After two circuits of the 2023 ABL Invitational, there’s a bit more pressure on the teams. With
each passing game, the door leading into the Playoffs gets closer and closer. And only 4 of the 8
teams are allowed to pass through.
That’s why none of these teams will stay content with where they are and will always strive to
be better. For some teams, that means more sessions of practice leading into the circuit in
Kuala Lumpur. For others, it means spending more time bonding with each other to build
chemistry. And then there are some teams that decided that there is need for some changes in
personnel for the team to head in the direction that they want.
Here are those teams and the changes they have made with their rosters ahead of what should
be an intense tournament in Malaysia from 3-8 February:
For most of the part, the Saigon Heat, Hong Kong Eastern, Singapore Slingers and Macau Black
Bears are sticking to what has worked for them so far. The Heat and Eastern are both among
the teams at the top of the standings with 6-2 records, so why fix it if it ain’t broken?
The Slingers are not far behind in 4 th place at 5-3, so they can be in a good position to advance
to the Playoffs with a strong outing in Kuala Lumpur. They’ve done well so far with what they
have on their team, thus, it’s not hard to imagine why coach Neo Beng Siang is satisfied with
the current roster outlook.
For the Black Bears, while they are on the wrong side of the Playoff bubble at 5 th place (4-4),
they have been doing well for a team that has had to adjust on the fly after making a major
change in their roster right off the bat after their first game (replacing an injured Winston
Shepard with DeAngelo Hamilton). They have one really good win against Eastern in their
pockets and all they need is to just keep on going and building what they have with this squad.
NS Matrix Malaysia are the only team in the upper half of the standings that made a huge shift
in their lineup. This is a scary thought for opposing teams as Matrix are already coming into this
circuit on a six-game win streak. Moreover, they have only played one game against cellar
dwellers, Bangkok Tigers and Louvre Surabaya, who have struggled to win games so far.
Whether that changes in the second half of the competition remains to be seen, but it does
seem like NS Matrix are in a favorable position down the stretch.
Moreover, they will be playing at home for the next 3 games so it makes sense that they would
want to try and win BIG in front of their hometown fans.
The major swing is that NS Matrix are replacing Henry Iloka with Isaiah Williams as import
player. Iloka gave NS Matrix size and athleticism as a young big man, but might not have been
as good of a fit as the team already had Tevin Glass and Amir Williams and ended up averaging
3.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
His replacement, Isaiah Williams, should immediately provide NS Matrix with a backcourt
boost. Matrix are doing well with the likes of local stars Wong Yi Hou and Ting Chun Hong on
the perimeter, but the experience and talent level of a player like Williams will certainly give
the team more of an edge from outside.
The team also swaps out local guards Teo Kok Hou and Heng Yee Tong while adding some
frontcourt depth in Anthony Liew.
A slight disappointment for the fans could be that Heritage player, Wong Chong Han, had been
released. He had his ups and downs in the Batam circuit, but there’s no doubt that his 8-point,
8-assist performance against the Singapore Slingers was a key factor in that NS Matrix win.
Louvre Surabaya have been struggling in their debut and some of the struggle can be attributed
to the fact that they have had to play the last 6 games without the player who stood out early
Alioune Tew played only two games before suffering an injury in the Singapore circuit, but
everyone could see how much of a difference he made with the team. In those two games, Tew
recorded 24 points, 22 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks against Zamboanga Valientes
and 36 point, 22 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals against the Bangkok Tigers.
It would definitely be hard to replace an average production of 30.0 points, 22.0 rebounds, 3.0
assists, 3.0 steals, and a block per game on 70 percent shooting. But that’s what Louvre
Surabaya had to do.
However, Tew is now back, replacing his temporary replacement Swint Sameen Ayyub.
Louvre’s opponents have now been warned.
Once again, the Bangkok Tigers will have a relatively new look heading into another circuit of
the ABL Invitational. And that’s not a bad thing.
It seemed as if there was not a lot of turnaround time after changing directions between the
Singapore and Batam circuit. But after the Lunar New Years break, the Tigers should have a
better feel of what they want moving forward. While they are content with Jose
Nouchanthavong, the Tigers is adding bigger bodies in William Freeman and Augustus Stone to
form a more well-rounded lineup. They might still be a bit at a disadvantage compared to other
teams, but it does feel like that are a bit more comfortable with their team moving forward.
Another key addition for the Tigers is Apisittinan Dasom, which means that they will finally have
all three Dasom brothers in their lineup. In the previous circuits, Wuttipong and Kittitep have
been the key contributors for the team and it’s safe to expect Apisittinan to have a similar
impact, especially with his defense.
The biggest change in the ABL Invitational rosters for the upcoming circuits, however, comes
from Zamboanga Valientes.
The team has a lot of work to do to get back into the Playoff picture as they sit in 6 th place with
a 3-5 record, but a large chunk of that work is now done with the change they have made
heading into KL.
There might not be a bigger name addition this season than that the Valientes have made in
adding Mario Chalmers to the lineup. The 36-year-old is well known in the basketball circles as
a part of the famous “Heatles” Miami Heat squad that won NBA championships in 2012 and
2013 as well as his late-game heroics with the Kansas Jayhawks that lead to an NCAA title in
2008. He also won the Basketball Champions League (BCL) title in 2019 with Virtus Bologna.
By and large, Chalmers just knows how to win. That’s what Zamboanga Valientes are hoping to get
from the veteran point guard as they make a push to make the Playoffs.
Joining Chalmers as a new name will be Mohamed Sesay, as they replace Deng Chan and Ryan