Straits Cup Sweep Highlights Importance of Depth for Slingers

After the Singapore Slingers swept the Westports Malaysia Dragons in their Straits Cup series over the weekend, the Slingers have now won four games in a row and are a league-best 7-1 in the 2016-17 ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) season.

The Slingers first spoiled the Dragons’ home debut last Friday, winning 81-76, before repeating with a 78-77 double-overtime nail-biter at home on Sunday. The Slingers managed to escape trouble twice against the eager Dragons with World imports Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander again carrying a huge chunk of the load for them.

In the back-to-back wins, Howard averaged 24 points, 18.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. Alexander normed 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7 assists, and whopping 4 steals per contest. People know production is constantly expected from them, but while most of the Slingers’ success can be attributed to the stellar play of the tandem, the team’s locals have also contributed in significant ways to their early rampage in the season.

When it comes to offense, starters like Wong Wei Long and Leon Kwek only need a few shots to get hot. Particularly in their home leg of the series, Wong, Kwek, and Desmond Oh combined for 29 points. Wei Long scored 14 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and overtime periods to help the Slingers complete a sterling turnaround. Kwek himself scored 19 points last Friday.

“It (depth) is very important. One thing about our team is we all believe in each other. I got confidence in all my guys. We work hard everyday and everybody knows what their role is and what to do, that’s what makes us successful,” Howard said of the local support.

Apparently, the Slingers’ homecourt advantage also entails a different, more important meaning to it. When the Slingers play at home, they have more players suit up and available to check in.

Against the Dragons last Sunday, the Slingers had 14 players suited up, a stark contrast to when they are at the road.

“That’s a big part because normally we travel with just 10 players because the others have commitments and they cannot leave,” Singapore head coach Neo Beng Siang said.

As one of the most-used ABL players when it comes to minutes played, Howard sure wouldn’t mind going the full distance in most of his games, but at the same time, getting even just a minute or two of a break would also mean staying fresh towards the end of games.

“I have faith in my guys, they have faith in me. That’s why we’re a good team. We have been together for years now and I hope we continue to build,” Howard said.

“Last season, Alexander and I led the league in minutes played. I’m used to doing it but if I could get a break, that’s great.”

Guys like Delvin Goh, Larry Liew, and Russel Low are just some of the Slingers who suit up when the games are played at home, and that depth is vital for the crew. On Sunday, 11 players saw action for the Slingers. Howard was able to rest for five basketball minutes in the 50-minute affair, as the bench combined for a total of 47 minutes.

“When we get back (at home) we try to use our homecourt advantage and more players to play so the others can get more rest,” Beng Siang stressed.

At 7-1, the Slingers seem to have everything clicking. They have arguably the best World import combination right now, a solid supporting cast, and they are on pace to top the elimination round. If that happens, they can certainly get the most out of their homecourt advantage.

And the scary thought for the rest of the league? Their head coach believes his men haven’t even reached their ceiling yet.

“Definitely, we can still get better,” he said.

“If they (injured players) come back, they will be good fit for us. Delvin (Goh) gives us the size. Hopefully we can get one out of two (of them) for the weekend, I would be happy.”