Season Report Card: Saigon Heat

Now that the ASEAN Basketball Season 6 is over in the elimination round stages, we will take this time to take this time to take a look back at the seasons of all six ABL teams.

Here’s the season review for the Saigon Heat.

The Saigon Heat may have ended in the same situation as last year, but make no mistake, they have made plenty of progress.

Season In Review

The Saigon Heat had a nice offseason before the start of the ABL season. They resigned David Arnold, they signed their high-flying, highlight reel factory World Import, and they improved their local roster line up greatly.

They got pure Vietnamese, Swedish groomed Stefan Nguyen at the point guard spot while loading up with National Team studs, Trieu Han Minh, Trung Ngo Tuan, and Nhanh Thanh Nguyen. Things were looking good for the Saigon Heat.

It didn’t last long though. The Heat went to Manila for an exhibition tour against the Pilipinas MX3 Kings and some collegiate teams and Stefan Nguyen unfortunately picked up an injury (which was a herniated disk, if I am not mistaken). Stefan had to sit out 5 games to start out the season before he could make a debut. And even then, he could only play limited minutes.

Still, the Saigon Heat were able to pick up a huge overtime win against the KL Dragons (Calvin Godfrey was injured for most of the game..but still) without Stefan.

While the Heat did improve a bit with Stefan Nguyen in the lineup, they also faced some growing pains as well. The Heat shot better with Stefan (3p% rose from 26.7% to 30.5%) but turned the ball over at a higher rate (TO% rose from 17.0% to 18.7%). While Stefan was able to create better shots for his team, he had trouble handling the ball as well which is something he must have heard plentifully from Coach Tony Garbelotto. On defense, the Heat weren’t able to pressure opponents into as much turnovers with Stefan in (Opponent TO% dropped from 18.0% to 15.1%) but they were able to defend shots much better (Opponent 3P% dropped from 32.2% to 29.2%). Stefan’s length surely had at least a some part in this change.

After Stefan returned to the line up, the Heat played pretty much according to how they should have been playing. They won games that they were supposed to (three game winning streak over Mono Vampires and Pilipinas Kings) and lost games they weren’t expected to win.

And then came the New Year’s Break.

The Saigon Heat had seemed to have been on the look out to replace William Creekmore since early in December. Creekmore was a last-minute signing anyways and the Heat looked for options as soon as they felt he wasn’t the star they needed. Creekmore was a workhorse, but he never was an efficient scorer when he played with the Heat.

The Heat had planned to release Creekmore after the New Year’s break…which was right after he had a breakout week. If that wasn’t awkward enough, the guy who was intended to replace Creekmore (Paul Williams) suffered an accident in an injury which led to an awkward phone call from the Saigon Heat to Creekmore asking him to come back and play a few more games.

Creekmore himself said that it he was about to board an aircraft out of the ASEAN region in no less than an hour before he got the phone call.

Creekmore would play in 4 more games with the Saigon Heat (which included a 49 point beatdown at the hands of the KL Dragons and a shocking 20 point loss to the MX3 Kings) before he would move on. As much as I have always rooted for Creekmore (those who know me know this is true), maybe the Heat were better off replacing him with Paul Williams. At least on offense, that is significantly true:

Saigon Heat w/ Creekmore: 39.9 FG%, 26.6 3P%
Saigon Heat w/o Creekmore: 44.0 FG%, 34.8 3P%

Creekmore struggled to finish his shots when he was with the Heat, which was something Paul Williams and his bigger frame didn’t have trouble with accomplishing.

With Williams, the Heat were able to pull of one more outstanding upset by taking down Hitech Bangkok City in their homecourt. Williams showed that he was a sturdy defender in that game and that would set the tone for the rest of the season.

The Saigon Heat would qualify for the playoffs without as much drama as compared to last year, where they will once again be facing the KL Dragons in the Semi-Finals.

Final Grades

Offense: C+


The Saigon Heat offense is flashy. I don’t mean that in an offensive way. That’s just the way it is. They (or more specifically, Lenny Daniel) make a lot of highlight dunks. David Arnold makes a lot of crafty, acrobatic layups. Moses Morgan hits a lot of clutch three pointers. Flashy.

The problem is the ball rotation.

