On Wednesday morning, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas announced the 12 players who will represent the country in their FIBA World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifier game against Iran on Thursday. We asked our resident experts Chuck Araneta, Charlie Cuna, Carlo Pamintuan, Jutt Sulit, and Noel Zarate what they think about the line-up. Here's what they said.
1. Give one word to describe the lineup.
Chuck: Stellar. As in, there are so many stars on the team, it's ridiculous.
Charlie: Intriguing. It's a curious mix. There are time-tested veterans, battle-ready returnees, and eager-to-prove-themselves newcomers. Hopefully, there will be chemistry. The element of surprise that the new infusions bring should be an advantage, at least early on. I'm excited to see this lineup strut its stuff. We all should be.
Carlo: Unpredictable. Even if there are remnants of the Asian Games squad, the team will have a very different look against Iran. Their top playmakers in Stanley Pringle and Jordan Clarkson are not in the lineup so it's difficult to guess how the offense will look with Paul Lee and Alex Cabagnot as the main guards.
Jutt: Exciting. While we're missing several important players due to suspensions, there are also some players whom we have yet to see in a Gilas uniform. Somehow, it feels like a fresh start for the national team. And that's there to feel is excitement.
Noel: Compact. Had Greg Slaughter been healthy, I would have used the word "complete". Though lacking in terms of height (especially against the likes of Hamed Haddadi and Asghar Khardoust), this Gilas incarnation has the necessary shooters, slashers and defensive artillery against the Iranians. The Philippines is among the worst rebounding teams in the competition but with field goal percentages likely to increase with the offensive additions here, they have a more than decent chance to outscore the home team and if this becomes a footrace then Gilas would have a tremendous advantage. It wouldn't be a surprise if Coach Yeng decides to go small (with Marcio Lassiter at the 3) if their zone can help diffuse a reinvented Samad Nikkhah Bahrami.
2. The player I am most excited to see in a Gilas uniform is...
Chuck: Alex Cabagnot. What a career it has been for the San Miguel guard. For so many years, he has been aching to be a part of the national team, and in the twilight of his career, he gets his wish. He has always been one of the most well-conditioned guards we have in the league, and he's still a devastatingly great shooter and pick and roll maestro. He should have a big role to play for Gilas in these games.
Charlie: Marcio Lassiter. I am among the millions who have been hoping for his inclusion on the team in the past few years. He is a veteran so, hopefully, nerves will not be an issue. I want to see him knock down shots from everywhere, his expertise, and to open up things for our attackers and keep the Iran defense honest at the arc. I need to mention Alex Cabagnot and Scottie Thompson as well here. These two are Swiss army knife-types who can do so many things. Here's hoping their debut on the squad is a successful coming-out party!
Carlo: Alex Cabagnot. He has said time and again that he wants a shot at playing for flag and country and he'll finally get it against Iran. Without Stanley Pringle in the roster, there will be a lot of pressure on Cabagnot and Paul Lee to score against Iran as they have shown in the past that they have trouble staying in front of our guards.
Jutt: Alex Cabagnot. He has been waiting for this opportunity and I'm pretty sure he's ready to prove he deserves it. Alex has proven he's a winner in the PBA. He's a lethal scorer and a great pick-and-roll operator. Those are going to come in handy for Gilas.
Noel: Scottie Thompson. He is unlike any guard Iran will ever face; tenacious, feisty and Gabe Norwood described him as "having a basketball magnet in his body" as he just knows where the ball goes after missed shots. It wouldn't be surprising to have the reigning PBA Finals MVP lead the team in rebounding after this window and he can shackle opposing playmakers with his stifling defense. In the practices I've noticed that he is not required to shoot the ball much, and that can confuse Iran as they will be trained on the range of the Gilas guards. Thompson will be among the difference makers and he is ready to make that impact this Thursday.
3. The five I am looking forward to see on the floor together are...
Chuck: You can make an all-SMC lineup, with Christian Standhardinger, Marcio Lassiter, Ian Sangalang, Paul Lee and Scottie Thompson and that would be a hell of a five. It would be a powerful statement about how all-in the PBA and its teams are for the national squad, and how exciting our prospects are moving forward.
Charlie: This is tough. I would say Christian Stanhardinger and JP Erram, together with Lassiter up front, with Thompson and either Paul Lee or Cabagnot in the back court. They would have to concentrate of course on defense and rebounding the ball, be quick on rotations and close-outs, but on the other side, there are so many options on offense available if these players are in at the same time. I trust Coach Yeng in knowing which combinations are best, but it's exhilarating to imagine the possibilities.
