August 20, 2009

FIBA Asia Championship: by the numbers

So it's been almost a week since Iran made sure they defended the championship others said wasn't theirs by beaten China on their home floor, via a big margin. Jordan eased out Lebanon to deny the Lebanese a return trip to the World Championship, with the Jordanians punching their ticket with a debut in Turkey next year.

Chinese Taipei justified their wild card selection when they emerged on top of the defeated semifinalists with a blowout win against Qatar, while Korea made sure the Philippines won't pull a rug under them to deny the Fillpinos of a 7th-place finish.

So where did we go wrong? Or were we doomed from the start? Let's scrutinize the numbers, and the intangibles.

Scoring: The Philippines finished eighth in scoring in the tournament, with 80.1 PPG, behind Japan's 84.8 PPG, good enough for first. The Pinoys had a woeful 41.9 field goal percentage, tenth among sixteen teams, and also wound up tenth in three point shooting with a "fair" 30.7 clip (China's amazing 40.2 was first). Shooting freebies was even worse, with Shaq-esque number of 59.6, only ahead of countries such as Kwwait, UAE and Sri Lanka.

So what went wrong? Like other geniuses before me, their analysis of the team prior to the tournament was that it was "an athletic team, that can't shoot." We could've somewhat compensated with good set-up plays to free-up our shooters in the deliberate type of game. We were lucky when the shooters clicked, but when they didn't, we can't come up with a plan "B" as an alternative.

We did employ the run-and-gun offense (when we had the chance), but it was negated when the other team fouled on the break which reverted to the team relying on set-up plays that evolved into one-on-one plays. Even if we do get fouled, we can't shoot well, even without someone guarding the player so the defensive strategy was simplified.

Rebounding: Guess what, the team did wound up second in rebounding in Tianjin, 0.2 of a rebound behind Qatar. But 1/8 final round, the Philippines was second-worst among the teams that advanced to the quarterfinals, only ahead of the Japanese. On the games that mattered, we weren't able to rebound the ball, which could've translated into fastbreak opportunities.

Playmaking: The Philippines was 8th in assists in the championship, with 10 assists per game. That's sorta low, but you'd have to factor in that assists are defined differently in the FIBA game. Still, it is worth noting that India even finished ahead of us, with the South Asians ending up with a 11 assists mark.

As for turnovers, we actually turned out to be fourth-best, only having 12.1 TOs per game, behind only Japan, Korea and Jordan. With "turnover" having a universal definition, you can probably say "Yay!" but with ended up having more turnovers than assists! Again, the FIBA definition of "assist" is different (when you dribble the ball, it won't be counted as an assist, although here in the Philippines and in the NBA it is counted as such).

Defense: Team Pilipinas wounded up LAST in the steals department with 5.9 thefts per game. For a team composed of relatively shorter players, it is rather surprising weren't able to steal the ball more. The Pinoys had a better showing in blocks, ending up 12th with 1.7 per game. Still miserable when you compare it to Iran's tournament-best 5 per game.

But what could've been the deal-breaker are the fouls. Among the teams that advanced in the preliminary round, we are first in committing fouls with 21.9 per game. In the 1/8 finals, the Philippines was tied with Japan and Jordan for first with 22.3 per game. This led not just to foul trouble, but earlier situations of team penalty, that gave a ton of freebies to the opponent.

The intangibles: The key game for us was the preliminary round game against Korea. That would determine which team topped the group, but more than that, the results of the preliminary games except those involving the last-placed team would carry over to the 1/8 final round. The 1–0 vs. Korea would've gave us a theoretically easier opponent in the quarterfinals (in this case, Lebanon) rather than the #2 from the other group.

If we've won that game against Korea, we could've let expended a lot of energy on the Iran game (which we would've not won anyway), and could've used that energy on our quarterfinal opponent. Of course, if we've won against Korea, we might not have had the pressure of beating Chinese Taipei to ensure that we won't finish at worst fourth in the group.

The good side: At least you can see some diamonds in the rough:
We fared better than the Chinese against Iran. Heck, we were only behind the Jordanians and the Taiwanese in the deficit vs. Iran.
Cyrus Baguio should be in the next national team lineup, even if Gilas will take over.
Put emphasis on point guards that distribute the ball well. And quite frankly, get pure PGs.
Make sure the coach knows some plays. Heck, even JRU screens better than the RP 5.

And probably a ton more suggestions but they are worthless anyway since Toroman is a genius. But I haven't talked to Chito Narvasa yet.

(P.S.: Catch NCAA updates here tomorrow at 2PM. The games are San Beda vs. Mapua and Baste vs. Perps.)

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