Potential breakout players of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship - Part 2

*This originally appeared on my column on FIBA.com.

The 2015 FIBA Asia Championship is the biggest continental tournament in this corner of the basketball world, and its stakes are very high, what with only the tournament's winner automatically qualifying to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Without a doubt, the biennial competition will feature some of Asia's brightest hardwood heroes, while also ushering in a new breed of budding young stars.

In last week's column, I looked at four potential breakout players from Iran, Jordan, Qatar, and India, and now I will take a look at some promising prospects from the eastern regions of the continent. Most of these guys are expected to take on the mantles of leadership of their respective countries, and they’re definitely worth a lot of attention.

Wang Zhelin (China
The 21-year-old Fujian-born Wang is set to be one of the pillars of China's new "Walking Great Wall" together with former NBA player Yi Jianlian and fellow young gun Zhou Qi. He has been part of the senior men's team since 2013, and now that the legendary Wang Zhizhi has called it quits, it's up to this younger Wang to hold the fort in the middle. At the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, Wang, one of the youngest players then, did quite well, averaging 10.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and shooting 62.5 percent from the field. He will have a tough task early on, though, going up against other young and tough bigs from Korea and Jordan in the first round.

Lee Jong-Hyun (Korea
Speaking of a tough young big from Korea, one of the guys on whom we have to keep tabs is Lee Jong-Hyun, who is projected to be the top draft pick soon in the Korean Basketball League. Unlike Wang, who prefers a more traditional back-to-the-basket style, Lee prides himself in having a great mid-to-long range game. He is also an outstanding rim protector as he was among the leaders in blocks per game two years ago in Manila (1.7 blocks per game) and was actually the top shot-blocker in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain (2.6 rejections per outing). Lee will be working alongside Korea's other talented big men - Kim Jong-Kyu and Oh Se-Keun - and together they will certainly form a fearsome frontline.

Naoto Tsuji (Japan
Former NBA player Yuta Tabuse is projected to be Japan's #1 playmaker at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, while fellow point guard Tsuji is expected to be among Team Hayabusa's top guns from beyond the arc. In a few short seasons, Tsuji has emerged as one of Japan's top shooters in its National Basketball League. This past season, Tsuji hit 2.6 threes per game at a 39.2 percent clip, while he did even better in the 2014 Asian Games, making 3.1 treys per outing at a 46.8 percent success rate. For a team like Japan, which prides itself in speed and shooting to counter other countries' size, Tsuji will be a very crucial piece.

June Mar Fajardo (Philippines) 
The Cebu-born Fajardo has been named Most Valuable Player of the Philippine Basketball Association for two years running, but he has yet to consistently find success in international basketball. He had some success at Spain 2014, putting up 10 points and 7 rebounds against Greece, and then recording 15 markers and 9 boards versus Senegal, so there is definitely potential to be a solid contributor alongside naturalized player Andray Blatche. As of this writing, however, Fajardo's participation has been cast under a cloud of doubt as a lingering plantar fasciitis injury (not to mention persistent political factors) has forced the 25-year old center to consider skipping the competition altogether.

Check out part one here.

Next Post »
0 Comment