ASEAN Basketball League Round Up: THE RETURN

Wow. I didn’t realize I was gone for this long.

I know I’ve been away for quite a while, but then again I also know that not many people care so…

While I’ve been busy prioritising other stuff in my life, I’ve never stopped following ASEAN Basketball. Now that everything is finally starting to settle down, I’ve decided to come back to my roots and write about stuff no one cares about again.

I’ve missed this.


I’ll be focusing on the ASEAN Basketball League for most of the part, so let’s start there.

Here’s a quick recap:

The Singapore Slingers, Hong Kong Eastern Long Lion, and Alab Pilipinas have established themselves as the top dogs in this league, firmly sitting above .500 while the Kaohsiung Truth, Saigon Heat, and Westports Malaysia Dragons are still trying to figure themselves out and taking turns sitting in the 4th place spot.

I’ll be doing quickfire reviews of ABL games each week and follow that up with a quickfire preview of the games in the upcoming week.

Sound fun?
No?
I don’t care. Sounds fun to me. Let’s start.


RECAPS


ABL Game 24: Westports Malaysia Dragons vs Kaohsiung Truth

Venue: House of Champions, Cyberjaya, Malaysia

Result: 97-79, Kaohsiung Truth

HOUSE OF CHAMPIONS

The ironic twist about this season for the Westports Malaysia Dragons is that now that they finally are the defending ABL champions and they’ve been forced to play in a venue that is perfectly named “House of Champions”… they just aren’t playing like champions.

But hey, we expected this didn’t we? System change, coaching changes, massive rotation changes. Few people expected the Dragons to come out of the gates as a surefire contender.

Still, I don’t think the fans expected this season to look like this either and this loss to Kaohsiung seemed like a breaking point.

The Dragons had two feel-good games earlier in the season against the Saigon Heat (which are looking like so-so wins so far with the state that the Heat are in), but this game just seemed to push everyone to their breaking point. The body language that the players expressed through the last three quarters showed that their communication wasn’t getting through to each other: names were called out after defensive lapses, heads hung low, and eyes rolled.

The Dragons aren’t a bad defensive team, especially with Skylar Spencer anchoring the paint. However in this one game, they made the Kaohsiung Truth look like the Golden State Warriors.

IS THIS THE TRUTH?

Here’s a question that all of the other ABL teams have to ask after watching this game: Is this the real Kaohsiung Truth?

Think about that for a second. What if this is the true potential of the Truth? Every player had been flashing what they are capable of, but they’ve never done it all together in one game.

This picture is obviously missing Hsu, but whatever
This picture is obviously missing Hsu, but whatever

With Oliver as a point forward, Hall as a passing stretch 5, and Hsu shooting the lights out, that creates a crazy amount of space left for everyone else to roam. Jose can rumble like a bowling ball in the paint as he is used to while Hall/Oliver draws the big men away. It’s an ideal situation and might be a bit of an overreaction after one game, but forgive me if I can’t help being excited about how much better the Truth could be if they figure this out somehow.

ODD MAN OUT

Where does Achie Iñigo fit in all of this?

Iñigo was injured for this game, so Oliver had to back up at pushing the ball up (since Jun Quon Lou was still a bit shaky). And it worked out pretty well. Maybe it’s just because of the Dragons defense that day, but let’s imagine that this is the ideal formation the Truth want to play. Where does Iñigo fit?

Do they still use him as their lead guard? Do they put him as a shooting guard?

To be fair, Iñigo has been solid with a 4.0 Assist/Turnover Ratio but will the idea of using Chris Oliver as a Lebron-type Point Forward be too tantalising to shake things up?

If Iñigo heals in time for the 5-day, 3-game stretch coming up, we’ll get to know more about what the Truth looks like.

#TRUSTTHEPROCESS

That mantra can work as a double-edged sword. While it does make everyone a bit patient for success, it can also make you more tolerable to mistakes and overlook some obvious flaws.

The Dragons made a bold statement early in the season to use only one Heritage Import (Freddie Goldstein) in an attempt to boost the level of play of their locals by having no other choice than to give them playing time. This is what some ABL fans call the “Singapore Slingers” model, referring to how the Slingers have used one less Heritage import than the quota.

However, the Slingers were eased into this. When the Heritage Import quota was at 3, the Slinger’s mainly used 2. This meant that they were throwing only one local player in for most of the time (usually Oh or Wei Long, I assume). By the time Oh/Wei Long were used to playing big minutes, the League lowered the Heritage Import quota to 2.

