With the ABL season fast approaching, it is time to take a look at each team’s biggest question. Try as we may, no definite conclusions can be given as these questions can only be fully answered as the season progresses. Let’s get to it!
Can they find the same success under new leadership?
The Formosa Dreamers ended the 2018-2019 regular season as the #1 seed in the playoffs with a 19-7 record. The result was a far cry from the team’s abysmal inaugural 2017-2018 season wherein the Taiwan-based club only managed to grab a single win. Last season’s head coach Dean Murray was voted Coach of the Year due to the Dreamers’ surprising performance throughout the season. Under Murray’s direction, the team displayed an unselfish style of basketball led by Will Artino, Malcolm Miller, and Tevin Glass. The Dreamers averaged 21.5 assists per game, enough to place third in the league in that category.
Heading into the new season, however, the Dreamers are somewhat starting anew with former Saigon Heat head coach Kyle Julius taking on the reins. To add to the changes, none of last season’s three imports will be returning to the team this season.
Julius was the architect of the Saigon Heat’s first winning season as well as their first playoff victory last season. Much like his predecessor, the Canadian also boasts a Coach of the Year award, which he won during his stint in the National Basketball League of Canada in 2017.
As for their imports, the Dreamers signed former Singapore Slinger Jerran Young to be their centerpiece. Young’s effectiveness on both sides of the court helped lead the Slingers to a Finals berth last year. Young will definitely bring experience and leadership to boost the Dreamers’ campaign this year.
Getting to the top of the mountain will be a tough task for the Dreamers, especially with all the other teams stacking up their respective rosters. But with a proven coach like Kyle Julius and a player of Jerran Young’s caliber, no one should count them out yet.
TAIPEI FUBON BRAVES
Can their domestic success translate to the ABL?
The Taipei Fubon Braves will be entering their first season in the ASEAN Basketball League as champions. The Braves reached the peak of Taiwan’s Super Basketball League as they finished at the top of the regular season standings before eventually sweeping their Finals match-up to win the title. They also competed in last month’s FIBA Asia Champions Cup, where they amassed a 1-2 record in the group phase.
On paper, the Braves is seemingly one of the top contenders this upcoming season due to their success in Taiwan’s domestic league. However, it remains to be seen if that success will translate to the ABL. During the Season Launch, Braves coach Roger Hsu admitted that joining the ABL will be quite the adjustment for them.
Over the offseason, the Braves made significant acquisitions to bolster their lineup. National team veterans Lin Chih-Chieh and Tseng Wen-Ting will be returning to Taiwan after playing several seasons in the CBA. Dynamic scorer and former NBA player OJ Mayo is also set to join the Braves for the upcoming season.
Again, this team seems to be primed to make a run in the ABL. But only time will tell how their domestic success will translate into the regional league.
HONG KONG EASTERN
Is going younger the right decision?
Last season, Hong Kong Eastern fielded Marcus Elliott, O’Darien Bassett, and Sam Deguara as their imports. The three players had an average age of 31 years old, with Bassett and Elliott being 32 and 34 respectively at the time.
Hong Kong Eastern finished with an even 13-13 record, good enough for the 7th seed — the team’s worst finish in the ABL. However, Eastern would upset the second-seeded San Miguel Alab Pilipinas in the quarterfinals by sweeping the series 2-0. Even with this feat, management decided to start afresh.
The process began with the exit of 2017 Coach of the Year Edu Torres followed by Marcus Elliott’s decision to join the Slingers. Their ‘rebuild’ was in full swing when the signings of their new imports Trey Kell and TJ Price were announced. Kell and Price are 23 and 26 years-old respectively. Last season’s midseason import replacement Michael Holyfield will be retained as the team’s third import.
Former NBA G-League coach Jordan Brady will now be the one calling the shots for the Hong Kong Eastern. By going younger, the team hopes that it will be enough to revitalize the franchise for a championship run this season.
MACAU BLACK BEARS
How will Mikh McKinney carry the load without Anthony Tucker?
