After a short break, the 2023 ABL Invitational is back! This time, the games will be played in
Batam, Indonesia from 12-18 January 2023.
After each team were able to play their first 4 games in Singapore, we’re now able to see a
better picture of what to expect from each squad heading forward. Hong Kong Eastern and
Saigon Heat are off to a great undefeated start, leaving the other teams the task to chase them
in these upcoming games. Here’s a quick round of previews to prepare yourself for what’s
coming up in Batam!
Hong Kong Eastern
Current Record: 4-0
This brings back some memories, doesn’t it? Back in their debut ABL season in 2016, Hong Kong
Eastern also started the season with a 4-0 record before finishing that season as the champions.
Of course, they also started the next season winning their first four games (even winning six
straight to tip things off) but didn’t go all the way either… so there’s still plenty of work to do.
Nonetheless, it’s a great start for this ABL legacy team! They’re winning by an average margin of
26.0 points per game with only the one game against the Macau Black Bears being a single-digit
Eastern have been the best defensive team (60.0 points allowed per game, leads all teams) and
most efficient offensive team (47.5 FG%, 41.8 3P%, 76.9 FT%) and they’re doing so with a
balanced team throughout the roster. It might be tough to base how good they actually are on
their lopsided wins over the Bangkok Tigers and Louvre Surabaya, but you will certainly be
impressed with the way they won against the Singapore Slingers and Macau Black Bears.
Star so far: O’Darien Bassett
19.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 45.5 3P%
It shouldn’t really be a surprise that “ODB” has been the standout so far for Eastern. He knows
how to play in this level of competition and is familiar with the setting. He has yet to have an
explosive signature game like the stars on the other teams, but he’s been solid for Eastern,
especially in clutch situations when the team needs him most.
Player to watch: Oliver Xu
8.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 52.6 FG%, 50.0 3P%
The ABL rookie has been a joy to watch so far for Eastern fans, but maybe not so much for their
opponents. Oliver has been key to keep the level of energy high for the team with his hustle
and he’s doing so with efficiency on the offensive end as well.
Current Record: 4-0
Fun fact: Saigon Heat have had some good runs to start their ABL seasons, but they have never
before begun a season with 4 straight wins. Until now, obviously.
And the fans should really be excited about that! The Heat are the hottest team in the 2023 ABL
Invitational at the moment, leading all teams in points (88.8 per game) and made three-
The team ended the Singapore circuit on a high note with a 61-point demolition of Louvre
Surabaya (setting the ABL record for biggest margin of victory), but had to break a sweat in
their other three wins where they won by an average of only 5.3 points per game. Pessimistic
fans might see that as a sign that the Heat aren’t as far ahead of the pack as their record
suggests, while optimistic fans will note that as a sign that the Heat can effectively close games.
Batam will be an opportunity for the Heat to prove themselves as the real deal.
Star so far: Evan Gilyard
24.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 6.5 APG, 37.2 3P%, 85.0 FT%
The way that the Heat are structured, it’s tough to point out just one particular star, but let’s
highlight Gilyard for now. The shifty guard leads all players in assists and is top 5 in scoring. He’s
made the most amount of three-pointers among all players with at least 2 made per game.
More importantly, Gilyard has proved himself to be a clutch performer as his anklebreaker &
stepback three-pointer combo against the NS Matrix in the waning seconds of the game is
already a lock for one of the best plays of the 2023 ABL Invitational.
Player to watch: Hassan Thomas
12.0 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 2.0 SPG
It was expected that Thomas would be an impact player for the Saigon Heat. Even then, it was a
delight surprise to see how impactful his presence was and how quick he got adjusted.
Thomas is not putting up big scoring numbers and he doesn’t need to with Gilyard and Jarius
Holder on the team. Instead, he just uses his athleticism to gobble up boards (where is among
top 10) and a little bit of everything else.
There are still some slight concerns about his ability to stay on the floor (4.3 fouls per game in
his first three games) and free-throw shooting (7-15), but the Heat will live with that and trust
that he will improve especially considering what he brings to the table.
Current Record: 2-2
The Slingers had a very strong start with convincing wins in their first two games, but left a lot
to be desired in the second half of their home stand. There was a lot to like about how physical
the Slingers played and how they attacked the paint against NS Matrix and Bangkok Tigers, but
the fact that they didn’t pose a threat from the perimeter (18.8 three-point attempts per game,
25.3 3P%) and could not seize the advantage they had over Eastern and Zamboanga Valientes
did seem a bit concerning.
Of course, these are things that the Slingers should be able to work on as they’ve shown in the
past. Xavier Alexander is still not yet in his usual rhythm just yet and the newer, younger local
players are still getting used to their roles. Once those pieces of the puzzle start falling into
place, expect the Slingers to get rolling.
