All Roads Lead to Manila – The TOP FIVE FIBA Asia Centers Outside of the Philippines

Okay, with Gilas Pilipinas's dominant run in the 2013 Super Kung Sheung Cup and the impending Manila hosting of the 2013 FIBA Asia Men's Championships, every Pinoy who's even remotely hooked on basketball is suddenly overwhelmed with anticipation.

To add even more excitement, not to mention a renewed sense of patriotic unity, the PBA, after its recent history of being a little stingy with regard to lending players to the national cause, has signified its full and absolute cooperation, even going as far as altering its calendar.

Needless to say, all Pinoys seem to be onboard, ready, and willing to do all it takes in helping the Gilas Pilipinas squad do well and accomplish its FIBA World Cup qualification mission in August this year.

The first concrete step, of course, is to form a national pool of players from which coach Chot Reyes can pick his poison for the final FIBA Asia-bound roster. There are many good players he can choose, of course, whether they come from the amateur or pro ranks. For the first time ever, too, we have probably the biggest crop of TALL players who can complement our awesome naturalized big man, Marcus Douthit. Prospects really do seem bright for Philippine basketball, but, wait, let's not get ahead of ourselves (as we are wont to do).

Before we can even pick the members of the national pool, we must first consider, or offer to consider, the kind of opposition we will face in the FIBA Asia joust. Yes, yes, we all know the general archetypes of international basketball -- big men can shoot the three, teams tend to play zone defense, guards are as tall as our local forwards, yada, yada, yada.

What I want to look at, however, are the specific players Gilas Pilipinas will have to deal with. It's one thing to simply say our foes will be taller and stronger, and it's a completely different thing to know their specific strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. This is where this post comes in.

We'll look at the TOP FIVE FIBA Asia players per position, and then make some recommendations for which locals could be viable match-ups against these marquee Asian cagers.

We'll see more of this Iranian giant come August!
Bring it on, Hamed!
(image from

In Part 1, we will look at the Top FIVE FIBA Asia Centers:
-       Please take note that several of these guys didn’t play in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championships, so their names might not really be familiar.
-       Also, I don’t want to approach this series of posts with a bloated sense of confidence in our own local players, so please forgive me if I build up our foreign foes a little too much.

The BIG GUYS we should be worried about!
(composite image by Enzo Flojo/Hoop Nut)
Hamed Haddadi – Iran, 28 years old, 7’2”
Current club & stats: Memphis Grizzlies (NBA); 1.2ppg, 1.8rpg
FIBA 2011 Championship stats: 15.4ppg, 11.4rpg, 3.6apg, 2.9bpg, 68.5 FG%
Strengths: Haddadi possesses a versatile low post game, has intimidating around the basket defense, is a constant double-double threat, and passes really well off the low block.
Weaknesses: He is turnover-prone (3.2topg in 2011) and is not exactly the finest free throw shooter (68.5 FT% in 2011). Haddadi has a tendency to dominate the ball, which at times slows down the offensive flow of Iran. This was a big factor in Gilas beating them once in the 2011 Jones Cup and in their loss to Jordan in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championships quarterfinals.

Julian Khazzouh – Lebanon, 27 years old, 6’10”
Current club & stats: Sagesse (FLB); 11.3ppg, 8.3rpg, 2.0bpg, 50.0 FG%
2011-2012 Syndey Kings (NBL) stats: 16.4ppg, 10.8rpg, 2.1bpg,
Strengths: Khazzouh reportedly plays a lot like compatriot Andrew Bogut, which means he is strong down low and has good footwork. He is also a consistent double-double threat and has great around the basket defense.
Weaknesses: Khazzouh’s main bad habit is he likes taking plenty of outside shots, but he doesn’t make a lot of them (he attempted nearly 3 treys per game this season, but connected on just 18%). He also pretty much sucks from the stripe, making just 58% of his charities for Sagesse so far. Another waterloo for him is he is quite foul-prone – norming about 3 fouls per game in the FLB.
Note: Khazzouh has yet to play a minute of FIBA Asia ball and, for all intents and purposes, FIBA might not even recognize him as eligible because he already donned the Australian NT’s jersey in a couple of exhibition games in 2012. Nonetheless, we must assume the worst, and the worst-case scenario is FIBA allows him to play as a local for Lebanon.

Yi Jianlian – China, 26 years old, 7’0”
Current club & stats: Guangdong Southern Tigers (CBA); 26.7ppg, 10.3rpg, 1.9bpg, 1.3spg, 60.8 FG%, 45.5 3pt%
2012 Olympic Games stats: 14.8ppg, 10.2rpg, 2.2bpg
Strengths: Yi is perhaps the most complete big man in Asia. He has a versatile post game and is dangerous from practically anywhere on the floor. He is also an intimidating defensive presence and runs the floor really well. He can really dominate a game in so many ways.
Weaknesses: Yi’s primary weakness really shows when he is aggressively double-teamed because he has trouble passing out of the post. Yi has the same effect on China that Haddadi has on Iran – if Yi gets the ball down low, his teammates often resort to just watching him.

