Let’s take a look at Westports Malaysia Dragons 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.
We started out preview with the Singapore Slingers, let’s move on to their rivals, Westports Malaysia Dragons!
The Westports Malaysia Dragons is one of the other of the founder teams that are still left in the ABL. The Dragons have always fielded a competitive team. They have the sweetest looking website in the ABL and you can pretty much find all you need about the Dragons there. Since Coach Ariel Vanguardia took over in 2012, the team has been able to draw top notch ASEAN Import talent to their team. Most recently is Moala Tautua’a, who was selected with the 1st pick in the PBA Draft this past summer. Before that, the likes of Justin Melton (now a PBA All-Star), Rudy Lingganay (now playing in the PCBL), Avery Scharer (a walking triple-double) and Patrick Cabahug (Star of Hitech Bangkok City last year) have also worn the Dragons jersey. This year, like clockwork, they have drawn some high level talents again. If there’s one thing that can be certain in the ABL, it is that the Dragons will make the playoffs, as they have done in every single season. Up until last year, it was also a sure bet that the Dragons would not make the Finals. But that was up until last year.
ABL Season 5 Recap
The KL Dragons didn’t start the season off as planned with a loss to Hitech Bangkok City. They would win the next two games, but Coach Ariel Vanguardia was unimpressed with their performances and switched ASEAN Import from Rashawn McCarthy to Avery Scharer. With that switch, the Dragons went from 0.97 points per possession to 1.07 points per possession.
The Dragons went on to win 15 games and clinch the first place in the ABL Standings with a late season victory over Hitech Bangkok City who were neck and neck for that top position.
Avery Scharer had a monster year as he was the only player to average at least 15-5-5 with a 15.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game. He would also be the only player in the ABL last season to record a triple-double. And he did it twice (once against Hitech and once against the Saigon Heat). Scharer was the engine to the high speed race car that was the KL Dragons. They were loaded at the 3-4-5 positions with Justin Knox, Tautua’a, and Chris Eversley manning those positions. Loh Shee Fai was a good shooter at the 2 position (his 33.9% from down town was one of the best in the ABL). They had a solid core of veteran role players (Ooi Ban Sin, John Ng, Tian Yuan Keuk) and rising youngsters (Tong Wen Keong, Yi Hou) coming off the bench as well.
This was not only supposed to be the year that Coach Ariel Vanguardia took the Dragons past the semifinals. This was supposed to be their championship year.
Things didn’t go as planned however. Even though they steamrolled through the Saigon Heat in the Semifinals, they ran into a Hitech Bangkok City team that was hitting their stroke. The Dragons also chose the worst time in the season to go through a two game funk and eventually lost the ABL Finals to the Thai side.
There are two ways you can look at the Dragons last season.
One, you can look at the Dragons roster and ask “How did you not win the whole thing with that line up?”.
OR you can acknowledge that last year’s KL Dragons team was an unbelievable team. This was a team that was 1st in the ABL in pace, 1st in points per game, 1st in Effective Field Goal Percentage, while committing the lowest turnover rate in the ABL as well. That sort of offensive efficiency is not something that we will be going to see any time soon.
ABL Season 6 Insight
Not only would they have fill the void that their imports left, they would also have to pick up the production left vacant by the retiring veterans, Ooi Ban Sin and John Ng. Ban Sin averaged a decent 4.8 points and 1.8 assists per game. Aside from the numbers, Ban Sin was a the guy who could control the game if Scharer lost his cool (which happened more often than not).
Following the retirements of those two vets, the season only got worse for the when Loh Shee Fai suffered a torn ACL which would require at least a year before being able to return to competitive condition. Just like that, 85.1% of the KL Dragons minutes played from last year were gone.
The Dragons rebounded quickly. They snapped up contracts with their ASEAN Imports, Jason Brickman and Matthew Wright, both of whom you can read about in detail, here and here. Avery Scharer’s shoes would be pretty big to fill, but signing Brickman and Wright was a good start.
