With a spot in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain next year on the line, Asia's best basketball players are going all out in the FIBA Asia Championship tournament. While there may not be as much star power in the Asian region as there tends to be in Europe, South America or North America, those who are involved are hungry to prove themselves.
The Asian region also happens to be one of the most competitive ones out there, as there is no clear favorite currently. With China getting off to an 0-2 start, it is literally anyone's tournament at this point. Things could very well come down to which elite-level players produce to the best of their ability.
Here are the top three players that you should keep tabs on as FIBA Asia 2013 continues, and Asia's best fight for a World Cup berth.
China has stumbled out of the gates to the tune of an 0-2 start, but there is little doubt that forward Yi Jianlian is the best player this tournament has to offer. The issue with that, however, is that he is currently battling a hamstring injury, which forced him to miss Saturday's game against Iran. China paid dearly as Iran romped to the tune of a 19-point victory. According to PBA interAKTV, Yi is day-to-day, and his status for Monday's game against Kazakhstan is uncertain.
Yi did play in China's tournament opener against Korea, and he looked every bit like the superstar he is. The former NBA player dropped 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but no other Chinese player scored in double digits. Yi couldn't do it all on his own, as Korea shockingly defeated China 63-59. Even though China's roster lacks depth, the loss was surprising due to the fact that China is the defending FIBA Asia champion.
In fact, no Asian team comes close to China's dominance in this tournament as it has come away victorious on 15 occasions. The closest competitor is the Philippines with five gold medals. If China is going to add another FIBA championship to its trophy case, though, Yi must play and do so at an extremely high level. His talent level is unmatched, and he is capable of putting a team on his shoulders in this type of environment, but it seems as though it is going to come down to pain tolerance.
There aren't a ton of players with NBA experience in this tournament, but Iran Hamed Haddadi is on that exclusive list. Haddadi hasn't made much of an impact at the NBA level, but he is one of the best international players in the world. Haddadi initially burst onto the scene leading up to the 2008 Olympics, which led to him being signed by the Memphis Grizzlies. Haddadi has a chance to play his way onto an NBA roster once again as HOOPSWORLD is reporting that the New York Knicks have shown some interest in him.
Even though Haddadi hasn't put it all together in the NBA, it's difficult to ignore what he has been able to do for Iran. Haddadi led Iran to consecutive FIBA Asia Championships in 2007 and 2009, and he is looking to make it three out of the past four this year. Haddadi and Iran are off to a fantastic start as the Iranians are 2-0, and Haddadi has been a dominant force. Thanks in large part to Haddadi's play, Iran easily defeated China, which was considered by most to be Iran's toughest competition.
The 7'2" Haddadi has been an immovable presence in the paint thus far as he is averaging 22 points and more than nine rebounds per contest. While most of the teams in the tournament have some big bodies, many of those players have little more working in their favor than height. Haddadi brings a combination of size and skill to the table, and it is entirely possible that he will spearhead yet another Iranian FIBA Asia Championship win.
While he is a relative unknown in the United States, center Marcus Douthit has been a star for the Philippines in this year's FIBA Asia Championship. The Syracuse, N.Y.-born big man with Filipino roots has been a major addition to the national team, and he could help the Philippines return to its past glory. The squad is 1-1 through two games thus far, and Douthit has led the way with averages of more than 12 points and 10 rebounds per contest.
Douthit is perhaps best known for his strong collegiate career at Providence College. That led to him being selected in the second round of the 2004 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. Douthit never played for the Lakers, and he never played a regular-season NBA game, but he was intriguing enough that he got several looks and very nearly made it.
In more recent years, Douthit has been a standout in the Chinese Basketball Association. Just two seasons ago, Douthit averaged nearly 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. The 33-year-old center has been a very productive player across the world for the past several years, so it is no surprise that he is pushing an upstart Philippines team to new heights. If Douthit continues to play this way, the Philippines are an underdog team worth watching moving forward.
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