We’re halfway through the 2023 ABL Invitational. What a return it has been for the ABL after
two circuits in Singapore and Batam as the fans have been able to witness some high-level and
entertaining basketball over the past few weeks.
Before we head into the break leading up to the third circuit in Kuala Lumpur from the 3rd until
the 8th of February, let’s recap and look at some takeaways from the first half of the
At the top
Three teams currently sit at the top of the standings with identical 6-2 records: Hong Kong
Eastern, Saigon Heat, and NS Matrix Malaysia. The paths these teams took in order to get
where they are differed in many respects.
While Eastern and the Heat both had spectacular starts to their campaigns with a perfect
record in Singapore, NS Matrix Malaysia started their first-ever ABL competition with two
straight losses. From there, however, NS Matrix had been able to go on a six-game winning
streak that gives them a much-desired momentum when they play at home during the Kuala
NS Matrix finished the Batam circuit on a high note with convincing wins against Eastern and
the Singapore Slingers, sending a signal to the rest of the competition that they want to win
immediately in their first year. Aside from being the most physical team with 163 free-throw
attempts (leads the competition), NS Matrix are also among the most reliant on their local
players with the likes of Ting Chun Hong and Wong Yi Hou being key and effective contributors.
While Eastern were unable to keep their impressive run going in Batam, they have been one of
the more statistically impressive teams in the competition. The Hong Kong-based club leads the
competition in field goal percentage (47.9%) and allows the least number of points per game
(66.5), a combination that is a sign of a strong team. The combination of their import players,
heritage player (Dominic Gilbert) and local players, works very well together and can even cover
in the absence of one another as seen in their win over the Singapore Slingers when Chris
McLaughlin was unavailable.
As Hong Kong Eastern and NS Matrix look to do their damage in the paint, the Saigon Heat go
out farther to get their points to win their games. And they’ve been the best and most frequent
team to shoot from long range so far in the competition. Led by quickfire shooters Jarius Holder
and Evan Gilyard, the Heat have made (108) and attempted (255) the most three-pointers,
while also converting them at the highest rate (42.4%) as well.
These three teams are currently ahead of the pack in the race and they’ve all displayed a good
reason why they deserve to be considered as contenders. Let’s see if they can keep it up to the
Not far behind
There isn’t a big gap between the top and the middle of the pack. The Singapore Slingers (5-3)
are only one game behind. The Macau Black Bears (4-4) and Zamboanga Valientes (3-5) aren’t
too far behind either. If these teams can hit their strides in either of the two upcoming circuits,
they can easily overtake the top spot.
However, as only the top 4 teams at the end of all four circuits advance to the Playoffs of the
ABL Invitational, there is a bit more pressure when you are right in the middle of the standings.
The Slingers are experienced enough to know that they don’t have to panic just yet. With their
10 years of experience playing in ABL competitions, they know that it’s a grind until the Playoff
run. And again, they are only one game behind the teams at the top. They’ve had some tough
losses, but for most of the part they have played solid “Slingers” basketball to get where they
are right now. The team’s identity of attacking the paint (leads the competition with 464 two-
point attempts) in exchange for a lower rate of three-point shooting (163 attempts, least in
competition) has gotten them to three Finals in the past that they are hoping it will work again
The Macau Black Bears, also ABL veterans, also know they are still in this as they are a team
with offensive firepower that can quickly get things going. Despite starting the season with
three straight losses, they bounced back to get three straight wins by playing their game. They
like to push the pace, which can be good when their quality scorers in Isaiah Wade, Jenning
Leung, and Dequan Abrom are clicking but it can be a bit tough to watch when the ball is not
falling their way. The Black Bears are on a long road trip since the start of the competition and
will be until the end, thus, they will definitely want this run to go as far as it can.
For Zamboanga Valientes, it was a tough way to end the Batam circuit after suffering three
straight losses. These were losses to three very solid teams, but it’s never easy to take that in,
especially when you are representing a country as basketball-crazed as the Philippines. They are
another team that like to play fast, as their 667 field goal attempts lead the competition, but
they will need to do a better job of defending in the second half of the Invitational as they
currently allow 87.0 points per game (third highest in competition).
The Cooly Bangkok Tigers and Louvre Surabaya have had a rough introduction to the level of
competition in the ABL invitational so far. The good thing is that they at least have one win each
on their hands, even if these are the wins they collected against each other.
Both teams have gone through some changes in personnel, for better or worse. If they still aim
to make it to the Playoff this year, they might still need to make additional changes before
heading into the final two circuits.
After cleaning up their coaching staff and import roster, the Tigers have seen an uptick of
performance from their local players. They only barely escaped with a win over Louvre
Surabaya, but there seems to be a lot of optimism within the team moving forward.
