The Inaugural Baller Awards: The Best FIBA Asia Small Forward, Power Forward, and Center of 2013

It was a banner year for FIBA Asia, but, in lieu of an Asian hoops year-ender, I felt it would be better to go position-by-position and look at the best FIBA Asia players of 2013. These are the guys who did really well in the Asian hoops circuit, in particular in the 2013 FIBA Asia Champions Cup, the 2013 Jones Cup, the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s Championships, and the subsequent qualifying tournaments. One thing I will also factor in is the players’ performances in their respective pro leagues. Were they able to lead their teams to the title in one, or some, or all of these tournaments? What kind of mark did they leave on FIBA Asia as a whole this year?

In this post, we will look at the top FIBA Asia frontcourts of the year and award Baller Awards to the Best FIBA Asia Small Forward, the Best FIBA Asia Power Forward, and the Best FIBA Asia Center of 2013.

Will Marcus Douthit be awarded as the Best FIBA Asia Center
of 2013?

The Small Forward Nominees:

Jarvis Hayes – Team Qatar
True to its reputation as FIBA Asia’s “mercenary” squad, Qatar employed the services of former NBA player Jarvis Hayes to bolster its chances of finishing in the top three of the FIBA Asia Men’s Championships. Hayes came in a little bit too late, though, and issues with chemistry were evident from the get-go. Still, he made a big difference for a Qatari team whose core is on the wrong side of 30 already. Main men Ali Turki Ali, Daoud Musa Daoud, Mohammed Yousef, and Yasseen Musa are all 31 or older, with Hayes not exactly a spring chicken himself. In six games, Hayes put up around 17 points and 6 rebounds while shooting 40% from beyond the arc. He made nearly 2 triples per game as Qatar finished in the top six. It is worth noting that Hayes doesn’t play for any team in Qatar’s top-division local league.

Samad Nikkhah Bahrami – Team Iran, Mahram Tehran (Iran Superleague), Foolad Mahan Esfahan (FIBA Asia Champions Cup), and Fujian Sturgeons (CBA)
Bahrami has been a fixture of the FIBA Asia circuit since playing for Iran’s senior team in 2003. He was just 20 back then, and, through the years, has evolved into one of the most dangerous all-around players the continent has ever seen. At the club level, Bahrami continued to be successful in 2013, leading Mahram to the Superleague Finals opposite Petrochimi. After that tournament, Foolad Mahan Esfahan employed his services for the FIBA Asia Champions Cup, where the Iranians swept the field and lifted the crown. Bahrami had even more success with the national team, which pocketed three international crowns this past year – the 2013 West Asia Basketball Association title, the 2013 Jones Cup, and the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s title. In all those tourneys, Bahrami was a vital cog for Team Melli, and he will be someone to watch out for in the FIBA World Cup in Spain. Currently, Bahrami has entered the CBA, where he plays as an Asian import for the Fujian Sturgeons. He is doing pretty well there, too, averaging about 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists as his team sits a ninth spot out of eighteen teams.

Cho Sung-Min – Team Korea and Busan KT Sonicboom (KBL)
Many Filipinos still remember how Cho annihilated Gilas Pilipinas in the 2011 FIBA Asia Men’s Championships third-place match in Wuhan, China. He scored a butt-load of points in the last five minutes of that match to overhaul Gilas’s lead and, once again, broke the hearts of Pinoys all over. This year, however, there was a reversal of fortunes as Gilas, on its way to a silver medal finish, defeated Korea in the semifinals. Cho was limited in that game, but he was pretty stellar for Korea’s other games in the competition. Overall, Cho averaged about 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 triples per game. He shot 46% from beyond the arc, 52% overall from the field, and 95% from the line. Currently, Cho continues to play for Busan KT Sonicboom in the KBL. His club is currently fourth in the ten-team standings. He also helped Korea finish third in the 2013 Jones Cup in Taiwan.

Cho Sung-Min had another strong tournament
for Korea in 2013.
(image from

Fong Shing Yee – Team Hong Kong and Winling Basketball Club
Who? Yes, Fong isn’t exactly a household name in FIBA Asia hoops, but that didn’t stop him from turning some heads in the FIBA Asia Men’s Championships. His impressive physique and grit made him a competitive swingman, even when ranged against the likes of Kosuke Kanamaru and Gabe Norwood. He actually reeled in two double-doubles in six games, with his most impressive outing being the one where HKG actually won! Fong scored 13 points, hauled down 12 rebounds, handed out 5 assists, and has 2 steals as the Hong Kongers beat Bahrain in the classification round. Fong no longer played in the battle for ninth place against Japan. He averaged about 8 points, 9 rebounds, an 2 assists with an overall player efficiency rating (EFF) of 27.31, which was good for 20th overall in the tournament.

