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10 Gabe Norwood (PHI), 17 Alexandr Zhigulin (KAZ)
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Naughty or Nice: FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers edition Part 2

BEIRUT (FIBA Asia) - Santa Claus works only on the night of Christmas Eve to drop off all the presents, so during the rest of the year he's just like all of us, taking his time to enjoy some good old basketball.

And the holiday festivities are not over just yet! Santa's not yet done with his Naughty or Nice list, so check out here where your team lands in Part 2!


He sees the defense sleeping.
He’ll push on the fastbreak.
He knows if your shot’s bad or good, so follow-through for good shot’s sake.
So… you better box out.
You better leap high.
Won’t be a blowout, I’m telling you why.
Santa Claus is THROWING IT DOWN.


KoreaNice

Korea have been “Nice” by being the 3rd team to qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 from the Asian Qualifiers. They've done so by maintaining their high-standards of playing solid basketball on both ends of the floor, especially in terms of handling the ball.

Not only are Korea second among all teams in assists (23.2 per game), they take care of the ball extremely well and are leading everyone in assists/turnover ratio (2.7 AST/TO) by a wide margin.

The Asian powerhouse nation are 3rd in scoring with 89.1 PPG led by the most efficient player in the Asian Qualifying round, Ra Guna, who is logging an efficiency rate of 35.3 with 27.1 PPG and 12.8 RPG.

Korea are already on their way to the World Cup in 2019 and they’ll immediately play in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers after. They will certainly be aiming to pass through the qualifying phase in order to surpass their 3rd place finish at FIBA Asia Cup 2017. 

PhilippinesNaughty

The Philippines started out their FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifying bid strong with two wins each over Japan and Chinese-Taipei. The second half of 2018, however, has not been as pleasant.

A coaching change and major roster shuffles have left Gilas Pilipinas with only a 1-4 record in the last 6 months of 2018 including a shocking loss at home to Kazakhstan at the end of November. They’ve been a bit “Naughty” on defense, committing the most number of fouls among all teams with 22.5 per game which is something that’s left them with a 5-5 record heading into the final window.

They will need to be at their best in 2019, not only for the end of the Asian Qualifiers, but for the start of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers that will tip off soon as well.

KazakhstanNaughty

Talk about being “Naughty”.

Kazakhstan most likely dealt the naughtiest of naughty victories over the Philippines in their home invasion on November 30th. The Central Asia nation were looking from way outside for a chance at qualifying for the World Cup, but now after the upset win they have put themselves back in the race as well as taking a hard blow on the hopes of the Philippines.

Alexandr Zhigulin was only averaging 6.9 points in the first 8 games, but has since put up a 30-point explosion against the Philippines and 23 more against Japan. It looks like the 24-year-old could be a key point in getting Kazakhstan the final two wins of the Qualifying phase to give the team their best odds at making it to the World Cup.

JapanNice

There is no doubt that the hottest team in Asia should get the nicest of “Nice” approvals from Santa here in this list.

After starting with an 0-4 record, Japan flipped the script at the turn of the midyear mark and has not looked back. That’s what happens when you become the first team to beat Australia ever since the Boomers joined FIBA Asia competition. The one-point victory on June 29 sparked a 6-game winning streak with an average margin of 20.7 points per game.

The major focus has (appropriately) been on Rui Hachimura, Nick Fazekas, and Yuta Watanabe but the overall effort of the team and how they’ve believed in themselves even after 4-game losing skid has been one of the better feel-good stories of the year. 

IraqNaughty

Oh, Iraq.

You were so “Naughty” with that grand introduction by upsetting Iran at home in the very first game of the FIBA Asia World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers.

Since then, Iraq was able to secure only one more win over Kazakhstan but it wouldn’t be enough to get them through to the second round. Missing out on their injured star, Mohammed Al-Khafaji, wasn’t very helpful either.

That win over Iran did display the potential of how good Iraq could be and they’ll get a chance to showcase that again when the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers commence late in 2019.

