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Asia's 10 most improved players to watch out for in 2019
BEIRUT (Lebanon) - It's an incredible honor just to represent your country, but some players have gone further by not only playing internationally, but improving year on year.
In 2017, we saw Asia and Oceania's biggest star players compete in the same continental circuit for the first time in FIBA history, at the FIBA Asia Cup 2017.
In many ways the FIBA Asia Cup 2017 held in August was a perfect teaser to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers (#FIBAWC) that began later that November.
There were many familiar faces from the FIBA Asia Cup 2017 who also featured in their team rosters through the five windows of World Cup Qualifiers held so far.
Here are the top 10 most improved players in Asia you need to watch out for in 2019:
Honorable mention #2: Yudai Baba (JPN)
The athletic wing has been a real spark for the Akatsuki Five, making momentum shifting plays on both ends of the floor. The 23-year-old 198 cm (6ft 6) small forward is fearless and aggressive, and continues to improve his numbers- from 5.5 ppg/1.5 rpg in 2017 to 8.6 ppg/3.8 rpg in these Qualifiers. Baba's assists though saw a marginal drop.
Honorable mention #1: Makoto Heijima (JPN)
Heijima has more than played his part in the Akatsuki Five's resurgent Qualifiers campaign. The 28-year-old guard has improved across the board from 2017, whether in points (13 vs 10.8), rebounds (3.7 vs 3) or assists (3.5 vs 2.3).
#10 Meisam Mirzaeitalarposhti (IRI)
The 2.08m (6ft 10in) 26-year-old center is seeing his stock rise within Team Melli. After getting only limited minutes (4.7 mpg) in 2017, where he averaged 1.8 points and 2.3 rebounds, Meisam stayed on the floor for 15.6 mpg during these qualifiers, putting up solid numbers of 8.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
#9 Ki Lee (HKG)
Despite averaging an already impressive 12.7 ppg in 2017, the 31-year-old shooting guard still managed to improve his scoring to 16.2 ppg, and also upped his assists from 0.3 to 3 per game in these Qualifiers. With Hong Kong eliminated from the FIBAWCQ, expect to see the Lee in action again during the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers later this year.
#8 Satnam Singh (IND)
With the absence of India's preferred starting frontcourt of Amritpal Singh and Amjyot Singh, yet another Singh, the 23-year-old 2.18 m (7ft 2in) Satnam had to shoulder most of the offensive burden. After averaging just 1 point, a measly 0.7 rebounds and zero assists per game in 2017, Satnam produced figures of 14.7 ppg/7.5 rpg/2.7 apg in 30.8 mpg during these Qualifiers, as India bowed out at the end of the first round. But watch out for the big man when the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers rolls around this November!
#7 Long-Mau Hu (TPE)
Hu saw a massive jump in his numbers- from just 0.8 ppg in 2017 to 7.4 ppg in the ongoing qualifiers. The 26-year-old 1.94m (6ft 4in) forward otherwise plays professionally for the Guangdong Dongguan Bank club team in China.
#6 June Fajardo (PHI)
The Gilas Pilipinas may have prematurely dug their own graves by dropping two crucial home games in the most recent fifth window, but the 29-year-old Fajardo can't be faulted. The 2.08 m (6ft 10in) center almost doubled his 2017 figures to 12.4 points, 5 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game.
#5 Qian Wu (CHN)
The 24-year-old guard has solid numbers of 11.2 points and 3.8 assists per game, a noticeable increase from the 5.7 points and 1.3 assists back in 2017.
#4 Junghyun Lee (KOR)
Considering his age (31) forward Lee has shown spectacular improvement: from 7.4 ppg/1.3 rpg/3.3 apg in 2017 to 14.2 ppg/2.7 rpg/4.9 apg in these Qualifiers.
#3 Jordan Ngatai (NZL)
In 2017, Ngatai only managed 5.2 ppg in 22.2 mpg. In these qualifiers, the 1.96m (6ft 5in) small forward has nearly doubled his scoring to 10 ppg despite playing fewer minutes. He has also shown an uptick in his rebounding and assists.
#2 Alexandr Zhigulin (KAZ)
The 2.02 m (6ft 8in) center averaged under 4 points and 4 rebounds during the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup before ramping it up to 10.8 ppg and 5.4 rpg in the #FIBAWC. His minutes too went up from 15.4 mpg to 21.7 mpg showing the Steppe Wolves' increasing reliance on the 24-year-old stretch big.
#1 Abdulwahab Alhamwi (SYR)
The 2.20m ( 7ft 3in) Syrian giant has bumped up his numbers from 4.3 points, 3 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game in 2017 to 9 points, 7.6 boards and a ridiculous 2.2 blocks per game in these qualifiers, which is the best among all players.