In the franchise’s short history, they have already gone by two names: Chong Son Kung Fu and the current Macau Black Bears. The only constant during that time were the names Anthony Tucker and Mikh McKinney, although McKinney joined the team during the middle of the 2017-2018 season.
The duo was formidable at the offensive end as they helped the team lead the league in points per game for both seasons. In their first year, the franchise claimed the first seed and was in the running for a top-4 seed last season before Tucker was lost to injury.
This season, Tucker decided to move to Thailand and join Mono Vampire — effectively ending his run with Mikh McKinney and the Black Bears. Despite Tucker leaving, McKinney decided to stay and lead the team in their quest for the title.
When Tucker had to be sidelined due to his foot injury, McKinney had no problem carrying the offensive load as he went on a scoring tear. The Filipino-American guard averaged 36 points per game in their last four regular season games, including a 50-point outburst against San Miguel Alab Pilipinas.
The Macau Black Bears have also provided McKinney help for this upcoming season with the signings of Kenny Manigault and Brandon Edwards. It will be interesting to see where the Black Bears land in the standings this upcoming season.
MACAU WOLF WARRIORS
Are the additions of veterans Douglas Herring and Steven Thomas enough to lift the Wolf Warriors from the bottom?
The Macau Wolf Warriors had a rude welcome into the ABL last season, to say the. Least. In their debut season, the Wolf Warriors finished the season with a meager 2 wins to finish dead last in the standings. Throughout the season, the team tried to find the right fit as they went through a total of 9 imports — ending with Mike Bell, Cory Bradford, and Shawntez Patterson.
Not only did they have multiple changes to their imports but to their locals as well. Wu You, more commonly known as MoreFree, only played 6 games with the team while Jenning Leung played 16 games for the Wolf Warriors before transferring to the Macau Black Bears.
To bring stability to the team, the Wolf Warriors have decided to sign ABL veterans Steven Thomas and Douglas Herring. Both imports have championship experience in the league and will most likely play a leadership and mentorship role to the team. Joining the veteran imports are Julian Boyd and local big man standout Cai Chen.
Will Herring and Thomas be the answer for the Wolf Warriors to climb the ladder during the 2019-2020 season?
Is it Finals or Bust for Mono Vampire?
After a slow start last season, Mono Vampire made a huge run to crash the ABL playoffs. The midseason additions of Tyler Lamb, Freddie Lish, Romeo Travis, and Malcolm White transformed the team to a contender — evidenced by their surprising quarterfinals sweep of the top-seeded Formosa Dreamers.
Heading into the new season, Mono Vampire has learned from their past mistakes and is coming out with guns blazing to start their new campaign. Tyler Lamb, Freddie Lish, Moses Morgan, and resident import Mike Singletary are all coming back to make another run. The team has also added former Import MVP and Black Bears standout Anthony Tucker and the last season’s rebounding leader Ryan Watkins to their ranks. With all that firepower being supported by solid locals like Chitchai Ananti and Teerawat Chanthachon, there is only one way to describe this team: STACKED.
Even with Anthony Tucker being sidelined yet again with another foot injury, Mono Vampire is still poised to have a stellar start to the season. With all that potential, it begs the question: is anything less than a Finals berth a failure for this year’s squad?
Will trusting their local guards pay off for the Saigon Heat?
If you look at each team’s recent signings, you will notice that they have all signed an import to fill up at least one of their guard positions — except for Saigon Heat. Heat imports Chris Charles, Sam Thompson, and Gary Forbes all naturally play in the frontcourt. This makes it interesting for the Heat as they have chosen to place their faith in their local guards.
This decision may be heavily influenced by the fact that the Saigon Heat indeed have multiple options for the 1 and the 2. Khoa Tran, aka Mr. Wiggle, is the first name that comes to mind. The 6-foot guard started in 18 out of his 24 appearances last season while averaging 7.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.9 assists.