Lee Seung-Jun (a.k.a. Eric Sandrin) – South Korea, 35 years old, 6’9”
Current club & stats: Dongbu Promy (KBL); 14.6ppg, 6.6rpg, 2.2apg, 57.6 FG%
2012 Olympic Qualifiers stats: 18.0ppg, 4.5rpg, 1.5spg, 1.0bpg
Strengths: Lee is perhaps the best center in Korea. He is better than Kim Joo-Sung and Ha Seung-Jin, and the only thing that prevented him from playing in the 2011 FIBA Asia tourney is that he was counted as a naturalized player (Korea already had Moon Tae-Jong, a.k.a. Jarod Stevenson, in 2011). Despite his age, Lee is super athletic and runs the floor really well. His main job is to score inside, and he does it pretty well. Think of him as a quicker, bigger, and hungrier Sonny Thoss.
Weaknesses: Lee tends to dominate possessions, and he takes a lion’s share of the field goal attempts, with varying success rates. He has a high FG% in the KBL, but he shot below 40% in the 2012 Olympic Qualifiers. He is also very foul-prone, norming upwards of 3 fouls per game in both the KBL and FIBA tourneys. Lee, like most Korean cagers, likes to shoot from long range, though his percentage leaves a lot to be desired (under 29% from beyond the arc – at about 2 attempts per game – in the 2011-2012 KBL season).

JR Sakuragi (a.k.a. JR Henderson) – Japan, 37 years old, 6’9”
Current club & stats: Aisin Seahorses (JBL); 16.8ppg, 12.3rpg, 4.1apg, 1.1spg, 53.5 FG%
2012 FIBA Asia Cup stats: 12.6ppg, 8.0rpg, 3.6apg
Strengths: Sakuragi’s main job in his return to the Japanese NT is to provide additional muscle underneath in support of the Takeuchi twins. In this regard, he’s a perfect fit. As long as his job is NOT to carry the team, then he should be great. He shoots well from within 15 feet of the basket and cleans the glass better than most. He has great court vision and doesn’t really look for his own shot. He is also a pretty decent shot from the line – he shot between 71-74% from the stripe in the entire 2012 basketball season (FIBA Asia & JBL).
Weaknesses: The main weakness of Sakuragi is that he’s quite turnover-prone. He turned the ball over a little under 4 times a game in the 2012 FIBA Asia Cup, and this is something his opponents can exploit to the hilt. Despite his size, Sakuragi is also not the best interior defender around. He is no longer as agile as he once was, and he is not known for his shot-blocking capability.

JR Sakuragi should be a force to reckon with in
the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships.
(image from the AP/Kyodo News)

Unsolicited Recommendation:
With the exception of Sakuragi, it seems like all of the players mentioned above are capable scorers and playmakers from the low post. All of them are generally athletic relative to their size, and have the potential to really leave a big impact on any given game. Having expressed that, however, I can say with full confidence that our very own top big man, naturalized center Marcus Douthit, can maybe be placed just a notch below Yi and Haddadi in this group. The jury is still out on Khazzouh, but Douthit’s experience with the international game should give him a slight edge in case they butt heads in the MOA Arena in August.

My main concern is with whoever is going to be named as Douthit’s back-ups. I would opt for guys who possess a good balance of size and mobility. These back-ups don’t necessarily have to be offensively potent, but they should have high basketball IQ and have a great nose for the basketball. Also, they shouldn’t be afraid to rough it up when push comes to shove.

In this regard, the five guys whom I think can best serve as Douthit’s back-ups are (arranged from highest-priority to lowest-priority):
Asi Taulava (please come back; you can still hack it and the younger bigs can learn a lot from you, big fella!)
Greg Slaughter (his international exposure is BIG)
June Mar Fajardo (great footwork on this kid)
Sonny Thoss (if he were about 2 inches taller…)
Yancy De Ocampo (if only he’s ALWAYS at his best…)

In PART TWO, we shall take a look at the TOP FIVE FIBA Asia Power Forwards.
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7 Comment

very informative post Enzo!!!


wow! gusto ko din gumawa ng ganitong blog kaso time consuming haha..very good!


Great post Enzo although I disagree on 2 points (1 strongly :)).

i) What I saw on JR Sakuragi in Tokyo is very a skilled big man so you may have even underrated him. Main weakness I see for him is his age as he cannot really play 40 minutes or close to it.

ii) Much respect to Asi and for all that he's done (anyone still questioning his Filipino heart?) but I think the wheels have come off Asi. It is hard to watch him miss so many point blank shot this days. This days you can see him faking off so many times before shooting (and missing) even underneath the basket while being covered by smaller men (e.g. Jai Reyes in his last game against Saigon Heat).


On Sakuragi: Agree on him being really skilled and being really old!!!

On Asi: If I'd pick him because of his D, his rebounding, and his experience. He would do wonders as a mentor. Offensive liability, though.


take it from the Big Man..Asi...