Monday, September 22, 2003

Asian Championship Preview: Back against the wall

Latest news: Taiwan NT set its final 12-man roster after cutting SG Yang Yu-ming (thigh injury), SG Hong Chi-chao and F Wu Chih-yuan.

No doubt about it. Taiwan NT is staring down at the potential all-time worst finish in the Asian Championship, which starts tomorrow in Harbin, China.

Since superpower China is placed in Group C, the group winner is set. If Taiwan NT fails to beat BOTH Iran and Syria, it is out of the quarterfinal. That means: 1) It will not finish higher than No.9 in the tournament. 2) It will break the all-time worst record for Taiwan NT in the Asian Championship. The current record is 7th-place, set in the previous tournament (2001, Shanghai).

Entering the third year of “Rebuilding” and “Youth Movement”, Taiwan NT still features one of the youngest lineups in Asia. They are quick, physically-talented but inexperienced. They excel in open court but somehow I think that also means lack of half-court discipline. They love to launch three-pointers but the accuracy is up-and-down.

One of the greatest weaknesses of the team is fear for banging, which is going to bring them a lot of trouble in the preliminaries when they have to face three bully opponents (China, Syria and Iran).

▓Positioanl Analysis

Point Guard
With Yen Shin-shu and Chen Chih-chung handling the point, this is the most reliable position on the team. Yen excels in open court. His court vision and passing is one of the best in Asia. And his shooting is highly underrated. Chen Chih-chung is more of a traditional PG who makes few turnovers. It’s possible that head coach Lee Chin-chi put Yen and Chen in the same backcourt.

NT rookie Chen Huei will be the back-up. He is a strong player who can take defender in the paint.

Shooting Guard
Cutting Yang Yu-ming and Hong Chi-chao definitely hurts. Chiu Chi-yi becomes the only full-time SG left. Without Yang, the most explosive scorer in recent years, Taiwan NT’s outside shooting is down a notch.

Either Wu Chih-wei or Tsun Wen-din will get the nod at the starting center. If you’re looking for experience and the high-post passing, Wu is the man. If you’re looking for the overall speed and help-side defense, the younger Tsun will be the choice. Anyway, neither is good at banging inside.

18-year-old phenom Wu Dai-hao will see time between C and PF. With his 7-1 wingspan, athleticism and better offensive game, if he puts his mind into it and gets enough court time, this tournament will probably be his coming-out party.

Power Forward
Other than Wu Dai-hao, Lee Chi-yi will be the only player at the 4 spot. Lee’s game is somewhat weird. He is not quick, strong or particularly tall (198cm), but he is effective on the court. He can take shorter defender underneath, hit the offensive board out of nowhere. And he can hit the 3s.

Small Forward
The most crowded position on the team. Tien Lei will start, with Ho Sho-jen, Lin Chi-jay and Yang Che-yi backing up. Lin and Yang will also probably see time in SG.

Tien Lei is the Kevin Garnett-type big man. He is very quick for his height. The ultra-quick second-jump makes him one of the most dangerous offensive rebounders. At the same time, he can hit the threes and run the court. However observers think he should develop his back-to-the-basket game and rely less on long-range jumpers. And he has to learn to love banging inside.

Ho Sho-jen isn’t afraid of mixing it up inside. In fact, he has the best footwork on the team. But he is a little bit short (195cm) and, for the past three years, only viewed as the second-string player in NT play, which is a pity.

In his NT debut, Lin Chi-jay will have the chance to be the go-to guy in crunch time with his strong body and one-on-one skills. At 190cm tall, he is the closest thing to a Power-SF or power-SG. He can rebound, pass and shoot. He knows how to slice inside, take the pounding from defenders and still finish. Like Cheng Kwon-suk, the former South Korean coach who coached Taiwan Junior NT, said, Lin is a “diamond in the rust”.

Yang Che-yi, another NT rookie, is the most improved player in the past year. He is good at moving without the ball and hit the break. His shooting is also more consistent.

Pray for a miracle. Like I said, Taiwan NT needs two perfect games in Harbin. Unless they play a flawless zone-defense, hit every uncontested jump shot, fight for every rebound, it will not be easy for them to beat Iran and Syria.

However, in the downtime of Taiwanese basketball, the expectation is not high. All everyone hopes to see is a team that fights for 40 minutes. Everyone is still going to support for the national team.