We certainly didn’t see this coming.
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In a couple of days, the ASEAN Basketball League will be resuming action again after a break for Christmas and New Years holidays. While we’re all filling our faces with holiday meals and filling our bodies with some off time, let’s take a look at the team’s performances after 29 ABL games.
Let’s start off with the current league leaders.
It’s possible that aside from themselves and their fans, no one else expected the Slingers to be this far up the table. There was actually one particular outlet covering the ABL that predicted the Slingers to miss out on the playoffs with less than 10 wins.
Well, it’s been 10 games into the season for the Slingers and they have already gathered up 8 wins. It is also admirable that they have played 80% of their games away from home as well.
Offense : B
The Slingers offense is quite straight forward. You have Justin Howard in the Halfcourt set. You have Xavier Alexander in the transition offense. And then you have the other bits and pieces falling in between with Kris Rosales and Wong Wei Long hitting big shots when you need them to.
This is not the same team approach as last year, where they played at a painfully slow pace (77.0, league’s lowest in Season 5). They changed that since signing Xavier Alexander, who has been an unstoppable force one he gets full steam headed towards the rim. The Slingers have gotten faster (77.6, surprisingly good enough for 3rd in the ABL) with Alexander and for the better.
That pace might seem to contrast in comparison to the Slingers’ average field goal attempts (71.1, league’s lowest) but in reality, that’s only because of how physical the Slingers have been. The Slingers have been going to the line 25.0 time per game, easily the most in this year’s ABL, and that’s where they been generating most of their offense. Howard (9.0 FTA/G) and Alexander (8.3 FTA/G) are the main culprits of the Slingers success at getting to the charity stripe being 1st and 2nd in the ABL, respectively.
Howard has also been unstoppable scoring on the field as well as he leads the league at 23.3 points per game and 52.4% field goal shooting. In turn, this makes the Slingers the best field goal shooting team at a blistering 42.6%. Howard has been able to finish almost everything he touches, whether it is off that weird baby hook or that awkward looking jumpshot. Everything has been on point for Howard. I thought that he would have to cool down at some point, but it’s been 10 games into the season and he has yet to slow down. Be very afraid.
After all of that praise, I just had to drop the offense grade of the Slingers to only a modest B. It might seem harsh, but that grade drop is solely because of their three point shooting, or lack thereof.
The Slingers were never the best three point shooters (19.1 attempts, 26.7% last year) but it’s just been way off this year. They are averaging only 14.2 three point attempts per game. No other team is averaging less than 20. On top of the lack of taking three’s, they are also not converting as well, shooting only 19.7% from long range. It’s nice to recognize that the team doesn’t shoot well from there, so they minimized the shot attempts, but I have a feeling that the lack of three point shooting will hurt them some day.
Here is where the Slingers excel. Because of their physical nature, they have been a strong team on defense as well. And it’s not just only about being physical; they have defended other teams smartly and they’ve certainly done thorough scouting of teams in advance.
Opposing teams are shooting only 35.8% against the Slingers, which is easily the lowest in the ABL. Aside from Hitech Bangkok City, all the other teams are allowing around 40% of the opposing teams shots to drop. It’s possible that they only caught a wave in their last four games, where teams shot no more than 32.4% on them, but that is still an unbelievable stride nonetheless. Whether it is holding Tyler Lamb to 1/15 shooting or holding Matthew Wright to only 3/15 shooting, the Slingers certainly know how to stop those scoreres with pesky defenders like Desmond Oh.
They are still doing well to force turnovers (16.2 forced TOs, 2nd in ABL) but it’s their ability to slow down scorers that has made them such a defensive juggernaut this year.
The Slingers did an excellent job on their signings this year, after going through 4 imports in the previous season. Justin Howard has rediscovered a final wind in his career and it’s been a hurricane. He should be among the strong contenders up till the very final moment for Best World Import this season as he leads the league in scoring and rebounds (15.3).
Xavier was one of the bigger named imports (having played significant minutes in the NBA D-League) and somewhat of a gamble but paid off very nicely. I say it was a gamble because we saw what happened last year with Hassan Adams, who was somewhat of a big name himself. However, Alexander has gelled in very well to the Slingers and has created a whole new dimension for the team’s offense. Coaches have to tell their players to put a body on Alexander before he crosses halfcourt or else, he’s going to go all the way to the rim for either an easy layup or get to the free throw line.
And last but not least, Kris Rosales.
When you have other teams with ASEAN/Heritage imports like Brickman, Wright, Arnold, Goldstein, and Lamb, Rosales sort of fades in comparison. Averaging only 8.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists you might be wondering why the Slingers fans haven’t complained for a more dominating player.
One thing is that this has always been how the Slingers have operated. Or at least since last year, when they only had Al Vergara (and Gayfort Rodriguez, who shouldn’t really count). The Slingers are an organization that looks forward to completely developing their local talents and signing another ASEAN Import would most certainly reduce the minutes and opportunities for their local talents. The Slingers have spent 4 seasons going through losses to groom their talents and finally, they are enjoying the sweetness of their harvest.
Wong Wei Long and Desmond Oh have been mainstays as Slingers locals and their production has been as steady as can be. Reigning ASEAN MVP, Wei Long, is still good for 10 points per game and he’s even upped his all-around production as well. He might still be a pretty inefficient scorer (36.8 eFG%) but he gets the job done and is reliable in late game situations.
Leon Kwek has been a nice surprise (for anyone who hasn’t been following Kwek at least). With an average of 7.5 points per game, he’s somewhat substituted the scoring left behind in the absence of Larry Liew. However, Kwek has been a roller coaster ride for Coach Neo, having bursted for 3 double digit scoring games (with a high of 18 points) but has also recorded two scoreless games. Typical stuff from a 19 year old.
Another void left behind was the absence of Russel Low, who has made a one game cameo with the Slingers so far. Low was arguably the best inside local player last year with 4.9 points and 4.1 rebounds. With him out for most of this year (personal issues), it was expected that Delvin Goh would step up from his 1.9 points and 1.8 rebounds. Sure enough, Goh has been producing 3.0 points and 3.1 rebounds, but the Slingers will need more from him in the latter part of the Season.
The Slingers have firmly established themselves as the team to beat in this ABL Season after taking down both Hitech Bangkok City and KL Dragons on their homecourt. While their lack of three point shooting does concern me a bit, it’s more of a “imagine what they could do if they hit three point shots” sort of vibe more than a “they can’t win without three point shooting” type of feeling.
They should be the poster boy for the ABL with their approach towards local development and their fundamental and orderly defense.
And to think….I was writing them of as the potential laughing stock of the ABL no more than 2 months ago.
Cover Photo credit by Kim’s Production Facebook Page