The difference between how the Slingers built up their system and how the Dragons are trying to replicate it is that, now that the Dragons are using only one Heritage import, it means that they are throwing in two local players who aren’t exactly used to playing big roles at the same time.

Shee Fai should be ready a solid role having averaged 20 minutes for the past two seasons, but after him, the Dragons are still a bit “new”. Teo Kok Hou, as awesome as he has been, and has been averaging almost 20 minutes in his rookie season. Ma Chee Khuen has seen his minutes double this year.

It could prove to be worth it once those two blossom. But it could also backfire if they are unable to handle to sudden drastic change.

I’m all for #TrustingTheProcess and the development of local talent, but maybe the transition could have been a bit smoother had they gotten another veteran Heritage import that didn’t demand a lot of minutes to help ease the young guns into their expanding roles.

Records will be broken

I know it’s a bold statement, but one of these days Wesley Hsu is going to go ballistic and make 12 threes in a game. He already broke the record for three-point shots by a local player with 7 in this game.

Mark my words. It will happen. He made 7 threes in 27 minutes. The math figures itself out.

By the way, can some one finally enlighten me if “Hsu” is pronounced “Shi” or “Shoo” or “Soo” or “hshshshshshsououo”. I’m about to give up with name pronunciation at this point of my life after meeting this guy.


ABL Game 25: Alab Pilipinas vs Saigon Heat

Venue: Olivares College Gym, Parañaque City, Philippines

Result: 99-77, Saigon Heat

sorry, wesley hsu

Wesley Hsu’s record lasted for roughly 48 hours before Ray Park Jr. decided leap over him and make 8 three-point shots in one game right before Hsu’s birthday. Poor guy.

Parañaque Magic

I wouldn’t be surprised if Alab made the playoffs and decided to use Olivares College Gym as their home court. The last time they played here, Parks went off for 41 points. Parks threatened to go after that record when he scored 19 in the first quarter, but cooled down and settled for 35 at the end of the game.

Sadly, this was the last game scheduled at Olivares this season for Alab.

Motherland

If Joshua Munzon can forget the fact that his team lost by 22 points, he might be able to look back at this game and remember it as a nice debut on his motherland.

Munzon is a Filipino-American and this was the very first time that he got to play in front of Filipino fans. He didn’t disappoint them, getting on the scoreboard in a hurry with his now patented steal-and-breakaway-slam-which-every-internet-troll-will-later-call-a-travel.

Munzon was one of the only bright spots in that night for the Heat going for 20 points, 6 assists, and 4 steals.

Dude has come a long way from the start of the season as a guy I joked “couldn’t make a lay up so he should dunk it every time”. He’s now established himself as one of the best things the Saigon Heat have going for them right now.

Unfortunately, that is a very, very, very, very, short list.

perfect situation

This is the as good of a scenario for Lawrence Domingo as any he could have found in the ABL.

Had he been placed on another team (maybe aside from the Long Lions), there would have been pressure for him to produce immediately and in bunches.

But here, he’s able to find his groove and do what he does best (which is dirty work) while Bobby Ray Parks Jr. soaks in the offensive attention. Fans have been more patient with Domingo, a large part because Parks has just been so spectacular.

It takes time to adapt to the ABL and some players need to find the right system to be in. Luckily, I feel like Domingo struck gold on his first try.

Mayday, Mayday

When can we say confidently that we are concerned about the Saigon Heat?

From the start of the season up until this game, it’s been about how they didn’t have a healthy Chris Charles and how they didn’t have another local player to relieve their starters.

Against Alab, they had a healthy enough Chris Charles and a decent back up in Nguyen Phuc Tam… and they were still blown out of the water.

Okay, so maybe Chris Charles isn’t in 100% ABL World Import MVP form yet and maybe Nguyen Phuc Tam is only one guy. However, we are already 7 games into the season and things still don’t look good.

When do the Saigon Heat convince themselves that they might have a problem that can’t be fixed by only playing the waiting game?

RED ALERT

One of the biggest concerns for the Saigon Heat is face of the franchise, David Arnold. I wrote about the alarming signs of a David Arnold regression earlier this month and after 4 more games… it’s still concerning.

Arnold's the one in the background jfyi...
Arnold’s the one in the background jfyi…

Arnold is shooting barely 15% from three-point range and averaging the fewest amount of shots in his third ABL season. This is not exactly the progress you want from a guy who is supposed to be the superstar of the franchise.