Carlo: Poy Erram, Christian Standhardinger, Gabe Norwood, Marcio Lassiter, Paul Lee.
Jutt: Paul Lee, Marcio Lassiter, Gabe Norwood, JP Erram and Christian Standhardinger. In my opinion, this is our strong five. This group has height, shooting, defense and driving ability. But I also think there really is no unanimous strong five, especially under Coach Yeng Guiao's mentorship.
Noel: Paul Lee, Marcio Lassiter, Gabe Norwood, Poy Erram and Christian Standhardinger. This is a highly defensive unit with offensive premiums. They are pound for pound a match for Iran's best five (Haddadi, Nikkhah, Yakchali, Mashayeki and Mirzaei) plus they are conditioned enough to keep up with the pounding of their opponents. The subs coming in will have an easier time because this unit would have made that star group work hard.
4. What do you like most about this team?
Chuck: The versatility and shooting. We might not have a behemoth in the middle like Andray Blatche, but no one will fight harder than Christian Standhardinger against Haddadi. And we've got shooters to flank him at every position, whether in the midrange with Sangalang or Belga, and of course in the backcourt with Lee, Cabagnot and Lassiter.
Charlie: I like its novelty. Some of the players are well-known internationally already, but because of the insertion of new and previously seldom-used players that have not been recently well-scouted, there is, as earlier stated, still an element of surprise, the desire of such players to prove themselves and perform, and a chance for Coach Yeng to "experiment" with different combinations that have never been used before. Again, we hope there is chemistry among the chosen twelve and a collective resolve to play smartly and patiently.
Carlo: It's impossible to scout. With the team still discovering its identity, Iran will most likely have no clue what sets the Philippines will try to run.
Jutt: I just really like how much support it has gotten. There has been so much drama surrounding Philippine basketball since the infamous brawl. This team seeks to bring us all together once again. I hope it does.
Noel: Everyone is a threat. Iran has probably figured out that Beau Belga and Raymond Almazan are also deep threats, but once they experience Thompson's grit, the headiness of Alex Cabagnot, the quickness of Ian Sangalang and get rekindled with what Lassiter almost beat them with (in the 2011 FIBA Asia Champions Cup) then they may have to readjust their game plan practically on the fly. This team has all the trimmings of what Philippine basketball is all about and come the fifth window with Slaughter and June Mar Fajardo in the lineup, then it will be in full display.
5. What do they need to look out for against Iran?
Chuck: This team has shown to be vulnerable against big men, as seen by the success that Zhou Qi for China, and Ricardo Ratliffe for South Korea. It will be interesting to see if they decide to single coverage Haddadi to stay home on Iran's shooters, or whether they gamble to send help and scramble on defense.
Charlie: There is so much to look out for. Iran has size, quickness, high basketball IQ, confidence, and a huge home court advantage (Iran fans are passionate and can get really noisy). Hopefully, our team executes well, keeps it close, and does not lapse into the same short stretch of mistakes and errors, which happened at the Asian Games against both China and Korea, and ultimately cost the team both games. It was just a couple of minutes, a string of miscues, that led to both those losses. The squad must be focused for the entire forty minutes and go hard for rebounds on every single attempt.
Carlo: Their tall "small" forwards. Gabe Norwood is our only legitimate defender at the three-spot in this lineup, unlike the last time Gilas defeated Iran which also had Calvin Abueva and Marc Pingris in the lineup.
Jutt: Obviously, when you face Iran, you worry about guys like Haddadi and Nikkah Bahrami. But watching them play at the Asian Games, I was really impressed with Sajjad Mashayekhi. He was ultra-aggressive and made things possible for Iran on both ends of the floor. We can't overlook him when we go up against the Iranians.
Noel: Nikkhah leads the tournament in assists (6.8 APG). He has evolved into a point forward and is still arguably among the top five best cagers in Asia with regards to scoring, rebounding and defending. Coach Caloy Garcia actually shared with me that he was still trying to figure out who can guard this 6'6" small forward if Norwood needs to take a breather. He (not Haddadi) is their most important player and Gilas has to find a way to get him off his game. The young core of Yakchali, Mashayeki, Mirzaei, Kazemi and former PBA import Mohammed Jamshidi have blossomed into a potent wing and backcourt group that thrives on ball movement and finding the best available option. The Philippines is definitely undersized against the Iranians but if they follow former Coach Tab Baldwin's formula during the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship in Changsha, then picking the right spots on offense and shutting down Haddadi in the post (through ball hawking and straight up push out defense) can help offset any edge the opposition has. However, Nikkhah is a different player now and that is for sure on the top of the to-do list of Coach Yeng.