How does Iran play? 

Photo Credit: FIBA

This is a pretty tricky question to answer as Iran will be touting a vastly different roster from the last time the two teams met. With rumors of interal turmoil floating about, Iran Head Coach Mehran Shahintab confirmed that star players Hamed Haddadi and Nikkhah Bahrami will not suit up. It might also be safe to assume that fellow starters Sajjad Mashayekhi and Arsalan Kazemi will also be absent as all four of them weren’t part of the lineup that was routed by Australia. Speaking of that game, the Iranians had to trot out a lot of young guns and first-timers with so many of their usual players out. That in itself makes it a bit hard to scout them.

What can probably be assumed is that they’ll retain the same style of play even without their star players: lots of ball and man movement and tough, pesky defense. If they paid close attention to Kazakhstan’s surprising win, the Philippines can probably expect a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls coming their way to open up both the paint and their shooters.

Who are their key players?

Photo Credit: FIBA

Behnam Yakhchali (14.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 35.7 3PT%)

Mohammad Jamshidi (6.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.4 apg)

 With four of their usual starters out, and consequently their best best scorers and frontcourt players, expect them to rely heavily on their guards to produce offense. The lone starter left, Yakhchali is a threat from almost everywhere on the court, particularly from deep. There’s a reason why he’s their second-leading scorer. It’ll be important to close out and contain him since he’ll likely carry a heavy scoring load as the lone starter left on the team.

As for Jamshidi, he’ll be expected to take over Mashayekhi’s usual court general duties. He’s pretty much in the same mold of fast and pesky. He’s had a pretty terrible tournament shooting-wise (26.4 FG%, 24.6 3PT%) so if the Philippines can force him to take more shots, that’ll be huge.

Mohammad Hassanzadeh (3.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.5 spg)

Meisam Mirza (7 ppg, 4.6 rpg)

These two have some pretty big shoes to fill on both ends. Iran’s non-Haddadi bigs have pretty much the same role: set hard screens, roll to the basket and wait for drop passes. It’s simple but as we’ve seen from the Kazakhstanis, it can be deadly. They may not have a big with Alexander Zhigulin’s range, but they have enough heft to be a major problem down low. Expect Hassanzadeh to get an uptick in minutes and usage while Mirza provides his usual burly presence. The Philippines will also have to watch out for Hassanzadeh’s long arms. The amount of deflections he gets even in limited minutes is a cause for concern.

How can the Philippines counter?

It’s all about defense for the Philippines. First and foremost, they will have to figure out their pick and roll defense, especially if they’ll continue to rely on June Mar Fajardo. Will they trap the ballhandler? Hedge hard? Go for drop coverage? They’ll have to decide on one and stick to it while being flexible to change if necessary. Iran has a lot of speedy guards so it’ll be important to contain them. They’ll also have to figure out how to defend without fouling. They can’t have Iran doubling their free throw attempts, especially with how poor they’ve been shooting (37.2 FG%, 28 3PT%). All in all, guards have to continue pressuring ballhandlers while bigs have to show some fight and fire in the paint.

The Philippines will need to come out with a killer mentality as well. Iran has a weaker lineup that usual but that doesn’t mean they’ll just roll over and die. They’ll want to prove that they can still be an Asian powerhouse. Team Pilipinas will have to come out firing. Hopefully, that shocking loss against Kazakhstan has lit a fire under them to come out strong and sustain it. 

Who are some players to watch out for?

Photo Credit: FIBA

Christian Standhardinger (vs. IRI: 30 points, 12 rebounds, 2 steals, 71.4 FG%)

June Mar Fajardo (13 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 57.4 FG%)

Hopefully Coach Yeng Guiao has placed emphasis on establishing both Standhardinger and Fajardo inside the paint. With Iran’s top two bigs out, it’s the perfect opportunity for the San Miguel duo to impose their will and prove that they’re the most talented bigs on the court with their scoring, rebounding and overall efficiency from the floor. Standhardinger was unstoppable with his combination of size and speed while Fajardo will have a chance to prove himself against a much bigger and more experienced frontline. 

Jayson Castro (14.2 ppg, 3.4 apg, 52.9 3PT%)

Troy Rosario (4.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 37.5 3PT%)

Arwind Santos

 This trio of returnees might prove to be critical to the Philippines’ success. Castro will be looked upon to pretty much replicate Stanley Pringle’s pick and roll play and slashing ability even if he’s a step slower now. If he can continue his hot shooting from deep, that would be huge for a team still hunting for consistent performances from that area. Rosario and Santos are set to bolster the frontcourt with more speed and versatility. Both have proven adept at playing both forward spots. They’ll have to prove that they can hit outside shots as well as rebound and battle inside the paint. Though a bit smaller, they’re sure to provide some much-needed toughness as well. 

Marcio Lassiter (7.3 ppg, 2.7 apg, 1.7 spg)

Lassiter will have another tough cover with Yakhchali likely to be Iran’s main man. In 3 games since his return to the national team, “Gilas Lassiter” has arguably been a more tenacious defender, not only able to deny his man the ball but stick to him like glue as well. He’s represented the “asawahin mo” style of defense extremely well. If he can do the same against Iran and continue to find his stroke, that would bode well for the squad.

Prediction? 

If you asked me a few days ago, I would have been hard-pressed to say with 100% certainty that the Philippines would win. But with the eye-opening loss to Kazakhstan and the seeming exodus of players from the Iranian side, it seems like the basketball gods have given them a second chance. Iran isn’t any less dangerous but they’re definitely a lot more vulnerable than they’ve ever been in recent memory. The Philippines will hopefully come out guns blazing and ready to pounce on this rare opportunity. They need that killer instinct. I think they’ll win a tough one to keep their World Cup hopes alive and give the fans a memorable last home game.