Jimmy Baxter – Team Jordan
Baxter was the final replacement for Rasheim Wright, who served as Jordan’s naturalized player since 2007. Jordan was coming off a rousing silver medal finish in 2011, but Al Nashama’s campaign in Manila was far from sterling. Without many of their core stars (e.g. Zaid Abbas, Sam Daghlas, and Islam Abbas), the Jordanians struggled against the elite teams. Immediately, they lost two of their first three games and nearly missed the quarterfinals if not for a 65-56 win over Japan in the second round. Baxter showcased his scoring skills right off the bat for Jordan, lighting up the board for 30 points in their first game (against Taiwan). He wasn’t able to be consistent, though, and, coupled with the inconsistent production of his teammates, Jordan’s campaign was destined for nothing more than seventh place. The 6’4 veteran of the Euroleague averaged about a dozen points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists for Jordan. He shot 35% from long range, 48% overall from the field, and 90% from the line. Like Hayes, Baxter doesn’t play in any of the teams in Jordan’s Premier League.

And the BALLER goes to…

This one wasn’t even close. Bahrami remained to be just too good and too successful in 2013. Three titles for Iran and one for Foolad Mahan were awesome, and the fact he was signed by Fujian in the CBA was nothing short of being icing on the cake. Bahrami should have another great 2014, too, as he is bound to show his wares in the FIBA World Cup and the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.

Samad Nikkhah Bahrami is our
Best FIBA Asia Small Forward for 2013.

The Power Forward Nominees:

Yi Jianlian – Team China and Guangdong Southern Tigers (CBA)
Here’s a fact – when it comes to being a classic power forward who can dominate the interior, Yi Jianlian is still Asia’s gold standard. Yi, despite China coming up way short of its target to defend its 2011 FIBA Asia title,  still had a good 2013. Yi played just 5 games for China in Manila, averaging about 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists while shooting 56% from the field. That line is a bit of a dip from how he did in 2011 (he normed a double-double), but one has to understand that Yi was playing hurt in Manila. Eventually China went 6-3 for the tournament, which was its worst performance since the 2007 joust in Tokushima, Japan. China lost to Korea, Iran, and heated political rival, Taiwan. That last loss was described in local Chinese media as “the darkest day in Chinese basketball.” Yikes. Unlike many of his national teammates, though, Yi still brought home some hardware, albeit on the local front. He led the Guangdong Southern Tigers to their eighth CBA title (they've actually copped the crown 8 times since 2003). They swept the Shadong Flaming Bulls (featuring Jordan’s Zaid Abbas) in the titular series, 4-0.

Mikhail Yevstigneyev – Team Kazakhstan and BC Barsy Atyrau (Kazakhstan Basketball League)
The Manila tournament was Mikhail’s second foray in the FIBA Asia Men’s Championships, with his first being in 2007 when Kazakhstan finished fourth place right behind Iran, Lebanon, and Korea. As a guy in his early 20s back then, Yevstigneyev was already a vital part of the Kazakh team, averaging around 11 points and 5 rebounds while playing under 20 minutes per game. Fast forward to 2013 and Yevstigneyev remains one of the bulwarks of the Snow Leopards’ frontline. Despite having more ballyhooed teammates like Jerry Johnson and Anton Ponomarev, who underplayed severely, Yevstigneyev was the most dependable player on the Kazakh roster. He averaged around 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as Kazakhstan advanced to the quarterfinals and eventually finished eighth. Kazakhstan won its first three games and then lost the remaining six. Look for Yevstigneyev to continue being one of the Kazakhs to watch in the next cycle of the FIBA Asia Men’s Championships.

JR Sakuragi – Team Japan and Aisin Seahorses (NBL-Japan)
Sakuragi last played in the FIBA Asia Men’s Championships in 2007 when it was held in Tokushima, Japan. The Japs went 4-4 in that tournament, finishing eighth. He returned to national team duty in 2012, as Japan placed second in the FIBA Asia Cup, which was held in Tokyo. With Sakuragi motivated, Team Hayabusa marched to a 5-2 record, with wins over Qatar, Taiwan, and China. In 2013, Sakuragi came here to Manila in the hopes of leading a renaissance in Japanese hoops. Sadly, however, that didn’t happen as Japan failed to make even the quarterfinals. Sakuragi had an up-and-down tournament in Manila, although he did finish with four double-double games. His best game was a 19-point, 13-rebound effort against the hosts, but his team lost, 90-71. He didn’t score more than 10 points in a game after that defeat, and it was pretty apparent he wasn’t as motivated as before. Things were brighter on the local front for Sakuragi, with his Aisin Seahorses winning the 2013 JBL title (interestingly, this was the last JBL crown, since the league was rebranded into the National Basketball League of Japan for the 2013-2014 season). Sakuragi scored 16 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the decisive fifth game of the Finals, and he was named the MVP of the 2013 JBL Playoffs.

