team resides in but was born and raised outside of the ASEAN Countries.
Last year, we saw the Saigon Heat exercise the Heritage Import on David Viet Arnold (mother is full Vietnamese). It worked so well for them that they used the quota on him again this year. In addition to the Saigon Heat, Hitech Bangkok City of Thailand also used the Heritage Import quota by signing Half-Thais Freddie Goldstein and Tyler Lamb.
The wordings of the qualifications for the quotas might be a bit more complicated in the official terms of the ABL, but the main idea is there.
The Saigon Heat are a revelation to the basketball scene in Vietnam, being the country’s first professional basketball team. The Heat have been in the ABL for three seasons and it has been quite an up and down roller coaster to say the very least. After two disappointing seasons to start the franchise, things seemed a bit better for them last year, even if they had to overcome a lot of difficulties along the way.
ABL Season 5 Recap
In retrospect, the fact that the Saigon Heat started off ABL Season 5 with three straight wins wasn’t that impressive considering it was one game against the Indonesia Warriors and two other against league dwellers, Laskar Dreya. But at that moment, it seemed okay to proclaim that this might be an unbelievable season for the Heat. They were on track to get a matchup between undefeated teams against Hitech Bangkok City, but they lost to the Singapore Slingers one game before the potential matchup.
The Heat claimed to have the league’s best Starting 5 last season, and it was a very solid claim. Justin Williams was a defensive monster (Defensive POY, 4.3 blocks per game, 7.8 BLK%). Dustin Scott was the Ultimate team mate/Swiss Army Knife. Froilan Baguion was 3rd in the league in assists (4.4 per game) and 2nd in steals (2.2 per game). Leo Avenido made 57 three-point shots in the season (most in ABL). And of course, there was poster boy David Viet Arnold. Arnold scored 14.5 points per game and was one of the most efficient scorers in the league (51 eFG%, 5th in ABL), scoring off a combination of three pointers and drawing fouls. It’s hard to deny their “Best Starting Five” claim with that sort of talent.
The problem with the Saigon Heat and their 9-win season was their bench. The talent drop-off from their starting five to their 6th man is as deep as I’ve ever seen in the ranks of professional basketball. They picked up Ryan Le early in the season, but even he was still a notch below being able to produce.
The Heat playoff hopes were still on the fence when Lady Luck slapped them hard in the face. The morning after their 13th game into the season with a crucial win over the Indonesia Warriors, Coach Jason Rabedeaux was found dead in his residence (R.I.P). In midst of their grief, the Saigon Heat fell in to a 1-3 game slump before facing a crucial home game against the Singapore Slingers. They would go on to win that game convincingly to set up a game against the Indonesia Warriors in a game which would pretty much determine who would advance to the playoffs.
Lady Luck then backslapped them in the face again when Dustin Scott’s travelling documents ran into some troubles. The Heat would be forced to temporarily sign Mark Yee for that one game.
The Heat were up by 3 points with only a few seconds on the clock and it seemed like they would have overcome all curveballs life was throwing at them. That was until Bonanza Sirega dropped one of his only 7 three point makes on them to force the game to overtime. The Heat would eventually win the game, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
That game would mean that this was the Heat’s first trip to the ABL post season and I’m sure that after all that they went through, it must have felt great even though they were swept in the playoffs by the KL Dragons.
ABL Season 6 Insight
The biggest story (and biggest success) for the Saigon Heat was being able to bring back David Viet Arnold. From a basketball perspective, it might be bigger to have signed an import from the NBA, but if you look at the matter as a whole, David Arnold coming back was huge. The fans loved Arnold and his return gave the fans a sense of continuity and would be a symbol of what they had to overcome last year to get to this point. Now with one year of ABL experience on his belt, it’s not too farfetched to expect him to improve from his 14.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists line.