Star so far: Kentrell Barkley
27.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.8 SPG, 52.4 FG%
“Sir Kent” has been as good as what the Slingers fans had hoped for, stepping up as their main
offensive firepower. He is second among all players in scoring and poured in at least 29 points
in 3 of his first 4 games, including an explosive 37-point debut. Barkley also does a good job of
picking off passes (top 5 in steals) and cleaning the boards, so he gets a little bit of everything
done as the usual Slingers’ star forwards do.
For now, it should be okay to consider his 4-14 game against Eastern an outlier (his only game
averaging less than 20 field-goal attempts), but we’ll see in Batam if the other teams work their
gameplan around limiting Barkley a bit more.
Player to watch: Xavier Alexander
9.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 6.0 APG
The “X Man” is now playing in his 6 th season of ABL competition. He and the team have been
clear that he doesn’t aim to be the main scoring force of the team in this season which is why
we’re seeing a low amount of field-goal attempts from ABL’s all-time leading scorer.
Still, it does feel that right now the Slingers do need a bit more firepower from Alexander, at
least until the rest of the roster catches up. He still impacts the game in many other different
ways, but it will be interesting to see if he shifts gears to be a bit more aggressive in Batam and
if that’s what the Slingers need.
NS Matrix Malaysia
Current Record: 2-2
NS Matric split their games in Singapore and there’s a lot of positivity with their start. Even
though they suffered two straight losses to tip things off, they were defeats at the hands of the
home team and the co-league leaders Saigon Heat. They then finished the Singapore circuit
with a convincing win over Macau Black Bears and a spirited come-from-behind ralley against
The key to NS Matrix’s strength so far has been their dominance in the paint, with Amir
Williams anchored down low. They lead the competition in blocks and have not been
outrebounded in a single game so far.
The intrigue with the team is that they do not have a ball-dominant perimeter import player,
instead utilizing their star local players, Wong Yi Hou and Ting Chun Hong. The two have been
producing at a high level and it will be fun to see how much better they can get as the season
Star so far: Amir Williams
17.0 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.8 BPG, 55.1 FG%
This could have been either Williams or Tevin Glass, as both have shined for NS Matrix albeit on
different ends of the floor. We’re giving the slight edge to Williams here as his impact on the
defensive end has been massive. As he continues to get more and more familiar with the team,
NS Matrix should be an even more difficult team to score again in the shaded area.
Player to watch: Ting Chun Hong
13.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.3 APG
There were always signs in the earlier seasons with the KL Dragons that Ting Chun Hong would
be a star down the road, so there’s no real surprise about his strong start in 2023. Aside from
his foul-riddled game against the Slingers, Ting has topped double-digits in all games and
commanded attention from the defense.
NS Matrix need offensive threats from the perimeter to give breathing room to Williams and
Glass and Ting should be able to provide that throughout the competition this year.
Current Record: 2-2
We’re not entirely sure what the identity of the Valientes is just yet, but we do know that you
can never give them an opening to go for the win no matter how far you are up ahead. Louvre
Surabaya and the Singapore Slingers learned that the hard way as they suffered late-game
rallies from the Filipino club.
Valientes like to play at a quick pace, leading the competition in field-goal attempts and makes,
which is mostly why they are able to go on big runs. They aren’t too focused on one particular
player to carry the offense either, leading the competition in assists per contest.
Zamboanga have been solid, but it does still feel like we haven’t truly seen what this team is all
about which could be scary for opposing teams if they can still go up another level. And that’s
what their fans are definitely hoping to see in Batam.
Star so far: Antonio Hester
24.0 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, 59.1 FG%
Consistantly great is how one might describe Hester’s ABL debut run so far. He’s recorded a
double-double in each and every game. He’s been one of the most efficient scorers, even with
teams locked in on slowing him down. And he’s doing so while sharing the ball with his talented
teammates as well.
Easily among one of the best players in the 2023 ABL Invitational so far.
Player to watch: John Amores
7.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 14.5 MPG
The fans know that Amores desperately wants to prove himself and he’s had a good impression
so far in limited minutes. Despite averaging around a quarter and a half of action per game,
Amores has done his part to consistently put the ball in the basket, grab a few boards, and
stretch the floor out a bit.
Macau Black Bears
Current Record: 1-3
It feels like the Macau Black Bears are better this, doesn’t it?
Sure, you look at their record and you see a 1-3 record, but let’s take a look at the context a bit.