Mohammad Hadrab – Team Jordan and Applied Science University (Jordan Premier League & FIBA Asia Champions Cup)
The 6’8 Hadrab was the chief beneficiary of the absence of brothers Zaid and Islam Abbas from the Jordanian NT. With both big guys out, along with old-timers Zaid Al-Khas and Ayman Idais, Hadrab became Al Nashama’s top-scoring big man. Hadrab isn’t the prototypical 4, however, as he prefers operating from the wings and has a streaky shot from long range. This he displayed in Manila, where he connected on 35% of his three-ball attempts and made about 1 trey per game. His best game was a 21-point, 7-rebound effort against lowly Hong Kong, but he also impressed with 19 markers on 6/11 FG shooting against the Philippines. Jordan wasn’t able to build on its silver medal finish in 2011, but that’s mainly because many of its best players chose to skip the competition. Jordan eventually wound up seventh out of 16 teams. In club competition, Hadrab was vital for ASU, which copped the Premier League crown in 2013 and participated in the 2013 FIBA Asia Champions Cup, finishing in the top 3.

Mohammad Hadrab played a big role
for the depleted Jordanians in 2013.

Lee Jong-Hyun – Team Korea and Korea University (Korean University Basketball League)
We already have one Korean kid named in these Baller Awards (Kim Min-Goo), and now we’ll include one more, an even younger one at that! Here’s why Jong-Hyun makes this list despite having more veteran guys playing ahead of him in the rotation (e.g. Kim Joo-Sung and Lee Seung-Jun): when he was 18 years old, he grabbed FORTY-TWO rebounds in a high school game AND blocked Al Horford (yes, THAT Al Horford) twice in an Olympic qualifying match. Fast forward a year later – he leads Korea past China in the Finals of the 2013 East Asia Basketball Association and then drops 10 points in Korea’s tough semifinal loss to Gilas Pilipinas, where the young big shoots a flawless 4/4 from the field and 2/2 from the line. Jong-Hyun averaged around 7 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks in just 19 minutes per game for coach Yoo Jae-Hak, helping the Taeguk Warriors cop third place and a ticket to #Spain2014. Even more impressive, though, is the fact he had the highest EFF among all Korean bigs at 27.13.

And the BALLER goes to…

Sakuragi represents the past and Jong-Hyun represents the future at the power forward spot in FIBA Asia, but, righ now, nobody is better than Yi Jianlian. In spite of China’s sputtering performance in Manila, one cannot deny that Yi remains the best 4 in the entire continent. Expect Yi to have a huge string of comeback performances in 2014, especially during the Incheon Asian Games and should China get a wildcard spot in the World Cup.

Yi Jianlian is our Best FIBA Asia Power Forward for 2013.

The Center Nominees:

Hamed Haddadi – Team Iran, Phoenix Suns (NBA), Foolad Mahan Isfahan (FIBA Asia Champions Cup), and Sichuan Blue Whales (CBA)
Not surprisingly, Haddadi remained to be a superbly unstoppable force in FIBA Asia in 2013. Despite being released by the Phoenix Suns midyear, Haddadi had a productive year, leading Foolad Mahan Isfahan to the FIBA Asia Champions Cup title, and Iran to the Jones Cup and FIBA Asia Men’s crown. Haddadi averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup as Foolad Mahan swept its six contests. He did even better in Manila, dropping 19 points, 10 boards, and 2 blocks while shooting 62% from the field. Iran won all its games, including key victories over Korea, China, Taiwan, and the Philippines on its way to its third FIBA Asia Men’s crown since 2007. He was named to the All-Star Five of that competition and was then signed by the Sichuan Blue Whales about a month after. Right now, Haddadi is norming about 15 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal per game for the Blue Whales, who are mired at 14th place with a 7-13 record.

Hamed Haddadi dominated the paint for Iran.