IranNice

The 2nd highest ranked nation in FIBA Asia (as per the FIBA World Ranking Presented by Nike) didn’t have the best start in the FIBA World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers (look above) but have since redeemed themselves “Nicely”.

Following the opening loss, they have gone 7-2 while holding their opponents to only 62.9 points per game. While the losses to Australia and Japan (including a close shave against Qatar) are certainly not satisfactory results, Iran now only needs at least one win in their last two games to qualify for the World Cup. Their defense (2nd best 64.0 allowed PPG) and physicality has been their calling cards which they will stick with until the very end.

As the silver medalists of the FIBA Asia Cup 2017, they will also be on a mission to dominate at the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers late next year as well. 

QatarNaughty

Despite having interesting pieces like Abdulrahman Saad, Clinton Johnson, and Tanguy Ngombo, Qatar could just never get things going their way.

They allowed 84.7 points per game so far in the past 10 games, most recently allowing Australia to put up 110 in a 51-point blowout. It might seem harsh, but it’s also certainly “Naughty” on that defensive end. Through 10 games, they are also averaging the least amount of points at only 63.8 per game, too.

An agonizing two-point loss to Iran and a late-game meltdown against the Philippines have only highlighted what could have been for Qatar. A change from Tim Lewis to Serbian Panos Yiannara since the last window has marked the start of a new era for Qatar and we’ll see how they regroup for 2019, especially at the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers. 

BahrainNaughty

Bangladesh not making the final cut for the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers was disappointing on it’s own already, but having to absorb one of the biggest losses of the year must have been even more devastating. To Bahrain’s credit, they were just doing their job playing their best and it resulted in a “Naughty” 74-point blowout over Bangladesh at the Western Region Pre-Qualifiers for the FIBA Asia Cup 2021.

The win clinched Bahrain a spot at the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers where they will get a chance to show how far they’ve recently come in terms of basketball development. Led by exciting players like Mohamed Kawaid and Husain Altwash, Bahrain will put up their best fight against any team they go up against in 2019.

New ZealandNice

The FIBA Asia newcomers have been mainly overshadowed by rival Australia in the early stages, but have recently been shining brightly themselves heading into the final window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

Leading the entire Asian Qualifiers in points (94.1), three-point shooting (45.0%), rebounds (44.4), is worth an all caps “NICE” and topping it all off is having already qualified for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.

New Zealand finished in 4th place at the FIBA Asia Cup 2017 and they are targeting at a higher finish next round but will have to start their run at the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers late next year.

Sri LankaNice

Since they are not exactly known as a basketball nation, the fact that Sri Lanka will be playing at all at the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers is a bonifide “Nice”.

They were able to secure their spot with an exciting 63-60 win over Bangladesh and will join India to represent South Asia in the regional event. Their star player, Praneeth Udumalagala, was voted as the Western Region Pre-Qualifier’s most favorite player so at least you know they will have their fans support going through the competition next year! 

GuamNaughty

It was just so "naughty" of how Guam burst out onto the scene out of nowhere to completely dominate the entire Eastern Region Pre-Qualifiers. They had no trouble going up against any team and won by an average of 29.5 points per game.

The team was top heavy with high-profile stars like Tai Wesley, Curtis Washington, and Earnest Ross among others but was still well-rounded up and down the roster. The FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers are not far away and if the other teams don’t do their scouting properly, Guam might be able to catch a few off guard.

IndiaNaughty

Along with Hong Kong, India were the only other team to go winless at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers. It seems a bit too mean to peg that as “Naughty” but that is the case for a country with as much potential as India.

The burden was evidently too much for Satnam Singh to handle all on his own and it will be up to the program to get him help in a hurry. They have a talented group of youngsters ready in the pipeline as well as the much awaited return of Vishesh Bhriguvanshi.

They will need all that and maybe a little bit more one they return to action at the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers next year.

FIBA