The Dinh Brothers are also alternatives for the Heat’s backcourt. Sang Dinh, who was with the team last season, played 16 games before falling victim to injury. In those 16 games, he started in 7. Meanwhile, Tam, the older Dinh brother, is a new signing for the Vietnamese squad. Tam was hailed as VBA’s Most Valuable Player after averaging 24.5 points per game. He will most definitely be a strong candidate for one of those starting guard positions and is poised to be one of the top locals this ABL season.
In conclusion, the Heat will have a lot of options to fill their guard rotation. The question is: will it pay off for the team in a league filled with foreign guards?
SAN MIGUEL ALAB PILIPINAS
Will team chemistry be a concern for the revamped San Miguel Alab Pilipinas?
In their three years of existence, San Miguel Alab Pilipinas has never had a regular season finish below third place. Alab has proven to be a perennial contender in the ASEAN Basketball League. However, even the most talented teams may run into problems with cultivating chemistry.
Out of last season’s roster, only Renaldo Balkman, Brandon Rosser, and Lawrence Domingo are expected to return. Even Bobby Ray Parks Jr., the 3x Local MVP, won’t be with the team this season.
San Miguel Alab Pilipinas led the league in assists last season with 25 per game under head coach Jimmy Alapag. They also tied the record for most assists in a game with 36 when they went up against the Macau Black Bears last January. To repeat the feat, Alab’s coaching staff must find a way to get the players to buy in to the system as well as ensure that the team gels well together.
Alab’s advantage is the presence of their veterans. Domingo has been with the team since its inauguration and it is safe to assume that Domingo will be a vocal leader for the team on and off the court.
The team also signed all-around player Jason Brickman, who is one of the league’s well-respected point guards. He has the experience of leading a team to a title — winning it all in 2016 with the Westports Malaysia Dragons. Brickman will surely be the team’s offensive anchor, someone who can orchestrate the team’s offensive sets in-game.
Only time will tell if Alab can quickly build the chemistry needed to win the championship.
Can Marcus Elliott and Xavier Alexander co-exist on the same team?
The Singapore Slingers made waves throughout the ABL as they announced the signing of Hong Kong Eastern standout Marcus Elliott. With Elliott, the Slingers now have two of the last three Import MVPs. Last year’s Import MVP Xavier Alexander has been with the Slingers for the last 4 seasons and have broken records left and right throughout his stay in the Lion City. Elliott, however, is not that far away in the rankings.
To put everything into perspective, Alexander is currently at the #1 spot on the All-Time Scoring List and #1 in Most Career Triple-Doubles, while Elliott is #3 and #2 in those lists respectively. During the 2018-2019 season, Alexander averaged 21.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 8.0 assists. On the other hand, Elliott had averages of 22.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 5.3 assists.
As it stands, the Singapore Slingers have arguably the best backcourt in the league. The doubts come in when one compares Alexander and Elliott’s styles of play. Both are unselfish players, but both of them are also used to be the primary option at the offensive end. Everything goes through them. Last season, Alexander led the Slingers in field goal attempts per game 16.9 while Elliott averaged 18.7 attempts.
Alexander and Elliott have the potential to be a deadly duo this season, they just have to work out the wrinkles.
WESTPORTS MALAYSIA DRAGONS
Can they end their playoff drought this season?
In 2016, the Westports Malaysia Dragons made history and won their first ABL title. However, in the three seasons that followed, the team has not had one winning season and has missed the playoffs all three times. Last season’s Dragons amassed a record of 8-18 for 9th place. They were last in points, assists, and field goal percentage per game while being 7th in rebounds.
The Dragons hope to return to the playoffs this season and reach their former glory. To help them accomplish their goal, the team has signed three new imports for the upcoming season. The most familiar name to ABL fans is Will Artino, who played for the Formosa Dreamers last season.
Artino averaged a double-double last season with 20.7 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field to help the Dreamers claim the first seed. The Dragons expect Artino to be their leader on both ends of the floor and to bring more success to their squad last season.
Joining Artino this season is American guard Amir Bell and sharpshooter Cade Davis. The Dragons will look to improve on all areas of the game in order to reach the playoffs this season.
Will the new additions be enough for the Dragons to crack the top 8?