Yes, Chris Charles has been injured. Yes, the Heat have been unsuccessful signing local players. Those are all legitimate hurdles to the Heat’s season. But right now, none of those issues are as concerning as to what is going on with David Arnold and how to get him out of his funk.


PREVIEWS


We’re going to have a longgggg week in Kaohsiung.

gameday-week10-twitter

There will be three straight games in Kaohsiung, Taiwan this week on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th or February against the Saigon Heat, the Singapore Slingers, and the Westports Malaysia Dragons, respectively. Two other games will be played on the 5th as well with the Slinger hosting the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions and Alab Pilipinas hosting the Saigon Heat in Davao.


GAME 26: Kaohsiung Truth vs Saigon Heat

Date: February 1, 2017
Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Kaohsiung Municipal Senior High School, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

The Kaohsiung Truth haven’t exactly been quiet about the possibility of signing Wang Kai Shin (王信凱) so we shouldn’t really be surprised if it eventually happens in this game. There hasn’t been an official statement from the league in regards to the signing however.

The race to 4th place is wide open so a battle between the bottom half teams (Dragons, Heat, Truth) means a lot to the team’s playoff hopes. A signing of a player with Kai Shin’s pedigree would certainly boost the Truth’s chances at a win.

Kaohsiung surely wants to gain even more momentum from their win last week. By downing the Saigon Heat, they will be in good shape to give the Singapore Slingers a fight. No word on if Achie Iñigo is fit for a return yet, but if Hsu/Oliver/Jose/Hall are all in peak form like they were against the Dragons, it might not matter.

Things don’t look as bright for the visiting side Saigon Heat, even if they are going to go up against the only team they’ve beaten so far this season. That win was a result from a crazy game from Joshua Munzon, a solid game from David Arnold, and a non-existent Wesley Hsu. Even though there’s a good chance that Hsu fires blanks in this game, Arnold’s form has been sputtering between warm and ice-cold, and it might be too much to ask from Munzon to shoot the lights out like that again.

The Heat are going to need Chris Charles back in MVP form and they’ll need Nguyen Phuc Tam (Horace) and Nguyen Tuan Tu (Stefan) to really step their games up.

The biggest twist heading into this game is that the Heat are rumoured to be in the process of a blockbuster move… and while there has been no social media trace of said rumoured move, the rumblings have been very convincing.

Kaohsiung are playing at home and coming off a morale-boosting win. Saigon are reeling off a demoralizing blowout and will be playing for their first time in this venue. The signs are not looking so good and it could be a 5 point difference for the Truth.


GAME 27: KAOHSIUNG TRUTH VS Singapore Slingers

Date: February 3, 2017
Time: 3:00 PM

Venue: Kaohsiung Municipal Senior High School, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

This is obviously going to be a hard game to read since the Truth have been one of the most unpredictable teams in the league so far, so let’s focus on the Slingers.

The Slingers will be coming off a lengthy 2 week mid-season break after their January 15th win over the Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions. They’ve had time to review the first half of their season and look at what improvements they can and should make. And surely enough, they made at least one!

While nothing has been officially released by the Singapore Slingers or the ASEAN basketball League themselves, the player they are rumoured to be signing hasn’t been as shy.

Rolando Gardner has been quite active on his twitter (@theOfficialRO) from pinning a picture of the ABL and Singapore Slingers logo to posting a video of his Slingers’ gear to tweeting that his first game will be in Taiwan on February the third. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the 5’9″ Filipino-American from Oklahoma will be a heritage import for the Singapore Slingers. There have been no official releases about whether Alli Austria is released from the team or not (and there is no necessity to do so, with one Heritage Import slot still vacant), but Austria seems to have been spending the past few weeks in Manila.

I obviously have never watched any games Gardner has played in, so it’s hard to gauge what sort of impact he might make. On paper, it seems like an odd fit though.

The Slingers had been missing a floor-spacing shooter to give Justin Howard/Xavier Alexander more room since Wu Qingde has been injured and while Gardner isn’t a turrible shooter (28.5 3P%, 76.5 FT%) it doesn’t seem like it’s his calling card.

Whatever the case, Gardner will add another body for Coach Neo Beng Siang to use in his perimeter rotation… which doesn’t sound good for the Kaohsiung Truth. Wu Qingde was also scheduled to return to action “at the end of January”, so it might very well be that the Kaohsiung Truth will be the first team to play against the Singapore Slingers with their ideal line up.