But the good news wouldn’t last long. The Dragons would take another hit when rising star point guard (who had shone throughout international competitions) when he suffered a car accident. His condition has now stabled and he is progressing in his quest to return to the court, but it seems like this ABL season is out of the question. Again, the Dragons took a huge blow to their rotation. Tong’s 19.3 AST% was actually the ABL’s highest among locals.
But like the Slingers situation, the Dragons had to move on. They got Calvin Godfrey and Reggie Johnson as their World Imports (which you can read about here and here).
The Dragons had a Manila Tour where they tuned up with 3 PBA Teams (Blackwater Elite, Global Port, and Talk ‘N Text). They were not only able to fine tune their imports, but also their newly recruited locals as well.
One name that immediately stands out is Ivan Yeo. The past summer, Malaysia had participated in 3 major international tournaments: SEABA Championships, SEA Games, and FIBA Asia. Yeo led the team in scoring per game in all three tourneys (10.0 in SEABA, 9.75 in SEA Games, and 13.0 in FIBA Asia) and he was also a monster on the boards for them as well (11.8 in SEABA, 4.5 in SEA Games, 9.7 in FIBA Asia). His stats might be padded up from being benched from playing some big games, but the numbers do tell some part of the story. Yeo can do damage inside and he will provide nice depth from that perspective.
The other two notable new names are Chee Kheun Ma and Wei Hong Choo both of whom spent the past summer as a key part of the Malaysian National team as well. Kheun Ma, in particular, was the team captain.
Returning locals for the Dragons will be Tian Yuan Keuk, Kwaan Yoong Jing, Yi Hou Wong, and Izran Edika bin Kamaruddin. Tian Yuan and KYJ are going to add even more length and size to one of the tallest local rosters in the ABL.
Like last year’s import roster, the Dragons will be strutting out a star studded foursome again. Brickman can be found at the top of NCAA Div 1 records. Matthew Wright was a consistent contributor for an NCAA Tourney team. Reggie Johnson was a Major Contributor for an ACC school (like Justin Knox UNC last year). Calvin Godfrey himself might have bounced from school to school, but he made his impact as well in the NCAA Div 1.
Stars don’t make up a team and don’t guarantee wins, but they help a lot and the Dragons have the best in biz.
Size & Length
Kwaan Yoong Jing and Tian Yuan Keuk are both reportedly 6’7”. Add 6’5” Ivan Yeo and 6’5” Wei Hong Choo and suddenly Coach Ariel Vanguardia has quite the arsenal of long and lengthy players at his expense. How he will utilize that length into his game plan is unknown for now, but I suspect that it will play a large role in the KL Dragons success this season.
Jason Brickman should do fine in setting up everyone to get their shots. He was born a pure point guard. No, I am not worried about Jason Brickman as point guard in the Dragons line up. I’m more worried what happens when Brickman needs a breather.
Losing Ooi Ban Sin, Tong Wen Keong, and Wong Wee Seng put the Dragons with 0 ABL experience in the possibly the most important position in the ABL. From the looks of the roster, it seems that Chee Keun Ma will be their backup point guard. Even then, Matthew Wright will have huge chunks of his time dedicated to playing the point as well (as he did some times at St. Bonaventure).
Huge obstacle to overcome for the Dragons.
Experience might not seem like a big deal, especially for a league that depends a lot on imports. However, last year’s Champs featured imports that all had plenty of ABL experience along with role players that have been in the ABL for a while. That certainly cannot be overlooked.
The Dragons are returning 7.8% of their minutes from last year. Brickman, Wright, and Johnson all have only one season of professional basketball under their belts. This will be Calvin Godfrey’s first professional gig.
As talented as they are, the team’s average age is only 24.4 years old with their eldest player, rookie Ming Joe Foong, being 27. Experience will be an issue that Coach Ariel Vanguardia will have to overcome this year.
Their raw talent alone will probably propel them into the playoffs. Getting 15 wins again might be too much to ask for, but I don’t see them winning less than 10 games. A trip to the Finals is still in the picture, but it’s not given.
I’m going to predict a 12-win season for the Dragons.
Check out our complete list of previews:
Wesports Malaysia Dragons
Pacquiao Powervit Pilipinas Aguilas
Hitech Bangkok City