We get a lot of those highlight plays because the Saigon Heat players are forced to use their individual talent to breakdown the defense. The Heat average 15.9 assists at a 51.9 AST%, both second worst in the ABL. Most of the rest of the ABL teams have local spot up shooters. Guys like Loh Shee Fai, Piyapong Piroon, Ratdech Kruatiwa, and Wu Qing De are all lurking somewhere on the three-point line waiting for that pass from the import that is being double teamed. The Heat on the other hand, barely have that option. Moses Morgan and David Arnold are going to be covered heavily. Stefan Nguyen is actually a decent shooter (52.4 3P%) but his primary role is the ball handler. That leaves Trieu Han Minh, who is actually the guy Coach Tony Garbelotto has counted on to be that spot up shooter, but he’s only been able to nail 19.7% of those long bombs.

Not only that, but the Heat had trouble holding onto the ball altogether. Turning the ball over 18.3 times per game (17.9 TO%) makes it hard to just get your offense going. It’s a problem that the Heat haven’t been able to overcome (led the ABL in turnovers last season) but they must have figured out by now that this is what happens when you only have so many players you can rely on. David Arnold (4.1), Lenny Daniel (4.0), and Paul Williams (3.7) are the ABL’s top three in turnovers per game. Stefan Nguyen has a turnover rate of 24.7%, which is one of the highest among starting point guards.

But hey! It’s not all bad. Despite all of that, the Heat were finishing their shots at a steady rate while getting to the free throw line as well. The Heat led the league in Free Throw attempts (22.4 per game). Lenny Daniel was second in the league at 6.9 attempts per game, followed closely by David Arnold (4.3) and Moses Morgan (4.1). The Heat were aggressive getting to the hoop and they were rewarded for their aggressiveness.

So hey, it’s not wrong to be flashy.

Defense: B


You never really expected it with how flashy they are on defense, but the Saigon Heat are an underrated team on defense.

They have their shortcomings with ball pressure (Forced turnover rate of 15.9% is lowest in ABL) but that’s only because they do not have a deep rotation to maintain pressure for long stretches. But for a team that could thrive in the fastbreak, being unable to force turnovers must be frustrating.

But let’s take a look at the shot defense of the Saigon Heat. The Singapore Slingers are obviously the league’s best, but Saigon Heat is just sitting there, minding their own business at No.2 with allowing only 40.2% shooting. They could have done better on defending the three-point shot (allowing 29.9 3P% is 4th in the ABL) but the interior defense has been solid.

Lenny Daniel will always be around to leap up and swat your shot away, but the main difference has been the hustle of Creekmore and the sturdiness of Paul Williams. Exhibit A for how Paul Williams affects the Heat defense would be their win against Hitech Bangkok City where the Thai side keep running in towards to basket only to crash into Williams and kept on bouncing out.

All around solid defense from the Heat this year.

Imports: B+


The Heat nailed the Lenny Daniel signing dead on. He was 3rd in the league in scoring at 22.3 points per game and he did so by efficiently finishing his shots (53.2 2P%) and getting to the line (6.9 FTA/g, 3rd in ABL). While he surprisingly wasn’t one of the best offensive rebounders (9.6 ORB%) he finished plenty of putbacks emphatically enough. Daniel was that guy who would rile up the crowd and start a run for your team. His body language was sometimes a bit confusing and he might have spent more time arguing with the refs than you wanted him too, but overall, he was everything the Saigon Heat could have wanted and more.

The Moses Morgan signing was really good as well. For a team that had its definite star (Daniel) and face of the franchise (Arnold & Stefan), I feel that Morgan was finally put in a situation where he could shine the brightest. At PEA in the TBL, he was forced to be the guy and to have the ball in his hands all the time. That is not his game. Here at Saigon, he was able to take the pressure off of Arnold and Daniel when the time came and be the guy that kept everyone on the same page. Morgan would be the guy who connects the inside-outside game together. He was an all-around talent with a line of 16.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. He got to the line (4.1 FTA/g) and made his threes (32.0%). He could have done better at finishing around the rim, but I think the Heat are pretty much satisfied with his production.

And then there is the captain, David Arnold. Arnold had a phenomenal rookie season, boasting efficient scoring numbers and leading the Heat to their first playoffs.

But he seemed to take a slight step back this year.

Rookie David Arnold: 14.5 PPG, 43.2 FG%, 43.2 3P%, 2.8 FTA, 2.7 APG, 2.3 TO/G
Sophomore David Arnold: 16.6 PPG, 39.3 FG%, 31.7 3P%, 4.3 FTA, 4.2 APG, 4.1 TO/G

These numbers are from a bump of 36.0 minutes to 37.6 minutes per game. Arnold has scored more, but with greater less efficiency. It might have only been that 4 game slump where he missed 11 straight 3 point shots, but the numbers are still pretty evident of this change.