Louvre Surabaya, on the other hand, missed the opportunity to get a home win and it will be all
uphill from here.
Stars so far
While enjoying the exciting games in the ABL Invitational, fans were also able to watch the
talented stars in action and there have been plenty in this first half of the competition.
Kentrell Barkley leads all active players in scoring with 25.0 points per game and has been one
of the brightest spots of the Slingers. He made it clear from his debut that he was going to be
one of the best in this league and has not
slowed down, recording his first triple-double as
recent as the last game in Batam.
While Barkley’s 37 points in his debut was impressive, the highest number of points scored in a
single game so far goes to Marcus Hammond who scored 39 in Louvre Surabaya’s win over the
Another Slinger leads the competition in assists in Xavier Alexander. ABL’s all-time leading
scorer has taken a backseat this year and is more focused on facilitating, dishing out an average
of 7.1 assists per game. He also currently holds the highest number of assists so far in a single
game with 17 in the Slingers’ win against Louvre in Batam.
Seven active players are currently averaging at least 10 rebounds per game and leading the way
is Zamboanga Valientes’ Ryan Smith. The big man is collecting a whopping 13.7 boards per
contest and is also grabbing 6.0 offensive rebounds per contest, helping his club out when they
are missing from their high-octane offense.
There should be no surprise that the current leader in blocks per game is NS Matrix’s Amir
Williams, who has been their anchor in the paint. Williams is averaging 2.5 blocks per game and
was recently named the Player of the Tournament in Batam, rightfully so after an uber-efficient
and undefeated run in Indonesia. Williams also leads all players in field-goal percentage with
While the import players have been dominating as stats leaders, a local player is leading the
competition in steals. This honor goes to none other than the Macau Black Bears’ Jennig Leung,
who is averaging 2.6 steals per contest. Aside from pouncing the passing lanes and picking
pockets, Leung has had a magnificent and breakout season with the Black Bears where he is
averaging 20.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game while also shooting 40 percent
As mentioned, the Saigon Heat have been launching and making the most threes in the
competition and a large part of that is because of Jarius Holder. The import player has made the
highest number of threes (53) so far, while also converting those shots at a ridiculously high
rate of 53.1 percent, also the best in the competition at this point.
The level of competition is so high in the ABL where all teams are aiming to make it to the
Playoffs and beyond that there is no surprise why the stars have been playing their A-Game to
lead their teams to the victory.
Though the stars certainly play a large part in each of the team’s success, they aren’t the only
ones. Each of the teams is also powered by their key heritage and local players, who greatly
affect the game when they are on the court.
Hong Kong Eastern’s Dominic Gilbert has been one of the best players in the competition,
regardless of import, heritage, or local player status. He’s averaging an efficient 15.5 points epr
game on 51.5 FG% and 41.7 3P% while also recording 8.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
Not to be overlooked is rookie local player, Oliver Xu, who is putting up 7.4 points, 3.3
rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game while only starting once so far.
For NS Matrix, they rely on Ting Chun Hong as if he was an import player and the Malaysia
national team star has obliged with 13.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game while
shooting 49.3 FG%, 39.5 3P%, and 80.0 FT%. Not bad for the young ABL veteran.
The hype around the Saigon Heat has been around their heritage player Hassan Thomas who
has been averaging a double-double of 11.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.5 steals
per game. Thomas is a player who prides himself in doing a little bit of everything, which he has
effectively done for the Heat.
Delvin Goh has been a big presence for the Slingers as expected, but it’s been the rise of rookie
Jackson Mah that has turned heads for the ABL’s longest-tenured team. Mah has come off the
bench in all games to average 7.0 points per game on 51.2 percent from the field and 50
percent shooting from the three-point range.
The brilliance of Jenning was already covered above, but it is nice to point out again that Leung
is the only local player in the competition to average at least 20 points. If he keeps it up, Leung
could be the first local player ever to average 20 points through an entire ABL competition.
The quality of the local players on the Valientes roster is high, as to be expected from a Filipino
team, but James Kuwekuteye has stood out nonetheless. He’s averaging 16.4 points and 4.3
rebounds per game and is one of the key driving forces for the team.
For Louvre, they’ve had to rely a lot on veteran Biboy Engiuo who has started in all 8 games
while averaging 7.8 points, 4,1 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per contest.
Last but not least, the standout local player for the Tigers is ABL veteran Wuttipong Dasom who
has scored 12.3 points per game, contributing to his career total in ABL competitions which has
already surpassed 600 points.
The 2023 ABL Invitational now heads to Kuala Lumpur from February 3-8. The games will be
played at the beloved MABA Stadium which has been home to many ABL games in the past.
Make sure to secure your tickets HERE: https://www.ticket2u.com.my/event/29822