The Heat until after the SEA Games finished and they picked up Stefan Nguyen (who you can read more about here) from Sweden. You have to give credit to the Saigon Heat scouts for being able to find these international talents scattered across the globe. The Vietnamese community is not small and I am sure there are plenty more Davids and Stefans out there. Stefan fits the David Arnold mold as he seems to have the marketable and charming personality that the Saigon Heat fans fell in love with. If he can prove himself on the court like his predecessor, it should be a fun season ahead.
Quietly moving under the shadows, the Saigon Heat signed up Lenny Daniel (you can read about him here) to solidify their frontcourt. They followed that signing up shortly with Thai-American Moses Morgan (read about him here) who had been playing in the Thailand Basketball League this past summer. Moses is going to be a revelation to the use of the ASEAN/Heritage Import rule which had formerly been used mainly on Filipino-Foreigners. He is a nice touch of bringing out the “ASEAN” in the “ASEAN Basketball League”. More importantly for the Heat, he will be manning the Small Forward position as another scoring option beside the inside dominant Daniel.
A late acquisition was Will Creekmore who will probably be the latest off-season signing with only 5 days up until the first game. You can read more about him here.
Other than Arnold, the Heat will be returning Nguyen Ngoc Than and Tran Tien Thinh. Both played in only 80 minutes last season, but it’s 80 minutes of experience that might be useful for Coach Tony Garbaletto should the opportunity arise. Thinh also played in the past SEA Games, in which the Vietnamese National Team participated after a long draught. Among the other Saigon Heat players on that National Team Squad are Nguyen Thanh Nhan, Dam Huy Dai, To Quang Trung, and Phan Minh Luyen. From what I know, only Quang Trung is the player who will be returning with ABL experience (correct me if I am wrong).
Of those National Team cadets, Nguyen Thanh Nhan is the most notable name having averaged 14.0 points and 9.6 rebounds per game for the Vietnamese National Team in the SEA Games. Standing at 6’3”, he will be the tallest local player on the squad.
I just have to add in here that it is a slight disappointment that we will not be seeing Hanh Minh Trieu suit up for the Saigon Heat. The National Team captain averaged 17.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3 assists in SEA Games.
If only there was some miracle that could join Hanh Minh Trieu aka “Minhsanity” and the Saigon Heat together…
Scoring won’t be a problem this year. Last year, they had a talented starting five, but none of whom were pure scorers (except perhaps David Arnold). Baguion and Scott were facilitators. Avenido could score, but he was more of a spot-up shooter than someone who looked to create on their own. Justin Williams dominated on defense, but he sometimes forced too much on offense.
This year, they have Lenny Daniel who was the No.1 scoring option for his team in college. Moses Morgan played a shooter role in college, but he has slowly grown into the primary scorer role since playing in Thailand. He has to body to draw fouls while also being able to shoot from far out.
Along with David Arnold, these three should be a headache to handle on defense.
It will be pretty much a similar problem as last year. The Heat had arguably the best starting 5 in the ABL last year and it could possibly be the same this year with 5 players having experience with either European or American basketball experience. But after that fifth player, the talent level might take a sheer drop. The bench right now is loaded with National Team players, so that is definitely an up from last year’s version. But will it be enough of an upgrade to make a significant impact in the ABL?
But of course, if they somehow pick up Hanh Minh Trieu in a miracle move before the start of the ABL, this problem would be less of a problem for Head Coach Tony Garbaletto to deal with.
They do not have the luxury of having Justin Williams to anchor their defense anymore and Baguion won’t be there to pick anyones pockets anymore. Lenny Daniels will probably get his share of blocks, but he is not a world class defender. The Heat’s defense relied a lot on Justin Williams last season, and we will probably see some struggles early on without him.
This team came together a bit slower than other teams (especially with the late signing of Creekmore). Moses Morgan himself is healing from an injury, so the team might still have yet to gel at 100% pace yet. It was a good move by team management to get them to go on a Manila tour for some tune up game, but it will still take some time.
They might start the season out slowly, but I do expect them to bounce back for an 7-9 win season. However, if they do get Hanh Minh Trieu somewhere along the way…I feel that he is good for at least one or two more wins for the Heat.
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