They’re first two losses came at the hands of the two undefeated teams that relatively fresh off
their feet. Additionally, those losses were by just 8 points (vs Saigon Heat) and 6 points (vs Hong
Kong Eastern). The crushing loss to NS Matrix certainly hurt (a lot), but also take in
consideration the fact that they had to quickly adjust after changing in De Angelo Hamilton in
for Winston Shepard after only one game.
It hasn’t been pretty, as they are shooting a competition-low 38.4 FG%, but the situation isn’t as
bad as one might think it is on a quick glance. The Black Bears might just need some time to
regroup a bit, which is what they have had heading into the Batam circuit.
Star so far: Jenning Leung
21.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.3 APG, 3.5 SPG, 50.0 3P%
Isaiah Wade leads the team in points (24.5 per game) and rebounds (12.5 per game), but it’s
tough to deny the stellar start Leung has had this season. We all saw that Leung was breaking
out as a player in what was his 3 rd ABL season back in 2019-20, but he’s proven to be much,
much better this year. It’s a lot to expect Leung to keep his production at this level, but he
group of players to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assist per game through an
entire ABL season is an elite one and Leung looks like he could belong.
Player to watch: Dequan Abrom
18.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 6.0 APG
Abrom is being asked to do quite a lot for being the smaller guard in the starting lineup and a
large part of that might be because of the shift with Shepard being out after the first game.
There’s certainly a lot that Abrom can do, but maybe the tournament in Batam will be the
opportunity to scope in a bit more what exactly he needs to do for the Black Bears to win
Current Record: 1-3
Louvre Surabaya’s run might be the most drastic turnaround among all teams in Singapore
across just a 7-day span.
Losing to Zamboanga in their debut after being outscored by 23 points in the fourth quarter
wasn’t impressive, but at least the first three quarters showed signs of life. Then, the win
against the Bangkok Tigers was expected in which they followed through. It was a perfect two
games to their ABL competition debut, but it wasn’t entirely bad.
The next two games, however, might have been a bit tougher to swallow even for their most
While the last two games in Singapore were against the current top two teams in the
competition, to lose by an ABL competition record 61 points to the Heat and 51 points to
Eastern, respectively, was a bit deflating. Of course, not having Alouine Tew in those last two
games (30 PPG, 22 RPG) was a huge factor as well.
Nonetheless, we’ve seen in the past how teams that are new to the ABL setting can struggle
early on before bouncing back and that’s what Louvre are hoping to achieve as they head to
play on their home turf.
Star so far: Marcus Hammonds
23.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.5 APG
Hammonds started the 2023 ABL Invitational on a tear with two games scoring over 30 points.
Then, with Tew out of the picture, it was a bit more difficult to get the same opportunities.
Hammonds went from making 14.5 field-goals per game to just 4 made attempts per contest.
Still, it’s clear that Louvre need Hammonds to be their star and it should be expected that they
figure a way to get him back into rhythm now that they will be at home for the next week.
Player to watch: Jamarr Johnson
14.3 PPG, 9.0 TPG, 2.3 APG
Johnson’s production wasn’t affected as much in Tew’s absence as Hammonds. He just needs to
pick up in efficiency a bit and that should relieve some of the pressure on offense. Johnson has
been solid on the boards and all Louvre need right now is for him to find a way to raise his FG%
up from 35.5% with all the attempts they need him to take.
Current Record: 0-4
Nobody said it would be easy. That’s the reality that the Bangkok Tigers faced in their first time
playing in an ABL competition.
They’ve lost games by an average of 31.0 points per game, allowing 109.0 point per contest.
The offense hasn’t shown much hope either as they are tied at the bottom with 78.5 points per
game with an average of only 14.5 assists per game.
The “good” news is that this should be rock bottom. Things should only be going up from here.
Expect some changes as the team heads to Batam as the team adjust to playing in the ABL
setting. It’s only the first circuit of the competition, which means there’s still plenty of time to
turn things around… but the Tigers need to act now.
Star so far: AZ Reid
26.0 PPG, 14.5 RPG, 3.0 APG
The veteran leads the team in points, rebounds, and assists, but also took 93 attempts across 4
games. He barely rested across all games in Singapore, so while he’s been producing numbers,
the Tigers might need to adjust and find other way to utilize Reid that will help the team get
Player to watch: Nicola Franco
5.0 PPG, 60 FG%
Franco has only been playing in garbage time and is averaging only 6.9 minutes per game. But
in those very, very short glimpses, he’s displayed a unique feel with the ball in his hands.
Granted he might not get a lot of those opportunities, it will be interesting to see if the Tigers
experiment a bit more with that. After four straight losses, they should have room to try new
things out, especially with a player like Franco who is constantly on the senior national team