The Annual #BallerAwards: The Best of Asian Basketball in 2014

In lieu of a year-ender, I felt it would be better to go position-by-position and look at the best ballers of 2014. 

In this post, I will talk about the guys who did really well in the 2014 Asian basketball scene. Perhaps they led their countries/teams to titles and milestones. Perhaps they led their respective leagues in a certain statistical category. Perhaps they made history. Perhaps they did all of those things.

The best Asian players of 2014.

Best Asian Basketball Center and Naturalized Player of 2014: Andray Blatche (Gilas Pilipinas and Xinjiang Flying Tigers)
- Blatche was just what the doctor ordered for the Philippine basketball program. He was a huge upgrade from the ageing Marcus Douthit and seemed to be the perfect complement to up-and-coming local big man June Mar Fajardo. Blatche brought with him a skill-set that was unheard of in any previous Philippine team, and he utilized this to the full in #Spain2014, averaging around 21 points and 14 rebounds in 5 games as he helped the Pinoys clinch their first World Cup win in 40 years. It was a sorry thing that Blatche couldn't play in the Asian Games, though, because had he been allowed, then Gilas would've been the odds-on favorites to win gold. Afterwards, he joined the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the CBA, and he is currently among the league's most productive players, averaging around 29 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals per game.

First Best Asian Basketball Forward of 2014: Samad Nikkhah Bahrami (Iran, Fujian Sturgeons, Petrochimi Bandar Imam, and Mahram Tehran)
- Bahrami, despite turning 31 last year, remained one of the top-tier players in Asia. He played 31 games for Fujian in the CBA, averaging about 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists before returning to the Iranian Superleague and playing for Mahram Tehran, where he normed around 18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal, helping the team win the 2014 FIBA Asia Champions Cup. After that, he helped the Iranians in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, winning one of their five games, and in the Asian Games, where they advanced all the way to the Finals before bowing to South Korea. Currently, Bahrami plies his trade in the Superleague, playing for Petrochimi Bandar Imam, which is sitting pretty at 12-2.

Second Best Asian Basketball Forward of 2014: Moon Tae-Jong (South Korea and Changwon LG Sakers)
- After missing the 2013 FIBA Asia tourney in Manila, Moon returned to national team action in 2014. He was named the team's main naturalized player in lieu of brother Greg Stevenson (Moon Tae-Young) and Eric Sandrin (Lee Seung-Jun), and he played quite well, averaging 10 points in 5 games in the World Cup. Back at home, Moon also did well in the KBL, leading the Changwon LG Sakers to the regular season title in 2013-2014. The highlight, however, was his playing a vital role for South Korea in the Asian Games. He averaged 16 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in that tournament while also making 53% of his three-point attempts. With his strong play, the Koreans were able to win the gold medal for the first time since 2002, when the Asiad was also hosted in South Korea (Busan).

First Best Asian Basketball Guard of 2014: Kosuke Kanamaru (Japan and Aisin Seahorses)
- Kanamaru had a lackluster showing in the 2013 FIBA Asia in Manila, but he more than made up for it last year, becoming the designated gunner for the Seahorses. His best performance, though, came during the Asian Games, where he led Team Hayabusa to its first top three finish in the quadrennial games in twenty years. Kanamaru paced Japan in scoring, dropping 15 points per game while shooting 47.4% from beyond the arc. Currently, Kanamaru is also doing well in the 2014-2015 NBL-Japan season, averaging 20 points and more than 3 treys per game. He is also connecting on more than 50% of his threes as the Seahorses remain on top of the entire league with a 19-2 slate.

Second Best Asian Basketball Guard of 2014: Mahdi Kamrani (Iran, Foolad Mahan Esfahan, Petrochimi Bandar Imam, and Jiangsu Tongxi Monkey King)
- Kamrani remains one of the continent's best playmakers. Last year, the veteran Iran national team point guard had another great string of tournaments. He helped Petrochimi Bandar Imam place second in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup behind fellow Iranian club Mahram Tehran. He also impressed in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, putting up 10 points per game while shooting 52% from the floor and 35% from beyond the arc. He also did well in the Asian Games, scoring 8 points per game on top of 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals per outing. Right now, the pint-sized Kamrani is in the CBA, playing for the Jiangsu Tongxi Monkey King and norming about 17 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assist, and 3 steals. 