Quincy Davis – Team Taiwan and Pure Youth Construction (Taiwan-SBL)
The 6’8 Davis did not exactly dominate in every single game he played in, but his impact on the way Taiwan played in the FIBA Asia Men’s Championships was something that just could not be overlooked. He basically changed the way the Taiwanese played. For the longest time, Taiwan had huge donut hole, but Davis’s entry plugged that handicap and enabled its creators and shooters (i.e. Lin Chih-Chieh, Lu Cheng-Ju, and Tien Lei) to be even more effective. The result? Taiwan finally beat the Philippines (after years of not being able to do so) and, more importantly, they finally beat China, the impact of which was immeasurable back in Taipei. Yes, Taiwan fell short of a World Cup berth, but the main takeaway here is that, despite lacking a couple of key players (i.e. Wu Tai-Hao and Jet Chang), Taiwan was able to finish in the top four for the first time in the new millennium. Aside from international success, Davis also helped Taiwan win at home, finishing second in the Jones Cup. He also led Pure Youth Construction to the 2013 SBL crown, averaging 19 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. Currently, he’s still piling up the stats, norming 15 points, 11 boards, 2 rejections, and 1 steal as Pure Youth sits atop the standings with 11 wins against 3 losses.

Marcus Douthit – Team Philippines
Having Douthit for the second straight FIBA Asia Men’s Championships was a huge lift for Gilas Pilipinas. Though he didn’t score as much as he did in 2011, Douthit remained the anchor of the Philippine team. He was the Pinoys’ primary interior presence, providing a solid low-post presence while also doing a splendid job of protecting the rim (he led the tournament in blocks with exactly 2 a game). He played 8 of 9 possible games for the home team, and, despite getting a severe knee injury against Qatar in the second round, continued to play up till the semifinals, where he aggravated his injury even more against Korea. Because of this, he missed the Finals against eventual champion Iran. His absence meant Haddadi’s already imposing presence was magnified even more. Had Douthit been healthy, who knows? Maybe Iran wouldn’t have won by double-digits, or, perhaps, Iran wouldn’t have won at all.

Wang Zhizhi – Team China and Bayi Rockets (CBA)
Despite being one of the tournament’s oldest players at 34, “Old Man” Wang continued to be a difference-maker for the Chinese. He averaged around 13 points and 5 rebounds while shooting 59% from the field, including 60% from beyond the arc. His best game was an unexpected 33-point outburst against the Jordanians a day after the Chinese were eliminated from medal contention by the Taiwanese in the quarterfinals. Wang shot 12/13 from the field in that game and added 7 rebounds to his tally. Locally, he is still one of the CBA’s best slotmen. He averaged about 21 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal in the 2012-2013 season as Bayi narrowly missed the 8-team Playoffs. This season, Wang continues to be effective, norming about 15 points and 6 rebounds, though his Rockets are faring badly at 5-14.

Yasseen Musa – Team Qatar and Al Rayyan (Qatar Div.1 & FIBA Asia Champions Cup)
Listed at 33 (a Qatari insider actually insinuated that Yasseen is already in his late 30s), Musa is one of Qatar’s elder statesmen, but that wasn’t a hindrance to his effectiveness in the FIBA Asia Men’s Championships. Musa averaged about 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists while shooting 52% from the field as Al Ennabi returned to fine form. Qatar fell short of an outright World Cup slot (they finished sixth), but they are currently bidding for a wildcard entry to Spain. Musa’s biggest game was a 20-point, 19-rebound effort against Taiwan in the second round. Qatar won that game, which had heavy repercussions heading into the crossover quarterfinals. Because of that result, the Philippines finished atop Group E, while Taiwan finished second and Qatar pocketed third spot. He also did well for club team Al Rayyan, which participated in the 2013 FIBA Asia Champions Cup. In that tournament, Musa normed 13 points and 7 boards as Al Rayyan won 5 of its 6 assignments on the way to second place. Locally, Al Rayyan won 13 of 16 games in the 2012-2013 season of Qatar’s Division 1, though they lost in the Finals against Al Sadd. In the new season, however, Musa and his club are doing better. As of this writing, they’ve won all nine of their games.

And the BALLER goes to…

Haddadi’s accomplishments comprise a great argument for his winning this award, but I wanted to give Davis the edge mainly because he changed the way the Taiwanese played. Haddadi is awesome, don’t get me wrong, and he’s still maybe the most dominant big man in the continent, but he didn’t have make as much of a splash on Team Melli as Davis did for coach Hsu Chin-Tse. Davis was a game-changer for Taiwan and the sky’s the limit once this team plays with a full complement of its best talents.

The Best FIBA Asia Center for 2013 is
Quincy Davis of Taiwan.

Unless otherwise specified, all images are from

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