Maybe it’s because of the role he has received this year. Remember that he had Froilan Baguion to be the main ball handler in last year’s squad. This year, he was forced to take a larger share of ball handling duties because of Stefan’s early season injury and because Stefan still struggled at times. This led to a higher assist rate and a higher turnover rate. And it might have been because of the toll of having to handle the ball that could have caused him to go cold from time to time.

Still, Arnold was a signing that the Heat had to make and he’s done well.

The final import I must mention is of course, Will Creekmore/Paul Williams. I put them in the same section here because the impact of their signings are pretty much the same, in my opinion. Creekmore was a personal cult hero who I could have used as an excuse to make this an “A+” but I’m not about that life.

Creekmore was a workhorse and rarely turned the ball over (8.1 TOV%), but he wasn’t the most efficient scorer (45.4 eFG%) and he could sometimes be targeted as a mismatch on defense. Paul Williams has shown that he is a bit more effective at finishing near the rim (53.4 eFG%), but turns the ball over like crazy (26.0%). So it’s pretty much of a washout between the two. Williams might have an edge on defense, and that’s probably why the Heat decided to use him over Creekmore.

Locals: C-


Getting Stefan Nguyen was nice, but the hype around him might have been just a little bit too high. He averaged a solid 5.9 points, 3.2 assists (1st among locals), and 3.1 rebounds which are pretty decent numbers all around. He hit 11 of 21 attempted three-point shots which were mostly catch and shoot situations. But most of all, he was the face of the franchise for the Heat. He was something the Heat could proudly say was truly a Vietnamese product after struggling a bit with David Arnold in that role.

But Stefan was still struggled in areas you would expect a local to. He was plagued with turnovers (24.0 TOV%) and failed to score near the rim consistently (30.6 FG%). Coming off a herniated disk is obviously a big deal and it is his rookie season, so it would be unfair to judge Stefan completely on his first run.

The Heat had an upgraded bench this year. Garbelotto was able to get two locals which he would trust enough to use in every game (Han Minh Trieu and Tuan Trung Ngo). Minh would be the main guy off the bench, logging in 21.0 minutes per game, while Trung would come in the game in spurts to relieve the guard postition (7.0 minutes per game). Minh was a spot up shooter who was not exactly on point (35.6 eFG%) and Trung could be counted on for fouling (2.0 per game in 7.0 minutes) and commiting turnovers (55.6 TOV%). It might be tough to suck in but the Vietnamese locals are still a step away from consistent contribution.

The bright side is that they already made a huge step forward from last year, so that final step might not take as long to take as you would think.

We already saw Garbelotto experiment using Nhanh Thanh Nguyen a lot more towards the end of the season and that’s the right step forward that the Heat are taking.

Overall: C+


It’s hard to grade them higher, even though they didn’t do much anything worse than they were expected to.

But then again, they didn’t really do anything much better than we expected them to do either. They did beat KL Dragons once, but that was on their home court and Calvin Godfrey was injured for most of the game. And while the win over Hitech Bangkok City was legitimately good, it was evened out by the home loss by 20 to the Kings.

All in all, a nice average season for the Saigon Heat.


Future: B

The local talent are still in the process of developing and if we can rely on the Slingers team model, they are probably still a couple of years out. However, we got to see talents like Stefan Nguyen pop up and I believe there are plenty more Vietnamese ballers overseas who could help in the development of this team.

Time capsule

Let’s take a look back at what I said about the Saigon Heat at the start of the season:

Scoring won’t be a problem this year.

And it wasn’t a problem. But it didn’t make life as easy as you have expected it to.

But after that fifth player, the talent level might take a sheer drop.

Well, the talent drop sort of started with the forth player (Stefan) already, but it wasn’t as sheer of a drop I had thought. It was more of a nice smooth decline down a hill.

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 Garbelotto to deal with.

Hanh Minh Trieu made life a lot more easier for Garbelotto early in the season when Stefan was injured.

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.

Well, look here. The Heat ended up with a 9-win season so I guess I nailed this one.

Read all of the other Season Report Cards here:
Pilipinas MX3 Kings
Mono Vampires
Hitech Bangkok City
Singapore Slingers
Westports Malaysia Dragons

You can follow Tones & Definition at the following media outlets as well:
Twitter: @tonesndef
Line: @tonesndef (the “@” is a part of the ID)



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