Best Asian Basketball Youth Player of 2014: Zhou Qi (China and Xinjiang Flying Tigers)
- Given how much he has achieved, it's hard to imagine that this 7'2 center will just turn 19 in about a week. His size and stature have earned comparisons to Yao Ming, but his mobility has made people think he could maybe be as good as Yi Jianlian. Together with fellow young giant Wang Zhelin, Zhou Qi gives Chinese basketball a pretty interesting future, at least in terms of their frontline. He was solid in leading China to the FIBA Asia U18 title last year, but his other stints with the Big Red Machine didn't really yield impressive results. China finished a disappointing fifth in the Asian Games, but what was worse was losing in the final seconds of the third place game against the Philippines in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup. Nevertheless, Zhou Qi remains an integral part of the future of Chinese hoops, and he has not disappointed so far in the CBA, norming 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game alongside Andray Blatche for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

Breakthrough Asian Basketball Player of 2014: Liu Cheng (Taiwan and Taiwan Beer)
- Liu was definitely the most impressive local player in the Taiwanese Super Basketball League last year. With most of the Taiwanese national team players suiting up in the CBA (bigger money talks), Liu was the consensus top performing player left in the SBL. It was no surprise then that he won league MVP for the first time ever as Taiwan Beer advanced as far as the 2014 SBL semifinals. Liu was even more impressive in the FIBA Asia Cup, teaming up with Quincy Davis to lead the Taiwanese, bannered mostly by second-tier players, to an unexpected silver medal finish. He normed around 16 points, 4 boards, 3 assists, and 4 steals in that competition. Liu is definitely one guy to watch for the big tourneys of 2015.

Best Asian Basketball Coach of 2014: Yoo Jae-Hak (South Korea and Ulsan Mobis Phoebus)
- There's no arguing that Yoo Jae-Hak has been the most successful Korean coach of the past two years. In 2014, he continued his winning streak, clinching the overall championship in the KBL with Ulsan Mobis Phoebus before piloting South Korea in the World Cup and Asian Games. Of course, the cherry on top of an great year was his country winning its first Asiad basketball gold since 2002. Right now, his club team also remains a strong title favorite in the 2014-2015 KBL season as Ulsan is carrying a 25-8 record, which is currently good for second place in the league table. 

Honorable Mentions:
Indian National Team
- The Indians did really well in 2014, turning a lot of heads with their vast improvement. Coach Scott Flemming is the first person I’ll credit, and it’s definitely well-deserved. The results? Well, beating China in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup was definitely the moment of moments, but capturing the title in the 2014 Lusofonia Games, giving stronger Asian teams a scare, and placing second in the 2014 Asian Beach Games 3x3 tourney were huge as well. Look for India to be a dark horse contender in the coming 2015 FIBA Asia Championships.

Anatoliy Koleshnikov & Pavel Ilin
- With Kazakhstan competing in the 2014 Asian Games without some veterans and a naturalised player, not a lot of people gave them a strong chance at medal contention. The Snow Leopards, however, surprised everyone by finishing in the top four. Their campaign was highlighted by big wins over Taiwan and Qatar, and the two guys who really turned heads? First time NT player Anatoliy Kolesnikov (formerly Anatoliy Bose) and up-and-coming sniper Pavel Ilin. Kolesnikov led Kazakhstan in scoring (13.9 per game), was effective on the boards (8.1 rebounds per), and
shot pretty well from the floor (65.7 FG%). Ilin, for his part, was a revelation from long range. The 22-year old hit 14 threes in just 9 games. That’s about 1.6 per outing. Because of his shooting, Kazakhstan very nearly beat the Philippines and Iran.

Gilas Pilipinas

- The Pinoys’ first stint in the FIBA World Cup in over three decades will go down as one of the best moments of 2014, but they way they crashed and burned in the Asian Games will also go down in infamy. I love the fact they took teams like Argentina, Croatia, and Puerto Rico to the limit in #Spain2014 and then won against Senegal, too, but there’s still a bit of bitterness from the debacle in Incheon. The success of the past two years has spoiled Pinoy hoop nuts and dramatically increased the expectations of Gilas, and their unexpected nosedive in Korea was the worst possible way to end their 2014 playing calendar. Still, Gilas’s achievements should still outweigh, though barely, its faults.

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