It’s hard to imagine how the Truth will counter Alexander/Howard and the pesky Slinger’s backcourt will slow down the Truth just enough. At this point, the Slingers should be too good and good enough for a 12 point win.


GAME 28: KAOHSIUNG TRUTH VS westports Malaysia Dragons

Date: February 5, 2017
Time: 3:00 PM

Venue: Kaohsiung Municipal Senior High School, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

In the first game of this ABL season’s first triple header, the Kaohsiung Truth caps off their 3 home game stand against the Dragons.

The last time these two played… well, you can read what happened in the section above. Not much will have changed (except for the potential signing of Wang Kai Shin), but it will be interesting to see how fatigue will factor into this game.

This will be the Truth’s third game in 5 days and they will be coming off a game against the gritty Singapore Slingers. The Truth have never really gone that deep in their rotation, somewhere around 7 players deep and with Iñigo’s uncertain status, it does raise some concern as to how the team’s key players conditioning will be to end the week.

The Dragons will certainly be hoping that the Chinese New Year break will bring some life back into their players. It would be best for the team to be selective about what they take from the last game. Yi Hou quietly scored a career-high 17 points and the Dragons might have found their pitbull defensive player in Chun Hong Ting. Those are the positives to build up on for the Dragons… but will it be enough to overcome the negative flashes we saw in their recent game?

This one is up in the air for me, since it’s hard to tell what state the Kaohsiung Truth will be in come gameday. However, the Truth seem to feed off well from their home crowd and I think that could be the factor that pushes them over to a 3 point win.


GAME 29: Singapore Slingers VS Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions

Date: February 5, 2017
Time: 4:00 PM

Venue: OCBC Arena, Singapore

One of the most exciting (regular-season) series in the ABL is going to wrap up in this game. It started with an overtime win at home for Hong Kong, followed by two straight dogfight victories for Singapore.

This will be the final time the two teams meet unless/until they match up in the playoffs.

A big part of how the Slingers have been playing so well against the Long Lions is because of how big Justin Howard is. Patrick Sullivan shoots only 36.6% against the Slingers, a steep drop from his 44.1% season average clip. Marcus Elliott normally scores at 55.2% from inside the arc, but only converts 37.8% against the Slingers.

Howard’s presence works on the offensive side as well. He draws so much attention down low, that it’s opened up room for everyone else. Kwek, Wei Long, Han Bin, and Oh have all been shooting better from three-point range against the Long Lions than their season averages.

It’ll be up to Coach Edu Torres to how he works his away around this disadvantage and if he’s aiming large this season, it would be best to figure it out in this game.

Having said that though, I still can’t picture how the Long Lions can counter Howard with what I’ve seen so far. Slingers at home should be able to beat the Long Lions by 7.


GAME 30: ALAB PILIPINAS VS SAIGON HEAT

Date: February 5, 2017
Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Almendras Gym, Davao City, Philippines

Okay, okay. I know that the last time these two teams played it was a 22-point blowout (again, read above Recap section).

A more healthy Chris Charles could certainly spice up the match up, but if only ever so slightly. The Alab guards can hound Stefan/Horace Nguyen and the Heat are almost always going to be in a mismatch going up against Carter/Domingo.

However! There have been rumours of a MEGA blockbuster set of moves in place which could very well change the script of this game, turning it from mildly interesting to OHMYGODTHISISACANTMISS.

I mean, nothing is official and at this point, everything is still just rumours in the wind… but if everything does work out the way it’s been said: DON’T MISS THIS GAME.

But, if everything stays as it is now, I can’t really see the Saigon Heat digging themselves out of a 13 point hole in Davao City.


That was fun. We should do this more often.

4 thoughts on “ASEAN Basketball League Round Up: THE RETURN

  1. Hey TK,

    I read your latest ABL article. Glad to see you back at it.

    It’s kinda too bad about the Saigon Heat so far. I’ve heard that a few good Vietnamese players aren’t playing in either the ABL or the TBSL right now for some reason. Anyways, I’d like to see the Heat do better, and Chris Charles get healthy.

    Good seeing you again in Bangkok at the Mono gym. It’s been a minute. I hope we get to talk bball again soon.

    Keep writing!

    Lee Tao Dana

    1. Nice to hear from you again! I kind of missed you last Sunday, but hopefully will get the chance to sit down and talk next time. Good to see that you’re back in the scene again as well.

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