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10 players who need to step up in 2019
In line with that, there are a number of players who should step up big time in the next window to give their respective a fighting chance of making it to the biggest stage of international basketball.
In the same breath, there are also players whose teams have already qualified to the World Cup, but these same players need to also step up so that they can make a lot of noise in the quadrennial event in China.
Here are some FIBA Asia players whom I want to see step up this year:
Mohammad Shaher Hussein (Jordan)
The Jordanian big man has played in every Asian Qualifiers game so far, but his impact has seen its peaks and valleys. He was a borderline double-double machine in the first couple of windows, but his production since then has dipped. On paper, he along with Ahmad Al Dwairi and Zaid Abbas should form a fearsome triple tower combination for Jordan, but in reality, it seems like Hussein has become the odd man out. If he regains his high level of production, though, Jordan should rattle off at least one final window win.
Wael Arakji (Lebanon)
I am happy this firecracker of a guard is back! He is one of the most exciting talents in the entire continent, and with him back in the fold, the Cedars' chances of notching a win or two in the final window are quite strong. This leaping lefty is going to be a game-changer, that much is for sure. With him as Lebanon's main floor general, some pressure will be taken off the plate of guys like Ater Majok and Ali Haidar, and that should make the Tall Blacks and Koreans quiver in their boots even a little bit.
Ali Haidar (Lebanon)
Speaking of Haidar, the 6ft 7in (2.01m) power forward has had a roller coaster of performances so far in the Asian Qualifiers. He can score in bunches in one game and then put up bricks in the next. We saw that from him in the last two windows, and that inconsistency needs to stop if Lebanon are to rally in the final window. The Cedars don't really need Haidar to be a double-double guy, but he should be a good complement to Majok, who has become a solid presence in the middle for the West Asian side.
Daiki Tanaka (Japan)
This 27-year-old wingman has risen to become one of the bona fide superstars in Japan, though he yet to really break out in a big way for the Akatsuki Five. They don't need him to score a ton, though, especially with Nick Fazekas and Makoto Hiejima at the forefront, but if the 6ft 4in (1.92m) Tanaka can catch fire, then life would be so much easier for Japan in the next window. He can drive and finish strong at the cup and hit from long range as well, so he has the tools to be dominant. All he needs are the minutes and touches to make it all happen.
June Mar Fajardo (Philippines)
I love how Fajardo has improved his play on the international stage, and I love how he won his fifth straight Most Valuable Player award in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). I'd love Fajardo even more if he can make a bigger splash in the final window. Maybe a double-double outing like how he played against Kazakhstan? Maybe be the solid low post presence that will enable Andray Blatche, Marcio Lassiter and Paul Lee to tickle the twine from long range. If he can do that, the Filipinos should be in very good shape.
Mark Barroca (Philippines)
These days, the best point guard in the PBA is not named Jayson Castro, Terrence Romeo, LA Tenorio, or, arguably, even Stanley Pringle. Some can make an excellent case for Barroca's being the best floor general in the PBA, and for good reason. The 5ft 10in (1.78m) backcourt wizard just led the Magnolia Hotshots to the 2018 Governors' Cup title, averaging 11.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game. That's what he can bring to the Philippines in the final window, and both Kazakhstan and Qatar better get ready.
Rustam Murzagaliev (Kazakhstan)
Speaking Kazakhstan, one guy who needs to take charge for them is playmaker Rustam Murzagaliev. The production of guys like Alex Zhigulin and Anton Bykov are projected to be high, but Murzagaliev's playmaking and shooting could be the difference-makers for the Steppe Wolves. The 26-year-old combo guard has been on a bit of a slump save for an 11-point explosion against the Philippines in the previous window. That's the kind of production head coach Renatas Kurilionokas is hoping to see once again from Murzagaliev when they face Australia and the Philippines next month.
Choi JunYong (Korea)
Moving ahead from the sixth window to the World Cup, one guy I'd really like to see make an impact for his squad is young Korean wingman Choi JunYong. At 6ft 7in (2.00m), Choi has great size and length for his position, and he should be a very good matchup when Korea take on the bigger European, African and American squads at the World Cup. The 24-year-old hasn't been very productive at the Asian Qualifiers, averaging a shade under 4 points and 3 rebounds per game, but one bright spot has been his playmaking. Choi is handing out 3 assists per contest in the fluid Korean offense.
Reuben Te Rangi (New Zealand)
Like Choi, Te Rangi will play a vital role for New Zealand at the wing position, and though the 6ft 6in (1.98m) guard-forward will likely play behind the likes of Tom Abercrombie or Corey Webster, his contribution will not be any less valuable. He has scored in double-digits only twice in the Asian Qualifiers, but if he can be more consistent on offense while retaining his energy on defense, then the Tall Blacks will have a reliable Swiss army knife type of player to whom they can turn in almost any situation.
Nic Kay (Australia)
Australia are projected to be fully loaded when they plunge into action at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. More than a few bona fide NBA players are expected to bolster their already formidable ranks, and though may mean diminished playing time for a lot of current Boomers, one guy who should still play a major role is Kay. The 6ft 9in (2.06m) big man will likely play alongside Aron Baynes and Thon Maker up front, and Kay will need to be a solid complementary figure as the Aussies are poised to make a strong run for one of the spots on the World CUp podium.
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